Taking a dip

At a New Year’s party in Berlin, I was happily playing sous-chef for Tiffany. As a token North American, I was told to make “some sort of dip” for a crudité platter. In fairly short order, I assembled something passable from convenience store cheese that resembled a plasticine version of Boursin, sour cream, and sundry seasonings. In the end, two dips were served, since Kristin brought mock crab dip (Note: this is different from mock-crab dip, though both are good).

That had me thinking about the whole premise of dip and who might have invented it. Some internet searching for “dip capital of the world” only led to sites with observations about chewing tobacco. Eventually, I stumbled across a site about queso cheese dip, but still I was unsated, hungry as I was for the origins of a completely unnecessary foodstuff.

Dip is strange. The premise seems to be that something, for example a carrot stick, must overcome the natural disadvantages of having little sodium and fat. This is taken to the logical extreme with potato chip dip which adds fat, flavour, and salt to deep-fried and salted potatoes.

As a substance, dip is distinct enough from sauce, dressing, salsa, and toppings. Dip is different since it has enough adhesive quality to adhere to the dipping item and is viscous enough to adhere to itself. If it drips or drizzles, it’s not dip. Eliminated for the purposes of this article are the pseudo-dips hummus and guacamole because they are quite nutritious.

Moving beyond semantics, dip is everywhere and almost completely unexamined, perhaps because of its silent way of making celery tolerable. My local convenience store in Saint John, New Brunswick, provides an example. Sam’s Total Convenience (actually totally convenient) sells at least a dozen varieties. I especially enjoy the idea of low-fat varieties because it conjures the image of someone who is concerned about fat intake but not enough to suffer eating a plain potato chip, vegetable, or chicken wing.

Not to knock dip, but it seems like a culinary joke, right up there with aspic. Maybe it was invented by a consortium of mayonnaise makers who needed to sell more product. North American style dip is of the era when packaged foods were treated a staples, for example when a recipe called for a can of cream of mushroom soup. Speaking of which, one classic dip recipe is to add powered onion soup mix to sour cream and mayo (the ratio to be left to the discretion of the chef). The ideal dip eater relishes the mystery of the substance and does not ask questions.

Although I can’t find the actual history of dip, future food historians will undoubtedly see the present day as the start of the nadir. Current dip scourges available at any pub include artichoke and asagio served with, perhaps, pita bread crisps. There is also the blight of vulcanized cheese products accompanying nacho chips.

Call me old-fashioned, but I recall when the idea of homemade dip really meant something. No dip is better than my godmother Baden’s garlic dip. None. Not your mother’s, not the Pope’s. Interestingly, it contains almost no garlic. Put it out at a party, and it has a way of disappearing.

Baden’s Garlic Dip

1 pint Hellman’s Mayo
1 pint creamed cottage cheese
1/2 c. chopped onion
1/8  tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground celery seed
1 tsp ground black pepper

Combine ingredients in a food processor and purée until smooth. The dip will taste best after being left refrigerated for a few days and it keeps, according to the recipe, for one month. I’ve never seen it last longer than a week.

6 thoughts on “Taking a dip

  1. My emergency dip recipe: Greek yogurt, lemon juice and zest, garlic, herbs. But according to your definition, it would be a “pseudo-dip.” I disagree with you there.

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  2. Well, this article is only about dips that are of character. That does sound very nice. Do you press the yogurt? I buy tzatziki from the local market and it does not have an cucumber and I think that crushed dill seeds are used instead of fresh. It’s amazing.

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    1. So yogurt dip is not a dip of character? 😉 I don’t press it first because I buy the really thick stuff and because I never have cheesecloth when I need it, but you could if you wanted it thicker. My go-to falafel place has a really thick labneh with garlic and mint, which I like even better than my yogurt dip and which I’m guessing is similar to that cucumberless tzatziki. I think I just solved my dip craving problem. Labneh and pita for lunch!

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  3. Ah ha! I knew you didn’t actually like celery.

    Also, glad to hear that Sam’s Total Convenience is actually totally convenient. I once lived next to an inconvenience store labelled a convenience store. Always closed when you need something, always out of milk or eggs or both.

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    1. i actually like raw celery, but am not keen on it cooked. Tiffany came up with a joke about a restaurant reviewer who is idiosyncratic to the point of absurdity and doesn’t like celery. E.g. “The soup was acceptable, but tasted like the mirepoix contained celery.”

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