Is there a chip dip in the world that isn't wonderful? No matter what the flavor, at heart most are tubs of sour cream or melted cheese. Few foods are more satisfying. Of course, most dips also are notoriously heavy with fat and calories. Indeed, that's why we love them. Still, I figured there must be ways to lighten them up while retaining their luxurious texture.
I started by bulking up on the vegetables in this case, artichokes and spinach. Artichokes happen to contain many nutrients and a ton of fiber. I chose canned artichokes rather than frozen because the canned are packed in citric acid, which gives them a lemony kick. But if you prefer frozen, you'll need 2 cups thawed.
But why frozen spinach instead of fresh? Because you'd need to cook down a bathtub full of fresh spinach, or pretty darn near it, to end up with the equivalent of a cupful of frozen spinach. No one wants to do all that work before even starting to mix the dip. Also, a cup of frozen spinach boasts more than four times the nutrients of a cup of fresh spinach. It's kind of hard to beat. And all I had to do was defrost it and squeeze it out. Easy.
Now, how to conjure up that rich, cheesy texture without employing a boatload of cheese? I started with Neufchâtel, a French cream cheese that has one-third less fat than the full-fat version, but more flavor than the no-fat version. Then I added some low-fat sour cream for tang and a tiny bit of low-fat mayonnaise for the oil. You're welcome to substitute extra-virgin olive oil, if you'd like.
Finally, there's some Parmigiano-Reggiano, which bristles with so much flavor and salt that just a little bit of it an ounce in this case will do the trick. The full-fat version of this dip usually includes mozzarella, but I didn't miss it, so I didn't use it.
All these veggies and cheese cried out for some heat. I ended up using red pepper flakes and Peppadews. Peppadews are pickled red peppers from South Africa, hot and sweet and about the size of cherry tomatoes. If you don't find them in the market, you can swap in pickled cherry peppers or even roasted red peppers. As an added bonus, any of these red peppers will brighten up the dip's complexion.
The finishing touches? Caramelized onions and garlic. Please take the time to cook the onions slowly, which brings out their natural sugar. It adds a nice depth of flavor to the mix.
Serve this dip with a healthy cracker (just read the label) or make your own pita crisps. To do so, just separate some two-layered pita bread pockets into single layers, spray them lightly with oil, cut them into triangles, and bake them in a 400-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until crisp. Then go ahead and indulge yourself.
• Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."