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Healthy Dips from Around the World

posted on: Nov 20, 2019

By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer

Let’s put some culture on the table!  The universal languages of the world can all be understood by taking a journey through the world of dips.  Light, spicy, wholesome, delicious, smooth or with a crunch, ‘dipping’ is a great introduction to the world of food.

Every people have their own dips and just imagine if you gather them all together, what a world of culinary delights to choose from!  The lingering thought, however, is just how much of these are delicious yet good for the health.

A dip is usually served as an appetizer or as a snack at home while enjoying a good book or watching television.  Dips are also important at social gatherings where friends and family gather around the ‘dip table’ to whet their appetites before a meal or with a drink.

Dips can be eaten in a variety of ways:  by scooping them up with pieces of sliced raw vegetables, various kinds of crackers, small slices of bread, potato and tortilla chips and others, and best of all, Arabic (pita) bread wedges, toasted in the oven.

Dips accompany finger foods, appetizers, and other easily held foods. In North America, some of the most popular dips are based on dairy products such as sour cream, soft cheese, and yogurt; others are made with such ingredients as tomatoes like salsa, and others with pureed beans and spices.

However, there is a whole world beyond the typical.  With a health-conscious modern population, there are many looking for a new healthy type of dip.  And the foods of the world have much to offer.

Turning to the international ‘dip’ scene, in the Middle East, most dips use tahini, a healthy product made from sesame seeds, as one of the main ingredients.  Garlic, too, is always a must. The city of Aleppo in Syria prides itself in its unique muhamara, a dip made with roasted red peppers and walnuts.  With immigration comes more interesting culinary creations:  to the Mexican avocado guacamole dip, tahini is an added ingredient.  Somalia offers the world hummus but with yogurt, and Sudan makes dips even more interesting by making use of peanuts as a base ingredient.  For those who yearn for garlic, Damascus’s thoum is a must.  As a food creator who has traveled the world investigating food history, the yam, lentil, and sun-dried tomatoes dips are my own creations.

I have chosen 10 international recipes adding my own touch to traditional ones.  These are easy to prepare and use good nutritional ingredients. The point is that something so healthy can still taste very good.  And I believe that these will make a great addition to any ‘dipping table’.

As for the ‘dipper’, my preference is Arabic bread (pita) made at home or fresh from the market.  Because of its low-fat content, and low-calorie count compared to white sliced bread, it makes for a healthy scooper for dips.  There are even gluten-free pitas available for those that need to follow a gluten-free diet. The loaves should be opened and cut into wedges then lightly toasted in the oven and used like tortilla chips for dipping.  Or just cut the opened loaves into wedges and use them as is.

Muhammara – Red Pepper Dip

Serves about 8

This tasty well-known Aleppo, Syrian dish, which gives color to any table is for me the mother of all dips.

 Healthy Dips from Around the World
Muhammara appetizer from Aleppo

1 1/2 cups ground walnuts

4 large sweet red peppers

1 tablespoon pomegranate syrup, dissolved in 2 tablespoons

water.  It adds color to any meal

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

4 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

2 tablespoons olive oil

Place walnuts in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Place peppers in a 350° F preheated the oven then bake for about an hour, turning them over a number of times until they blister on all sides.  Remove from oven and allow to cool then remove skin and seeds. Chop very finely, then combine with walnuts and remaining ingredients, except pine nuts and olive oil.  Spread on a platter then chill. Just before serving, decorate with pine nuts, then sprinkle with olive oil and serve with crackers or Arab bread.

Avocado and Tahini Dip

Serves from 6 to 8

 Healthy Dips from Around the World

I call this appetizer ‘my Arab guacamole dish’ – for me, tastier than its Mexican ancestor.  A Palestinian who lived for many years in Mexico gave me his version of this recipe. This modern variety of Hummus bi Tahini can more than hold its own when it comes to competing with that world-famous dip.

4 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons tahini

1 large or two medium ripe avocados

4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

pinch of cayenne

1/4 teaspoon paprika

Place lemon juice and tahini in a blender or food processor, then blend for a moment and set aside.

Pit and peel the avocados then cut into pieces. Add with remaining ingredients, except paprika, to lemon juice-tahini mixture then blend or process into a smooth paste, adding a little water if needed. Place on a flat serving platter, then sprinkle with paprika and serve, or chill covered and serve.

Eggplant Purée – Baba Ghannuj

Serves from 10 to 12

 Healthy Dips from Around the World

Originating in the Greater Syria area, this purée has become very popular in all the Arab countries and beyond.  In North America, it is gaining ground as a superb exotic appetizer in that it is not only tasty and nutritious but easy to prepare.  Although many restaurants offer baba ghannuj on their appetizer menu, many prefer to prepare the puree at home.

1 large eggplant, about 2 pounds, pierced with a fork on all sides

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/3 cup lemon juice

4 tablespoons tahini

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted

1/2 small tomato, diced

Oil for garnish (optional)

Place eggplant in a pan then bake in a 425oF oven, turning frequently until tender and until the skin is crisp. Allow cooling then remove and discard skin.  Mash pulp well then place in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Place remaining ingredients, except pine nuts and tomato, in a blender, then blend for a few moments, adding a little water if too thick.  Stir into eggplant then spread on a platter. Decorate with pine nuts and tomato then serve. Also, a little extra olive oil can be sprinkled over top just before serving if desired.

