A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big, BIG everything else: flavor, ideas, wow factor. Psst: We don't count water, salt, pepper, and certain fats (say, olive oil to dress greens or sauté onions), since we're guessing you have those covered. This week, we’re making a five-ingredient spinach-artichoke dip. Can you guess the other three?
Here’s a holiday party hack: Instead of bringing the host a bottle of wine, bring some spinach-artichoke dip and box of crackers. Because eleven other people are already bringing wine and everyone in the world loves spinach-artichoke dip. That’s a fact.
Well...I guess I don’t love spinach-artichoke dip. I love the idea, sure, but the execution usually bums me out. I call it: The Creaminess Conundrum. Or, when a recipe gets too hung up on being creamy and forgets everything else.
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Don’t get me wrong—spinach-artichoke dip should be melty and gooey and cozy. Even the meltiest and gooeyest and coziest. But it should also be vegetal and balanced, and not so heavy that you eat a few bites and want to go take a nap.
Recipes for this dish turn to all sorts of fats to provide creaminess. Mozzarella is popular, as are mayonnaise and sour cream. But cream cheese is the big one—the ingredient you’ll find in just about any spinach dip recipe.
Cream cheese is milky, mild, and slightly tangy. But more than anything else, it’s creamy. Hence my goal: to replace it with something sharper. I tried swapping in tart Greek yogurt more times than I care to admit and every test turned out dry or kinda curdled. Verdict: Hot spinach-artichoke dip needs cream cheese. It melts like a champ and makes the whole thing dip-able.
Which leaves us with one big Q: How do you balance all that cream cheese? Bring in some acidic ingredients to cut through the richness. And no, I don’t mean lemon juice or cider vinegar. I mean: more cheese.
It sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out. As Samin Nosrat writes in Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: “Let cultured dairy products be the secret weapon in your quest for acid balance.” Say, crumbled feta on avocado toast, or a smear of goat cheese on a prosciutto sandwich.
This dip’s secret weapon? Aged cheddar. This variety not only brings plenty of funk, but it melts well, too—a crucial component since we’re using equal amounts of both cheeses. (Yep, equal amounts!)
But I wanted it even brighter. That’s where Dijon comes in. This French-style mustard is spicy, vinegary, and depending on the brand, boozy from wine, all of which give that creamy, cuddly cream cheese a real jolt.
The result? A minimally-tweaked but totally transformed version of the dip everyone loves—and I bet you a pecan cookie that, come that holiday party, not one person will be wishing you had brought a bottle of wine instead.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing stories about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. She now lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, which is all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.