You start with something creamy and rich and it hardly matters how you eat it. Usually dips are served in bowls with something alongside for the guests to do the action. The host might assemble spreads on crackers, bread, or sliced vegetables. To make a spread into a dip, thin it with sour cream, yogurt, heavy cream, or mayonnaise. To thicken nearly any dip for spreading, add more cream cheese or replace some of the sour cream with butter or cream cheese.

Many of the sauces and salsas in the “Spices, Herbs, Sauces, and Condiments” chapter can be used as dips or spreads too. And it’s worth noting that refrigeration stiffens anything with a fair amount of fat or starch. So those benefit from sitting out to remove the chill for at least a few minutes before serving.

Classic Creamy Dip, Five Ways

Makes: 6 to 8 servings | Time: 10 minutes

Perhaps the easiest dip to make and customize. A few nuances: You can chop the vegetables in a food processor, as long as you don’t purée them. If you go the cottage cheese route, purée it first to make it smooth, like the other options. You can also substitute mayonnaise for half the dairy.

  • 1 cup chopped mixed raw vegetables, like seeded cucumber, red or green bell pepper, carrot, and/ or fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 scallion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or parsley
  • 2 cups sour cream, Greek yogurt, or cottage cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Milk (optional)
  • Crackers, chips, crudités, or Crostini for serving

Mix the chopped vegetables with the scallion, herb, sour cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Add a little lemon juice, to taste. Thin with milk if necessary. Cover and refrigerate for up to a day. Serve with the accompaniments you like.

Caramelized Onion Dip Easy and amazing: Omit the vegetables and scallion and use 1 cup Caramelized Onion, chopped, and ½ cup chopped parsley; you won’t need the lemon juice.

Beet and Horseradish Dip Use 1 cup shredded beets for the chopped vegetables and add 1 tablespoon or more prepared horseradish. Add Dijon mustard to taste to give this even more kick.

Smoked Salmon or Trout Dip Also good with salmon or trout roe: Omit or include the vegetables and scallion, as you like. Add ½ cup (or a little more) flaked smoked trout or chopped smoked salmon. Choose dill for the herb. Lemon juice is a must here.

Watercress or Arugula Dip The pepperiness of these greens is fabulous in a dip: Omit the chopped vegetables. Add 1 cup trimmed, washed, well-dried, and chopped watercress or arugula.

Herbed Goat Cheese

Makes: 6 to 8 servings | Time: 10 minutes

The consistency here is somewhere between a dip and spread, so use it either way— with Crostini or crudités. Other cheeses you can use: fresh ricotta or feta

  • 8 ounces fresh goat cheese
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream, sour cream, yogurt, or milk, or as needed
  • ¼ teaspoon minced garlic, or to taste
  • ½ cup chopped mixed fresh mild herbs like basil, parsley, chervil, dill, and/ or chives
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon or thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, or as needed

Mash the goat cheese and thin it with enough of the cream to make it spreadable or usable as a dip. You may need more or less depending on the density of the cheese and the consistency you prefer.

Stir in the garlic and herbs. Taste and add salt if necessary (some goat cheese is quite salty) and pepper to taste. Drizzle with the oil and serve, or refrigerate for up to several hours, then add the oil and serve chilled.

Honied Goat Cheese Omit the herbs, garlic, and olive oil. After thinning in Step 1, stir in 2 tablespoons (or more) honey.

Rosemary-Honey Goat Cheese Slightly sweet and lovely with any fresh or dried fruit: Omit the garlic, salt, and pepper. Use 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary for the herb and as much honey as you like instead of oil.

Goat Cheese– Stuffed Figs Terrific grilled: Thin the cheese as directed until spreadable. Omit the garlic and herbs. Taste and add salt if necessary. Halve 8 ripe fresh figs. Spread about 1 tablespoon of the cheese on the top of each fig half, pressing just enough so it adheres. Drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with some pepper, and serve. Or refrigerate for up to an hour before garnishing and serving. To grill, just pop onto a not-too-hot grill, cheese side up, until the figs are warm.

Flavorful Cream Cheese Spread Plenty of uses beyond bagels: Use cream cheese instead of goat cheese. Omit the garlic, herbs, and oil and add 4 ounces (about 1 cup) Roquefort, Maytag blue, or other good blue cheese. Add sour cream or yogurt as needed to get the desired consistency. Season with cayenne or hot sauce to taste, if you like.

Anchovy Spread A surprising hit, even for people who think they hate anchovies: Use 8 ounces cream cheese in place of the goat cheese. Omit the herbs. Add 4 mashed anchovy fillets or more to taste, along with the garlic and plenty of black pepper. Season with lemon juice instead of drizzling with oil.