When I cook, I sometimes feel like a kid being creative with a palette of colourful oil paints. I love mixing different ingredients and play around with flavours, textures and colours to see what the end result will look and taste like. At least with food I’m guaranteed a pretty good outcome, because I can’t draw to save my life!!
In Australia, you can find a larger range of dips than you can poke a stick at, with new and exotic blends introduced on a regular basis, making it too tempting not to try. But it’s even better when you get to make your own and be the alchemist of sorts. This time around I went for the colourful trinity of guacamole, tzatziki and pumpkin and cream cheese dips. The first two I make on a regular basis, as I love how each have their contrasting elements: crunchy with delicate smoothness, spicy with a cool aftertaste and tasty yet delicate in flavour. The bonus is both are almost fuss free and easy to make and friends are more than happy to nibble, whilst you chat over drinks. The pumpkin and cream cheese one is a new one for me and I wanted something a little sweeter to contrast the other two dips. There is always a risk making something for the first time, but there is no better way than to let your friends be the guinea pigs and judges. The verdict was two thumbs up.
This quintessential Greek dip is fresh and cool, perfect on a hot summer’s day with freshly toasted pita bread. It can easily accompany any grilled fish or meat or even freshly grilled aubergine slices. I like to use mint to contrast the garlic, but dill is also very good.
250 g of Greek style yogurt (the thicker the better)
mint leaves from half a bunch, finely chopped
1 medium-sized cucumber (you can either peel or leave the skin on)
1 - 2 garlic cloves, finely crushed
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Put the yogurt, garlic and mint leaves in a bowl and mix well.
Rinse the cucumber, cut lengthways, remove the seeds and grate it coarsely. Squeeze all the water from the grated cucumber with your hands and allow to dry in a paper towel to absorb any remaining liquid. This prevents the tzatziki to become too watery.
Add to the bowl with the remaining ingredients, mix well, season to taste and pour a good glug of olive oil and give it a last stir. Put in the fridge for at least a couple of hours so all flavours infuse together.
Not very Mediterranean I agree, but I can never resist avocados especially as they are in season. I first made this about 17 years ago, when my mom had some friends over and I wanted to prepare a dip. I am pretty sure that we got the recipe from the back of an Old El Paso pack, which I modified for extra flavour and heat. Being the chili fan (the hotter the better), I do tone it down a few notches as not everyone is as crazy as me.
3 large ripe avocados
1 jalapeno chilli, chopped in small pieces (seeded or deseeded depends on how hot you want it)
zest and juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp of cumin seeds, toasted and crushed into powder
1 small handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped
1 small red onion, finely diced
1/4 of a red pepper (capsicum for the Ozzies), chopped in small dice pieces
1/4 of a green pepper, chopped in small dice pieces
olive oil, just enough to bind everything together
salt and pepper to taste
Cut the avocados in half lengthways and remove the stone. Spoon the flesh into a mixing bowl and mash with a fork, but don’t want to mash it till smooth as you want to leave some lumps for a more rustic guacamole. Add the garlic, lime zest and juice, chopped chilli and cumin powder and mix to incorporate all the flavours together.
Add the green and red peppers, onion, coriander leaves and olive oil. Mix again, taste and season according to taste (you may want to add more chilli, lime juice or cumin powder you be the judge). Allow to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour before you serve it. Serve with nachos or with toasted pita bread.
Pumpkin and Cream Cheese dip
I first had this in a cafe along the Great Ocean Road a couple of months ago and was immediately taken by the sweetness with the hint of cinnamon. It was a great contrasting flavour to the other dips we had it with and very addictive. We couldn’t lick the bowl clean fast enough! They kept the recipe secret but I worked out my own version.
400 g of pumpkin puree
200 g cream cheese (softened at room temperature)
2 tbsp sour cream or natural yogurt
1/4 tsp of cinnamon powder (a little goes a long way)
1/2 tsp of coriander powder
1/2 tsp dried chilli seeds
salt and pepper to taste
NB: You will need a bit more of uncooked pumpkin, as it shrinks a bit once it is roasted and pulsed into a puree.
To make the pumpkin puree, place 500 g of pumpkin, cut into large chunks, seeds and rind removed, on an oven tray. Drizzle with olive oil and roast in a preheated oven at 180 C for about 40 min, or until tender. Once it’s ready, blend it until smooth. Pour the puree in a sieve placed over a bowl and with a spoon sieve it completely, until you have a smooth puree.
Place the cream cheese and sour cream (or yogurt) in a mixer and beat until creamy. Add the pumpkin puree, cinnamon, coriander powder and chilli seeds and blend all together until mixed well and reach a smooth consistency. Season to taste, pour into a bowl and refrigerate for an hour before serving. It goes well with toasted ciabatta or turkish bread slices. Or for a more sweet take, you can serve with apple slices.