A Healthier Appetizer for the Holidays: Italian Dip


Yesterday's air of excitement as the election results rolled in put me in a holiday mood. The anticipation throughout the day, and the literal dancing in the streets after the final polls closed made the atmosphere as electric as when Santa's sleigh is soaring through the sky.

We prepared a little election-viewing party here in our apartment, which meant lots of beer and cocktails and plentiful munchies. I baked two sheet-pan pizzas for dinner (I've finally just about perfected pizza crust), whipped up a batch of hummus with veggie dippers, and of course, I made what has become one of my go-to party foods, Italian dip.

My mother-in-law first introduced me to this salsa-like mix of cheese and veggies. When I make it, I follow her tips for success but invariably mess around trying to achieve hors d'oeuvre perfection.

We've both tweaked the recipe from the original, which called for a lot more cheese. I usually make my own low-fat vinaigrette to pour in rather than mixing up a batch of Good Seasons Italian, and sometimes, if I have the cash, I replace the canned chopped olives with kalamata olives.

FF844616-61FB-451A-8403-CD3EB4CF1341.jpgThe name is not particularly descriptive of the results, so feel free to call this cilantro-based concoction whatever you prefer. Cilantro, after all, is an herb found more commonly in Mexican and Asian cuisine. Though Italian markets might carry "coriander" (as it's more commonly known in Europe and what we here call the seed cilantro grows from), it doesn't make frequent appearances in that culture's dishes compared to other herbs such as basil or flat-leaf parsley.

As this recipe features cilantro prominently, I'm sharing it with the Weekend Herb Blogging community. I once participated in this even on my old cooking blog (which is only updated infrequently since I reassessed my writing direction), but it has changed since then. Starting this week, the event is organized on the site Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once, which you can visit to learn more about the event. This week's roundup is hosted by Noob Cook, if you're interested in more vegetation-based recipes.

I know cilantro can be a controversial herb. A loud faction insists that it tastes like soap and ruins whatever food it touches. Some contend that dislike of cilantro is genetic, but I'm not sure that there's much solid evidence to back up this claim (though science has examined the herb's apparent antibacterial properties). I didn't like cilantro when I first tried it myself, but after multiple exposures I grew to appreciate its fresh, verdant flavor.

Obviously I'm not the only person to adore cilantro in our household, as just yesterday I wrote about my cilantro-based pesto. Cilantro, like parsley, is ubiquitous in supermarkets and available in cheap, non-clamshelled bundles for less than a dollar each. It's as flavorful as basil (though differently so) for no more than a third of the price, which makes it both healthy and budget-friendly.

Give Italian dip a try at your next shindig. Use it like we tend to (having picked up the recipe in California) by scooping it up with tortilla chips, or consider alternate applications. It could be a topping for small rounds of toast (think bruschetta) or a filling for a pita. Some people even eat it straight up like a salad.

whb-italian-dip.jpgItalian Dip
Source: Pennies & Pounds

2 bunches cilantro, chopped
2 bunches green onion, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, diced
1/2 lb. fancy-shred mild white cheese (I used mozzarella, but my mother-in-law uses Monterey Jack)
1 4-ounce can diced green chilies
1 4-ounce can chopped black olives (or an equivalent amount of chopped kalamata olives, about 1/4-1/3 cup)
1 cup your favorite vinaigrette (or 1 package Good Seasons Italian dressing mix, prepared)

Toss the veggies and cheese. Mix in the dressing gently. Allow the dip to rest in the refrigerator a few hours before serving for the flavors to meld, but the dip tastes best served at room temperature so bring it out early.

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  1. I love cilantro! Over here (Singapore, in South East Asia) we have an abundance of it. Your dip looks fantastic ... definitely a great party food ... thanks for sharing such a nice entry with whb! :)

  2. Thanks for the feedback! Cilantro is great; I hope more people give it a try!