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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Spreads & Dips

TIP OF THE DAY: Read The Label (Really!)

Look closely: sugar is added to plain salsa in
Whole Foods’ store brand. Photo by Elvira
Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

 

We love nutrition panels on food products. They tell you how good (or bad) for you a particular food may be. If you’re looking to avoid certain ingredients or calorie levels, you get what you need to know. If you want to ingest the amounts of salt, sugar, saturated fat and calories laid out for you, you do it with eyes wide open.

Sometimes, though, you skip the reading of panel. A jar of olives, a can of water chestnuts, a container of salsa—you know what’s in the container, right?

Not right!

This week we got taken in by a container of plain salsa from Whole Foods’ new private label line, which beckoned us from a standalone case, along with the company’s private label hummus line.

We rely on salsa as a tangy, low calorie, good-for-you snack and condiment. So we picked up a container, brought it home, popped the top and eagerly inserted a spoon….

What did we get? A mouthful of sugar!

 

In fruit salsa, one expects some added sugar to enhance the mango, peach or pineapple. But adding sugar to plain salsa not only tastes bizarre—like adding sugar to the olives or the water chestnuts—it is unneeded and unwanted. It’s just wrong.

Salsa didn’t become America’s number condiment, beating out sugar and HFCS†-laden ketchup, by being sweet.

Now, we’re back to reading labels—even on bottled water (we previously purchased what we thought was a bottle of lime-flavored water, to find it was loaded with an unwelcome noncaloric sweetener). With the processed food industry in need of sugaring up every product they sell, we can’t be too safe.

The good news: Whole Foods isn’t adding sugar in their private label hummus (yet). And the hummus flavors, from Greek hummus with the spice blend za’atar* to lemon hummus to tabbouleh hummus and the gamut of established flavors (jalapeño, olive, red pepper, etc.)—are great. The low price ($1.99 per eight-ounce container) is a bonus.

MORE ABOUT SALSA

  • The history of salsa
  • The different types of salsa (Salsa Glossary)
  • Salsa trivia quiz
  •  
    *Curiouser and curiouser: za’atar is a Middle Eastern herb blend but is not particularly associated with Greek cuisine. It’s a blend of oregano), calamint, thyme and satureja, which can be mixed with sesame seeds, dried sumac and salt. Popular Greek herbs and spices include basil, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory tarragon and thyme. So, Whole Foods folks, why is this flavor with za’atar called Greek hummus?

    †High fructose corn syrup.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Tapenade

    Tapenade-topped crostini with a garnish of
    fresh tomato. Photo by Kelly Cline | IST.

     

    Back in our college days, a fashionable new restaurant opened in midtown Manhattan. It had a menu that was very exciting for the time.

    For starters, instead of serving butter or olive oil with the bread basket, there was an exotic dip: creamy and a bit salty with the flavor of seafood. The bread basket included delicious and sophisticated slices of Melba toast.

    We learned in short order that the toasts were called crostini (cruh-STEE-nee) and the dip was tapenade (TAH-pen-odd). They became our favorite hors d’oeuvre for years to come.

    In addition to helping us maintain our food-forward-thinker status, tapenade was ridiculously easy to make. Just open three cans or jars, place the contents in the food processor with some seasonings, and pulse.

    The recipe for crostini even easier. Both recipes follow.

    Delicious with wine, beer and cocktails, these recipes are a reason to invite friends and neighbors for a casual get-together. Or make them for Mother’s Day.

     

    TAPENADE RECIPE

    You can substitute green olives for the black olives (some people use a half cup of each). If you don’t like anchovies, leave them out. If you don’t like anchovies and tuna, you can substitute artichoke hearts, cooked eggplant, mushrooms, red bell peppers or sundried tomatoes. This is an easy recipe to customize to your own preferences.

    If you want to spare the carbs (crostini), tapenade is also delicious with crudités.

    Ingredients

  • 1 cup pitted black olives(1)
  • 4 tablespoons capers
  • 1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)(2)
  • 1 tuna (5 to 6 ounces), drained
  • 1 can (2 ounces) anchovies, drained
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  •  
    NOTES
    (1) Canned olives are famously bland. If you like a stronger olive flavor, buy better-quality olives in the jar or from an olive bar—although you may need an olive pitter to remove the pits.
    (2) We find that the oil in the drained tuna and anchovies is often sufficient. Process the mixture without the added olive oil; then decide if you need it. The added olive oil will give the tapenade a thinner consistency. If you’d like it thinner still, add more olive oil, bit by bit.
     
