What’s your favorite kind of appetizer?
Me? I love serving something decently healthy and light. I usually spend a lot of time putting together a meal when we’re entertaining, so I really don’t want to spoil appetites on the appetizer. To me appetizers are just supposed to be a little tease, some small bites to socialize over, and to tide hunger over till dinner is served.
That’s why I love a pretty crudite tray with a yummy dip. But did you ever notice how so many dips served with veggies are loaded with high fat, high calorie ingredients: mayonnaise, cheese, cream, half and half, bacon… It’s not that those dips aren’t tasty, they just don’t leave a lot of room for a nice dinner. That’s one of the reasons I’m crazy about this Lemon Tahini Dip. It’s made up of Greek Yogurt, a bit of Neufchâtel cheese**, lemon zest and juice, a touch of honey and a splash of extra virgin olive oil. Oh, and tahini!
If you haven’t heard of tahini, I bet you’ve tasted it. It’s a main ingredient in most hummus. It’s a staple in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine and is simply sesame seeds that have been toasted and ground. Kind of like peanut butter made from sesame seeds, in lieu of peanuts. It has a nutty flavor and is used in a vast array of recipes beyond hummus in the Middle East.
Tahini is an everyday product at Middle Eastern markets and is becoming more and more common at larger grocery stores, but you can also purchase it online (this is a super buy, 2 large jars for $10.49 – and free shipping if you have Amazon Prime).
I was initially introduced to the lemon-tahini combination many years ago at a fun little restaurant that Scott and I loved to visit. I was quite smitten with the first delicious taste and it’s been on my “favorites” list ever since. I decided to put the flavors together in a dip and, after a bit of experimenting, I’m super pleased with the results.
This dip would also make a delicious spread on a sandwich. Sliced turkey, avocado, tomato, arugula, thin-sliced Havarti cheese and a generous slather of Lemon Tahini Dip on whole grain bread would be fabulous. If you have leftovers after entertaining, the dip can be transformed into a wonderful salad dressing too – just add enough additional water to thin to the right consistency and serve with a salad of field greens, cucumber, red onion, tomatoes and sunflower seeds – that’s my favorite, but actually, it’s good on just about any savory salad.
What are the tricks to making a beautiful crudite platter? I’m glad you asked, I’ve learned a few over the years. Use seasonal veggies, the freshest you can find. Show off what looks best at the market. I like to go for lots of texture and color. You might not think of using raw beets on a veggie tray, but I love them as they come in a rainbow of hues, and you’ll often discover beautiful, alternating rings of color when you slice them open. They’re crisp and super delicious when sliced in thin wedges. Radishes also come in lots of fun colors and shapes.
Another fun idea is to choose lots of different veggies in shades of the same color with different sizes, textures and shapes. For example, broccoli tips, green beans, asparagus, snow peas, pea pods, celery, green peppers, Romanesco (so gorgeous, have you seen it?) etc. Serve a dip in a pretty, contrasting color.
Choose veggies with different lengths and sizes, though not too big for nibbling. Look for ideas of how to cut the veggies that might be out of the norm. I had fun with my zucchini, can you tell? They’re just sliced into very thin strips and rolled into little spirals. I secure them with a toothpick and then let them sit in an ice bath for about 30 minutes. After that I remove the toothpicks and they stay in the curled shapes, perfect for scooping up the yummy dip!
I love to use my mandolin for slicing stuff like this, as it’s super simple to cut paper thin slices of zucchini, summer squash, beets, carrots, potatoes, asparagus, just about anything! It also makes thin and thick julienne strips and crinkle cuts. It’s reasonably priced for a mandolin and the parts can be thrown in the dishwasher (except the metal blades).
I drizzled a bit of Basil Oil over the top of my Lemon Tahini Dip, but that’s optional. A few fresh snipped chives, or finely chopped parsley would be pretty as well. A simple dusting of freshly ground black pepper or a pinch crushed red pepper is also nice.
Got a dinner party coming up? Have a evening planned with friends and you’re in charge of the appetizer course? A picnic or potluck coming up on the docket? Surprise everyone with this delicious dip surrounded with a beautiful array of fresh veggies. Expect lots of compliments, but don’t be shocked if you’re the one asked to bring the appetizer again next time…
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- 5 tablespoons tahini*
- ¼ cup Greek yogurt
- 2 ounces Neufchâtel cheese**
- finely grated zest of 1 small lemon
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 medium cloves garlic, if your cloves are large, use just one
- ½ teaspoon honey
- 3 tablespoons water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- Combine all ingredients, except olive oil, in a blender or food processor container. Blend or process till smooth. Remove to a bowl and stir olive oil in by hand. Serve with crudites, crackers, pita chips, etc.
- If, after being refrigerated, the dip is too thick, it can be thinned with a bit of water.
** Neufchâtel cheese will usually be found right next to the cream cheese in the dairy section of the grocery store. It's lower in fat and has a slightly higher moisture content. If you can't find it or don't want to run out and buy it, cream cheese will work just fine.