Dips: Get the scoop on a party staple

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Have you ever been to a party where dips weren’t served? Me, neither. They’re mainstays at gatherings, and they’ve come a long way from the days of sour cream mixed with packaged soup or salad dressing mixes.

We’re sticking with creamy dips with a few twists. Dips often taste rich because they’re based on ingredients such as mayonnaise, cream cheese and sour cream -- all of which add fat and calories. Simply substituting reduced-fat versions can lighten the fat and calorie load considerably.

You can reduce it further by substituting nonfat Greek-style yogurt in place of sour cream.

The recipe for Spinach Avocado Dip calls for nonfat plain Greek-style yogurt. It’s pureed with ripe avocados and mixed with a sauteed spinach mixture.

For an appetizers spread, it’s nice to have a selection of warm, cold, savory and spicy dips, plus plenty of options for dipping, including vegetables, pita chips and whole-grain crackers. Mini red, orange and yellow bell peppers sold in 1-pound bags also make great dippers.

Jim Bologna, executive chef at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Mich., offers this idea for an easy Chickpea Aioli Dip:

Mash cooked chickpeas in a blender until smooth with some olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, Dijon mustard, roasted garlic and mint. If the mixture is too thick, add more olive oil.

Crudites with Green Goddess Dressing

Makes: 3 cups dip; Preparation time: 10 minutes; Total time: 10 minutes.

Adapted from “On a Stick” by Matt Armendariz ($16.95, Quirk Books).

¾ cup low-fat mayonnaise

¾ cup low-fat sour cream or crema Mexicana

1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar

1 tablespoon lime juice

Zest of ½ lime

2 green onions, roughly chopped (green and white parts)

½ cup chopped cilantro

1 pickled jalapeño pepper, seeded, optional

Salt and pepper to taste

Assorted small sliced vegetables on skewers

To make the dressing, put all the ingredients in a blender and puree on high for about 1 minute; pour into a serving bowl and refrigerate for 2 hours or up to 3 days. This is best served cold or at room temperature. Serve with small vegetables threaded on skewers, such as grape tomatoes, raw green beans, little carrots, celery cut on the diagonal, radishes cut in half, cauliflower, cucumbers, raw or slightly blanched asparagus, yellow or red bell peppers.

Per 2 tablespoon serving. 30 calories (63 percent from fat ), 2 grams fat (1 gram sat. fat), 2 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams protein, 80 mg sodium, 6 mg cholesterol, 0 grams fiber .

Warm and Creamy Bacon Dip

Makes: 4 cups; Preparation time: 10 minutes; Total time: 40 minutes.

8 ounces low-fat cream cheese, softened

2 cups low-fat sour cream

6 slices cooked and crumbled bacon

1½ cups shredded reduced-fat Mexican-style cheese blend

1 cup chopped green onion

Toasted bread slices

Vegetables on skewers

Whole-grain crackers

Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Place the mixture in a 1-quart baking dish. Cover. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until bubbling and hot.

Instead of a baking dish, you can slice about a 1-inch piece off the top of a round sourdough loaf; set the piece aside. Hollow out the loaf; cut up the bread to serve with the dip. Spoon the dip into the hollowed-out crust. Replace the top slice. Wrap the bread bowl in foil and bake in the preheated 400 F oven for 30 minutes.

Per 2 tablespoons of dip. 57 calories (66 percent from fat ), 4 grams fat (2 grams sat. fat), 2 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 100 mg sodium, 13 mg cholesterol, 0 grams fiber.

Spinach Avocado Dip

Makes: 2 cups dip; Preparation time: 15 minutes; Total time: 40 minutes.

From Martha Stewart Living magazine, December 2011.

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup finely chopped shallots

1 tablespoon minced garlic

10 ounces spinach, rinsed well, tough stems removed

Coarse salt and ground pepper

2 medium-ripe Hass avocados

1 cup nonfat Greek-style yogurt

1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice

12 ounces sugar snap peas

9 small slices pumpernickel bread, cut into triangles

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil. Add shallots and garlic, stirring often; cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Add spinach and about teaspoon salt. Cook, covered, until spinach is wilted, about 4 minutes.

Uncover. Cook until liquid evaporates, about 7 minutes. Refrigerate until cooled, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, puree avocados, yogurt, lemon juice and teaspoon salt in a food processor until smooth.

Season with pepper. Finely chop the cooled spinach mixture. Stir into the avocado puree. Serve with snap peas and bread for dipping.

Per 2 tablespoons of dip. 46 calories (57 percent from fat), 3 grams fat (0 grams sat. fat), 3 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 46 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, 2 grams fiber.