    CROSTINI RECIPE

    Makes about 25 slices.

    Ingredients

  • 1 baguette(1)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Sea salt/kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  •  
    Preparation
     
    1. PREHEAT. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
    2. SLICE. Cut thin baguette slices on the bias.
    3. COMBINE. Mix the oil and salt and pepper. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat one side of the bread slices with oil. Place on a cookie sheet and bake until golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.

    Yield: about 24 slices. At the table, we serve a plate of crostini with a bowl of tapenade and let guests top their own crostini. For passed hors d’oeuvre or an hors d’oeuvre plate, serve them already topped.

    You can serve the crostini plain or with a garnish: chopped tomatoes, a strip of pimento, some fresh herbs or whatever you have on hand.

    (3) Because the bread is toasted, you can use day-old baguette. In fact, we typically make crostini whenever we have a leftover loaf.

     

    THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TAPENADE AND PESTO

    Pesto is typically based on basil although can use other ingredients, from greens (arugula, spinach) to sundried tomatoes. Tapenade is always based on olives. While pesto can be used as a dip, it is actually a sauce, used to coat other foods. Tapenade is a spread that can be used as a dip.

    Pesto
    Pesto, the Italian word for pounded, is an uncooked sauce made with fresh basil or other vegetable or fruit, plus olive oil and other ingredients. The sauce originated in Genoa, Italy. The classic pesto alla genovese is made with basil, olive oil, pine nuts, Parmesan and/or pecorino cheese and garlic, plus salt. There are many variations on the original recipe; some use herbs or greens instead of basil (arugula, cilantro, spinach, e.g.) or focus on other ingredients (pumpkin, sweet red pepper).

    Tapenade

     

    Bruschetta are larger than crostini, and grilled rather than oven-baked. Photo courtesy California Asparagus Commission.

    Tapenade is an olive-based spread, typically used as an hors d’œuvre, on crackers or bread. It can be used in recipes as well; for example, to stuff fish fillets. We serve it as a condiment with grilled fish, atop or to the side.

    Olives were among the first domesticated crops. Olive pastes and spreads—chopped or ground olives mixed with olive oil—have been served in the Mediterranean region for thousands of years. The “classic” tapenade recipe enjoyed today was invented less than 100 years ago by the chef of the Maison Dorée in Marseilles, who added anchovies and capers to a black olive spread. The word comes the from Provençal term for capers, tapéno. Some recipes add tuna as a variation.

    And yes, there are olive pestos, that add olives to a traditional pesto—hold the tuna, capers and anchovies!

    As for the tapenade: You can use it to top bruschetta or crostini.

    THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BRUSCHETTA & CROSTINI

    Both bruschetta and crostini are Italian recipes based on toasted bread. The difference is twofold: size and toasting method.

  • Crostini are small, thin slices cut from a narrow, crusty loaf like a baguette. The word means “little toasts.” They are usually seasoned with olive oil and salt and/or garlic prior to toasting. They can then be topped with a spread or with cheese, meat, seafood, vegetables—often in combination (see photo above).
  • Bruschetta are typically sliced from a wider crusty loaf and toasted over coals or a grill. The word comes from the Italian bruscare, which means “to roast over coals.” Like crostini, bruschetta can be topped with a wide range of items.
  •  
    Both will be a welcome addition to your culinary repertoire.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Uses For Tzatziki, A Multitasking Food

    Tzatziki tops minced smoked salmon for a
    sophisticated appetizer. Photo by Grenouille
    Films | IST.

     

    Certain condiments are multitaskers, such that they can be used at different times of the day to make basic foods more interesting.

    Salsa, from Mexico, is one example. Greek tzatziki (tsah-tsee-kee) is another.

    A chilled mixture of yogurt, cucumber, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, a pinch of salt and some fresh herbs (dill, mint or parsley), the cucumbers can be seeded and finely diced or puréed and strained.

