The best thing about spring, besides the lovely weather of course, is that our meals get lighter and easier to make. With more fresh produce on the shelves and from the farmers’ market, our fridge is always full and I’ve been known to turn homemade dips and dressings into dinner.
Plus, I appreciate meals that don’t require cooking — as in, that time when the oven or stove heat up our kitchen while our air conditioner fights to cool it alll back down.
Some of these ideas for homemade dips and dressings may be a little indulgent, but dip for dinner (yes, really!), especially when veggies are the vehicle to get them from bowl to mouth, is casual, simple, and can be healthier than you think.
Plus, our kids love it. Which is always a win!
Top photo: Homemade pimento cheese spread © Anne Wolfe Postic for Cool Mom Eats
10 of our favorite homemade dips and dressings and tips for turning them into easy meals
Photo: © Elise Bauer for Simply Recipes
1. Homemade Hummus
There was a time when my children were young that I swore I’d never eat hummus again, because every darn potluck included multiple versions of it. Thank goodness I changed my tune, because as far as homemade dips and dressings go, hummus is a delicious, easy, protein-filled options for crisp vegetables, and the Simply Recipes hummus recipe is a snap to make. You can roll it into pita sandwiches, use it over salads, or set it out as a fun side in lieu of guac or a heavier dip.
Elise Bauer has got some fantastic tips and variations too, like beet or basil hummus, to help you change things up but still keep dinner light and easy. I would just follow one tip in particular of Elise’s: Don’t make your chickpeas from scratch; there’s really no need.
2. Homemade Pimento Cheese Dip
Pimiento cheese is a southern classic, and I’m not here to tell you it’s the healthiest thing, but it sure is good. Dipping celery and carrots instead of chips will at least make it a little healthy — but chips are also VERY good. My best homemade pimiento cheese dip (at very top) is made with all the little bits and pieces of assorted cheese we have left in the fridge at the end of the week and it’s always great not to have to waste food. Click over for more tips about pimento than you’d ever hope to know!
3. Homemade Carrot Ginger Dressing
The first time I made the Carrot & Ginger Dressing from Goop (don’t judge, it’s good!), I was doing some cleanse-type thing (also don’t judge!) for a week. Our whole family liked it, so I’ve since added it to our regular rotation. It’s probably not filling enough for a whole meal, but makes for a flavorful spring/summer dressing over salad — and that salad can be as hearty as you’d like. Just add toppings.Nathalie Jolie on Unsplash
4. Homemade pesto
A basic basil pesto, like this one from the fantastic Florence Fabricant for the New York Times, makes for a delicious dip or dressing, and the recipe can be modified in so many ways. Here are four more pesto variations, and recipes to help you use it all up. We love arugula pesto with feta, and often substitute almonds or pecans for the pine nuts, while lots of families love walnuts in theirs. The options are endless!
Of course you can use to top pasta of all kinds, but it’s also a great spread in sandwiches or paninis, use it over roast chicken, or let the kids dip their food here instead of ketchup — if they dare.
5. Homemade bean dip
Ree Drummond’s popular However-Many-Layer Bean Dip is actually…seven layers. But when you’re cleaning out the fridge, you can always add an extra layer or two if you have a vegetable on hand that might fit. Believe it or not, you may even be able to sneak some peas in there, right between the cheese — and the other cheese. It’s filling enough for a meal all on its own on nights you don’t feel like cooking.
6. Homemade ranch dressing
While ranch doesn’t exactly scream “make a meal out of me,” it’s not just a playgroup treat; there’s so much you can do with it that does make a meal. The Kitchn’s Quick Ranch Dressing is so easy and a great place to start. Don’t have buttermilk? Use powdered buttermilk as an alternative for a semi-homemade ranch. Kids will dip nearly anything in it, so don’t be afraid to give them options. As we always say, sometimes homemade dressings and dips are just the way to get some other food into your mouth.
Pro tip: a lot of dogs love a dash of powdered buttermilk on their food, and it’s also delicious on popcorn.
7. Homemade vegetarian paté
Speaking of playgroup recipes, another mother once turned me on to her recipe for mushroom and almond pâté which I shared on The Kitchn a few years back. Now, all this time later, we still love it. This dip is vegetarian, and if you want a vegan recipe, you could substitute vegan margarine for the butter. It’s definitely filling enough for a lighter meal, especially if you’re into grazing when the weather gets warmer.
Photo by Jeanie de Klerk on Unsplash
8. Homemade spicy garlic dip
Another favorite vegan option in my homemade dips and dressings repertoires is Spicy Garlic Dip, a recipe I lifted from Jo Stepaniak’s cookbook Vegan Vittles, then added my own twist. I even shared it on my long ago and far away blog. The base is silken tofu, which makes it more substantial than you’d think, considering most garlic dips start with mayonnaise or sour cream. And it’s not only great on its own with tortilla chips, it’s a terrific sandwich spread to keep around.
9. Homemade bagna cauda
We love steamed artichokes dipped in Bagna Cauda, a homemade dip of olive oil, garlic, and anchovie fillets that hails from Piedmont, Italy. This recipe from Bon Appétit happens to be fantastic. You’ll find the dip is just as good on other vegetables or crusty bread, too. If you’re having an appetizers for dinner kind of night, it adds a new flavor into the mix and changes things up from the usual.
10. Smoked trout rilettes
This final option for homemade dips and dressings that makes summer meals lighter and easier may not be for every family — but I’m sharing it because I’m a fan of fish rillettes. It’s essentially a crostini spread, made from a simple, clean shredded fish and crème fraîche mixture. Fine Cooking’s Smoked Trout Rillettes is a great recipe to get you started. However I make mine with leftover fish, and swap in Duke’s mayonnaise instead of crème fraîche — mainly because Duke’s is more readily available in my fridge — and it turns out terrific.
See? I’m all about easy.