Spinach and White Bean Dip
Hello, my name is Tina and I’m a last minute shopper. I like to think about what I want to buy well in advance, but I don’t actually get around to that pesky purchasing bit until the 11th hour. And when I do try to cop the curve in advance? Badness ensues. For example, every year I start shopping for Christmas gifts in late September/early October, and squirrel them away into various hidey-holes and other “safe places”. By December 1st I have no notion of what I’ve bought, and even less recollection about where I stashed it. I would actually probably be the squirrel that starved to death in a tree full of chestnuts. On the plus side, when I start to randomly stumble across said presents in March, well, YAY!! ‘Free’ presents that weren’t supposed to be for you but ended up that way anyway are almost as good as stashing fivers in your pants pockets every spring so when you put them on again in the fall you get a fabulous surprise.
Anyway, I did it again this Thanksgiving holiday. I knew the stores would be closed on Monday, and I was even at a grocery store on Sunday afternoon. While there, I thought, “Huh. I”m supposed to bring an appetizer to my parent’s house for Thanksgiving tomorrow. I should buy some ingredients.” And then I got side tracked by the deli section, and next thing you know I walked out of the store with a bag full of cheese, a solitary lemon, and not a whole lot else. This meant, of course, that whatever I decided to bring to the party would be crafted from pantry staples and frozen goods.
Herein lies the joy of canned beans. For the purists out there who wouldn’t think of cracking a can, I say pish, tosh. Canned beans are a staple in my house, because they’re fast and easy (just like me!), convenient, and affordable, to say the least. That could be why I took stock of our staples and found some beans, more beans, frozen spinach, frozen….something meaty, and enough spices to make a Sheikh sigh with envy. Ergo, a Middle Eastern spiced white bean and spinach dip was just crying out to be born.
I love dips, and spinach dips are no exception. A creamy, rich spinach dip is one of the retro party staples that survived the test of time because tasty food is still tasty food, even if it’s not in style. The thing is, I sometimes struggle with spinach dip. Oh, no, I don’t struggle to eat it (don’t be silly!) I just can’t make it. Anything that starts with a base of mayonnaise and sour cream will probably be creamily delicious, but if I make it then I’ll actually know what the ingredients and fat content might be, which is….the point at which I stop being able to eat it. Oh, blessed ignorance. I heart you so. I would consider this to be a heart healthier riff on a spiced spinach dip which gets it’s flavor from aromatics rather than dairy fat. Because, despite my affection for tasty fats and oils, sometimes I just have to cry auntie and hamster-roll for the nearest exit before the mayonnaise has a chance to join it’s fatty friends on my inner upper thighs.
Spinach and White Bean Dip
Makes about 3 – 4 cups
- 2 cans (19 oz each) white beans*
- 1 package (300g) frozen chopped spinach
- 1.5 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 1.5 tsp whole coriander seeds
- 1/2 tsp whole fennel seeds
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 whole bulb roasted garlic **
- 1.5 lemons
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- small handful parsley (~3 tbsp finely chopped)
- salt to taste
* I like canned navy beans because they’re creamy and rich with a relatively thin skin, but a white kidney or Great Northern bean will work just as well. Oh yes, or in a pinch you could use chickpeas. You’ll have a darker hue to the dip and a slightly nuttier taste, but chickpeas are a truly delicious substitute.
** I tend to roast up a few heads of garlic at a time and keep the extras in the fridge for exactly a last minute circumstance like this. A whole head of garlic might seem a bit excessive, but remember that garlic mellows and gets a rich and caramelized sweetness when you roast it over moderate heat for a good length of time. One bulb of roasted garlic will give the beans a rich depth, but won’t keep the vampires at bay. If you weren’t quite sure how to go about roasting garlic, I’ve got instructions here…or here, and probably a few other places that I’ve forgotten about.
Heat a small skillet over medium heat until it’s hot enough that you can feel the heat when your hand hovers about 2 inches above it. Measure the cumin, coriander and fennel seeds into the skillet and let them start to toast, tossing them around so they don’t burn. This only takes about 2-3 minutes. When the spices are fragrant and you can hear them popping, add the hot pepper flakes and immediately take the skillet off the heat. Hot pepper flakes release some of their oils when they warm, but they also go from ‘warm’ to ‘black’ in about 6 seconds flat….and your house will smell like mustard gas as you desperately try to gasp through the pain. Not that I know from experience, of course. That’s just what I’ve heard around the block…..
Pound the spices in a mortar and pestle or give them a quick whir through a spice grinder until they’re coarsely broken down.
Drain and rinse your beans thoroughly under cold running water. Coax the cloves of roasted garlic out of their papery husks and add them to the beans in the bowl of a food processor, along with the spices and olive oil. Squeeze in the juice of one lemon to start.
Puree the garlic and beans until they’re fairly smooth before adding the parsley leaves (no stems, please) and a generous sprinkling of salt. After all, you know who likes salt more than beans do? Spinach, that’s who.
Pulse the beans until the parsley is coarsely chopped. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can from the spinach and add it to the mix.
Pule the mixture until the spinach is chopped well and incorporated through. Taste the dip, and squeeze in the juice of your other half lemon if it needs some brightening up. I’m a citrus fiend, so the juice of 1.5 plump lemons was perfect. Check the seasoning and add more salt if you feel a yen.
The mixture should be thick and shmearable, but if you wanted to thin it out a bit you could do so with a wee touch more olive oil or even water. This creamy, beany dip is fabulous scooped up with rustic whole wheat crackers that are sprinkled with za’atar to echo the Middle Eastern flavors in the spread.
Does it seem strange to you that I make za’atar spiced crackers and spiced spinach and bean dip for Thanksgiving? If you knew my family, it wouldn’t. Thanksgiving at my parent’s table has what you would expect in terms of turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, and two types of stuffing (after 30+ years my parents are still in stiff competition). However, instead of brussel sprouts we have tabouli. And you know what goes really well with turkey and cranberry sauce? Garlicky hummus. No jokes. Thanksgiving, like most of our other holidays, is a fusion of cultures and flavors on the table. Bearing that in mind, a white bean based spinach dip with cumin and coriander starts to seem somewhat more at home, doesn’t it?
This is definitely not a dead ringer for traditional low fat spinach dip, but it’s my kind of lower fat spinach dip – less cream, more bean, and full of sweet roasted garlic and aromatic spices.
Hello? Is that spinach dip? Because…because it certainly LOOKS like spinach dip. *I* like spinach dip too…..did you forget about me?? Oh, don’t mind the voices of crazy over there. That’s just a hollowed out loaf of pumpernickel that’s feeling a little bit lonely. But hey, he’ll come around. They always do.