    Classic uses in Greek cuisine include as:

  • A spread or dip with pita (try toasting pita wedges)
  • An omelet filling or sauce
  • Part of a mezze plate (add hummus, babaganoush, olives and pepperoncini, feta cheese)
  • A sauce or side with meat, poultry and fish entrées (we particularly love it with salmon)
  • A condiment for gyros and souvlaki*
  •  

    More ways to enjoy tzatziki:

  • As a healthy snack, with crudités or whole wheat pretzels
  • On a burger or sandwich, instead of conventional condiments
  • In a baked potato, with cooked vegetables and grains
  • As a garnish in cold soups
  • As a salad dressing (thin with some vinegar)
  • With salmon recipes (cucumbers and salmon are a natural pairing)
  • In a creative recipe of your choosing, such as the smoked salmon (or salmon tartare) in the photo above
  •  
    Made with nonfat Greek yogurt, tzatziki is one of the healthiest sauces or condiments you can find, tasty and low in calories.

    Try this tzatziki recipe.

    People with lactose intolerance can use soy milk yogurt or try buffalo’s, goat’s or sheep’s milk yogurts, all of which are more easily digestible than cow’s milk yogurt.

    More of our favorite dips and salsas.

     
    *What’s the difference between a gyro and souvlaki? The preparation and shape. Souvlaki is cubes of meat (lamb, pork, chicken), cooked on individual skewers. The word means “small skewer” in Greek. The meat can be served on the skewer, on a bed of rice or in a piece of pita. Gyro means “going around.” A leg of lamb or other meat is cooked on a vertical rotisserie. The meat is sliced from the leg and served in pita. Döner kebap (“rotating meat” in Greek) and shawarma (“turning”) are other words from different regions, referring to the same food.

      

    Comments

    COOKING VIDEO: Healthy Onion Dip Recipe

     

    Have you planned your Super Bowl menu yet? Are you looking for healthy options?

    In the chips-and-dips department, we save on fats with Popchips potato chips and go for the more nutritious whole wheat pretzels. Both products are just as delicious as their less-healthy counterparts.

    Making a yummy fat-free or low-fat dip is easy. In this video recipe, you’ll see how to make a delectable onion dip with caramelized onions, fresh chives and nonfat yogurt.

    We have three tips to add to those in the video:

  • Use nonfat Greek yogurt—it’s thicker, creamier and closest to sour cream.
  • Caramelize the onions in heart-healthy olive oil. Here’s the separate recipe to caramelize the onions. While you’re at it, caramelize lots of onions and keep them in the fridge to add to baked potatoes, burgers, eggs, main course proteins, sandwiches and more.
  • Never use pre-ground pepper. Always freshly grind it with a pepper mill.
  •  
    MORE DIP RECIPES

    Find them in our Salsas & Dips Section. Another healthy recipe is this white bean dip, which is dairy-free and packed with bean protein, fiber and other nutrition.

    And don’t over look the Tequila Guacamole!

       

       

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Serve Blackeyed Peas For The New Year

    If you’ve lived in the South, you may know the custom of eating blackeyed peas or other legumes on New Year’s Day. The dish is served for luck and prosperity in the New Year.

    The tradition dates back to the Civil War, when Union troops confiscated crops and livestock, leaving the population with little to eat.

    What remained were legumes and greens, which kept the populace from starving.

    It’s easy to honor tradition, with this easy blackeyed pea salsa. The recipe is by chef Tom Fraker and provided by Melissas.com. If you’d like something heartier, try this blackeyed pea stew recipe.

    BLACKEYED PEA SALSA RECIPE

    Ingredients

  • 11 ounces blackeyed peas, cooked
  • 2 cups roma (plum) tomatoes, small dice
  • 1/2 medium red onion, small dice
  • 1 green jalapeño, small dice
  • 1 red Fresno chile, small dice
  • 1 Meyer lemon, juiced
  • 3 Key limes, juiced
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  •  

    Black-eyed pea salsa. Photo courtesy
    Melissas.com.

     

    Preparation

    1. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients and gently mix to incorporate.
    2. Serve with chips, beer, margaritas or your favorite beverage.

    ABOUT BLACKEYED PEAS: THEY’RE BEANS

    Blackeyed peas (also spelled black-eyed) are medium-sized, ivory-colored beans with a large black coloration (the “eye”) on the inner curve of the beans, where they are attached to the pod.