Somali Chickpea Dip

Serves 8

 Healthy Dips from Around the World

This recipe is somewhat different than the hummus dishes found in the Greater Syria area.  The addition of spices and yogurt makes this version, in my view much tastier. Makes for an excellent appetizer.

2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon cumin

Green olives

Place all the ingredients, except the cumin and olives, in a food processor and process until smooth. Spread on a serving platter then sprinkle with the cumin.  Decorate with the olives and serve with wedges of pita bread.

Peanut Purée

Serves 8

 Healthy Dips from Around the World
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This appetizer from Sudan is an unusual way to make use of peanuts and the end result is a dip that packed filled with nutrients and still delicious.

2 cups unsalted skinless peanuts

1/4 cup water

1 medium onion, finely chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil

pinch of cayenne

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 large tomatoes, finely chopped

4 tablespoons chopped parsley

Olive oil for garnish

Place all the ingredients, except tomatoes, parsley and the olive oil for garnish, in a food processor and process into a soft paste, adding a little water if necessary.  Transfer to a mixing bowl then gently stir in tomatoes.

Spread on a serving platter then chill is a refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours. Decorate with parsley leaves then sprinkle with a little extra olive oil and serve.

Sun-Dried Tomatoes Chickpea Dip

Serves 4 – 6

 Healthy Dips from Around the World

In my quest for new and nutritious dips from around the world, I created my own ‘international’ type by using various ingredients.  Hence this dip.

Fresh mint leaves can be used as a substitute for basil leaves.

1/2 cup chopped drained sun-dried tomatoes (that have been preserved in oil)

1 cup cooked chickpeas

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves

4 garlic cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Place all the ingredients in the food processor and blend until smooth.  Spread on a serving platter. Scoop up with crackers or spread on slices of bread.

Damascus Garlic Appetizer – Thoum

Serves about 6

 Healthy Dips from Around the World

From the mist of time, as new products were introduced – in this case, the potato – the Damascenes took them on as their own.  If you like garlic, this twin of French aioli is addictive, but simpler to prepare.

1 cup mashed potatoes

6 garlic cloves, crushed

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup plain yogurt

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

8 black olives, pitted and sliced in half

4 medium radishes, sliced

Place potatoes, garlic, oil, yogurt, salt, and pepper in a food processor, then process until smooth.  Place on a platter then decorates with olives and radishes. Chill then serve.

Yam Dip

Serves 8

 Healthy Dips from Around the World

A new twist on hummus, try baked yams in place of chickpeas.  A great dip when served with tortilla chips or crackers. My daughter thinks that barbecued potato chips (crisps) are the best partner for this dip.

1 pound yams, baked and skin removed then cut into 1 inch pieces

1/2 cup finely chopped green onions

1/2 cup finely chopped coriander leaves (cilantro)

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons tahini

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cumin

Pinch of cayenne

2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

Place all the ingredients except the pomegranate seeds in a food processor and puree until smooth.

Transfer to a serving bowl then decorates with the pomegranate seeds.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour then serve.

Yogurt and Tahini Dip

Makes 1 1/2 cups 

 Healthy Dips from Around the World
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Originally a Sudanese dish, it is now popular in the countries of the Persian Gulf.   Versions of it are now found across the Middle East and even as far as the Indian sub-continent. The slightly nutty flavor goes great especially with crusty bread or the good-old standby, Arabic bread (pita).

1/2 cup tahini or sesame paste 

1/2 cup plain yogurt

4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 garlic cloves, smashed

2 tablespoons very finely chopped parsley leaves

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

A few springs of fresh parsley leaves

In a food processor, place all the ingredients except for the sprigs of parsley and process for 1 minute, adding a little water if a smoother consistency is desired, then spread on a platter.  Decorate with the parsley sprigs then chill and serve as a dip with raw vegetables, bread, and crackers.

Lentil Dip

Serves 8-10

 Healthy Dips from Around the World

Although not often used in dips, lentils are chock-full of nutrients.  Lentils have one of the highest protein contents of any vegetable, containing more protein than an equal amount of meat.  Something so good for health can also be great in taste as this recipe will prove.

I use toasted Arabic bread to scoop up this dip.

1 cup split red lentils

1 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 cups water

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 medium tomato, finely chopped

Place lentils, salt, and water in a medium-sized saucepan then bring to a boil.  Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 30 minutes or until lentils are well cooked, stirring often to ensure that the lentils do not stick to the bottom of the saucepan, adding more water if needed.  Set aside to cool.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a frying pan then fry the onion over medium-low heat for 10 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients, except lemon juice and tomato, and stir-fry over medium heat for 3 minutes then set aside to cool.

Place saucepan and frying pan contents, as well as lemon juice in a food processor and process for 2 minutes, then spread on a serving platter.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Decorate with tomato and sprinkle with the remaining olive oil just before serving.

 

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