    Related to the mung bean, blackeyed peas originated in Eastern Asia and were brought to the Americas with the African slave trade, and were a staple of many plantation diets. They remain best known as a Southern dish, where they are often served with ham and rice.

    Blackeyed peas have a sweet, mild flavor and firm texture, and absorb the flavors of a dish very well.

      

    Comments

    COOKING VIDEO: Make A Black Bean Salsa Dip

     

    Why spend money on small jars of “specialty” bean dip when it’s so easy to make your own? You can use black beans (also known as common beans and turtle beans, among other names) or white beans (use cannellini, Great Northern or marrow bean varieties).

    The cooking video below demonstrates a chunky black bean salsa dip: a combination of beans, onion, cilantro, jalapeño, lime juice and zest. (The word “dip” is extraneous, except when necessary to explain to non-Mexicans what to do with it.)

    Personally, we skip the last step in the video recipe, which adds the juice, zest and segments of an orange. It’s a “fusion” addition: The orange originated in Southeast Asia* and although available in modern Mexico, isn’t part of traditional Mexican cuisine. Instead, add a cup of cooked or raw corn kernels (corn is indigenous to Mexico).

    How To Use Black Bean Salsa/Dip

    In addition to a dip for chips, it’s a delicious salsa (the word means sauce) for broiled or grilled fish, burgers, chicken, over rice and in a salad with greens and/or vegetables. (Beans are legumes, not vegetables.)

    For an even better flavor, plan a day ahead and start with dry beans: They need to soak overnight and cook for up to 90 minutes, until soft and ready to purée.

    Want a white bean dip? Try this recipe. This spreadable, puréed dip is delicious on bruschetta and sandwiches as well as for dipping chips.

    Beans are a guilt-free food. Among the most inexpensive and nutritious foods available, beans are a great source of protein that can substitute for meat. They are typically low in [beneficial] fat and are cholesterol free, while delivering folate, iron, magnesium and potassium and fiber.

    • Check out our Bean Glossary for the many different types of beans.
    • All about bean nutrition.
    • Make a vegetarian sandwich with white bean dip, using our recipe for a hummus sandwich.

    *For those who point out that the lime also originated in Southern Asia: OK, but it’s been a flavor in Mexican cooking for hundreds of years.

       

       

    Comments

    PRODUCT: Hot-Hot-Hot Ghost Pepper Salsa

    Here’s a salsa to enjoy while listening to Donna Summer belt “Hot Stuff.”

    It’s the first salsa we’ve tried from an artisan producer that uses the world’s hottest chile pepper—the ghost chile, or bhut jolokia.

    Salsa is a billion dollar industry in America, with consumer preferences trending to hot. Lots of people think that, for food, heat can’t be beat. If you’re one of the many who like it hot-hot-hot, get some of Mrs. Renfro’s Ghost Pepper Salsa. It recently won at the 2011 Scovie Awards, the world’s leading competition for hot and spicy products.

    Ghost Pepper Salsa is the fastest growing product in the company’s 71-year history. It’s also one of Mrs. Renfro’s three best sellers, along with two other hotties: Habanero and Green (jalapeño) Salsa.

    How hot is ghost pepper?

     

    Hot! Hot! Hot! Hot stuff, baby! Photo by River
    Soma | THE NIBBLE

     

  • The ghost pepper chile, or bhut jolokia, from northeast India, has been certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s hottest chile.
  • The chile is so hot, it’s used by the Indian military in tear gas—and it’s an ingredient in pepper spray, hand grenades and smoke bombs.
  •  
    The “explosive” Mrs. Renfro’s Ghost Pepper Salsa is available at retailers nationwide, or online at RenfroFoods.com. The cost per 16-ounce jar is $3.25 (prices will vary by market); online sales from Mrs. Renfro’s are in four-packs.

    Try it at your own risk. Says Mrs. Renfro’s: “This Ghost Pepper Salsa is scary hot!”

  • Check out the different types of chiles in our Chile Glossary.
  • How many different types of salsa can you name?
  •   

    Comments

    RECIPE: Fruit Salsa

    Peach salsa is one of the best-selling salsa flavors.

    You can make your own salsa with almost any seasonal fruit, including other stone fruits such as nectarines and plumcots, or your favorite berries. The fruit takes the place of the tomato, although you can also add a tomato in season.

    Enjoy the result with chips or on meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, tofu and all of the “usuals”—even vanilla or fruit ice cream/frozen yogurt and sorbet. Or, make easy cinnamon tortilla chips to go with it.

    FRUIT SALSA RECIPE
    This salsa recipe was shared by Melissas.com, using their now-in-season Flavorosa Plumcots.

    Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons sugar or substitute
  • 1 pound plumcots, diced
  • 1/3 cup red onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup mint, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon red jalapeño chile
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
  •  

    Make salsa from your favorite fruit.
    Plumcot photo salsa courtesy Melissas.com.

     

    Preparation
    1. In small bowl, combine lime juice and sugar until sugar dissolves, making marinade.
    2. In large bowl, combine all other ingredients, adding salt and pepper to taste.
    3. Stir marinade into large bowl, blend and chill prior to serving.

    Here’s another fruit salsa recipe: Strawberry Kiwi Cucumber Salsa With Easy Cinnamon Tortilla Chips.

    What’s The Difference Between A Plumcot & A Pluot?
    They’re all hybrids, meant to present the best qualities of both fruits—for the consumer, more sweetness and juiciness; for the seller, easier to grow, harvest, and ship. The names are trademarked by their respective breeders.

  • A plumcot is 50% plum/50% apricot. Developed by Luther Burbank in the 1920s, it is sweeter than either parent.
  • The pluot, also known as a “dinosaur egg” because of its speckled skin, was created by a California fruit breeder who wanted to improve on the plumcot. A pluot, sweeter than a plumcot, is primarily plum, with a range from 60% plum/40% apricot to 75% plum/25% apricot spanning more than 25 varieties. They have a higher sugar content and a more complex flavor profile than either a plum or an apricot. Because of the percentage of genes, it has the flavor of a plum but the mouthfeel of the apricot.
  • An aprium is the reverse of the pluot: a mix of 70% apricot/30% plum, though it can vary, as long as it is 60% apricot or more. It looks like an apricot, but is sweeter than either an apricot or a plum.
  •  
    All three, like their parents, are low in fat and calories, but all that sweetness raises the carb content. The fruits are full of vitamin A and C and high in calcium, fiber, iron, magnesium and potassium.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Meyer Lemons

    Over the last 30 years, the Meyer lemon has evolved from an ornamental garden lemon found in California farmers markets, to a popular commercial lemon.

    The two major lemons in America, Eureka and Lisbon, have a bracing tartness. The Meyer Lemon, which is a hybrid between a lemon and a mandarin or other sweet orange, has a milder, sweeter juice. It became a chef’s favorite for salad dressings, sauces and sorbets and other recipes; which led to consumer demand. It’s in season from November through March.

    The Meyer lemon was brought to the U.S. by Frank N. Meyer, an explorer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who found it growing as an ornamental plant outside of Peking, China in 1908.

    Learn more about the Meyer and all types of lemons in our Lemon Glossary.

     

    Meyer lemons. Photo courtesy Melissas.com.

     
    Add some to your Super Bowl hummus and see a big jolt of flavor. This recipe, by Tom Fraker, is courtesy of Melissas.com.

    HUMMUS WITH MEYER LEMON

    Ingredients

  • 1 tub (8 ounces) traditional hummus
  • 2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 package baby carrots
  • 1 package celery cut into sticks
  • 1/4 pound sugar snap peas
  •  
    Preparation
    In a medium size bowl, mix together the first 4 ingredients. Transfer to a serving dish and surround with the vegetables.

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Making Spinach Dip

    Are you making your famous spinach dip for the Super Bowl?

    Most recipes call for thawed frozen spinach. The least favorite part of the preparation is squeezing out all the water.

    Most people just take the cold, wet spinach in their hands and squeeze it, bit by bit.

    There’s a neater way: Use your potato ricer.

    To keep the spinach from falling through the perforations in the ricer, line the container with a thin, clean kitchen towel.

  • Looking for a new spinach dip recipe? Try this Kansas City Crab Grass Dip.
  •  

    There’s an easier way to squeeze it
    dry. Photo courtesy Birds-Eye.

     
    Find more tips like this in the handy book, Tips Cooks Love.

    Comments

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