Hosting a get-together but not sure what to cook? A grazing table could be just what you need – starting with these moreish dip recipes.
It’s been a little over a month since lockdown restrictions began to ease across the UK, and it’s been as glorious as we imagined. Not only are we rediscovering the joy of socialising, we’ve finally had the chance to entertain outdoors once more – albeit it with a cosy pile of blankets on standby. There’s more good news on the horizon: from 17 May, gatherings of six people from two households in England and Wales, and groups of six people from up to three different households in Scotland, will be allowed to meet indoors.
But as we’ve been eating, drinking and chatting into the night, we’ve realised that the business of hosting can take up a lot of valuable party time if you’re not smart. No one wants to be stuck in the kitchen or scrambling around setting plates when everyone else is enjoying themselves – which is where grazing tables comes in handy.
As Shelly Westerhausen Worcel explains in her new cookbook Tables & Spreads, setting up a grazing table not only eliminates the stress of an elaborate sit-down dinner, it also means that guests can serve themselves, without requiring you to set a particular time to eat.
All you need is a handful of easy recipes that can be prepared ahead of time – starting with dips, aka the crowd-pleasers of any party– and placed on the table as people start to arrive.
Happily, this style of casual hosting also frees up some time to make things look pretty. If you’ve been getting into tablescaping during the pandemic, you’ll love Westerhausen Worcel’s tips on how to style dips and snacks (read on for more).
Below, Westerhausen Worcel shares three delicious dip recipes to help you master the art of the grazing table – alongside some vegetable styling suggestions to make your food look as beautiful as it tastes. Your guests will soon be asking for tutorials…
Shelly Westerhausen Worcel’s vegetable styling tips
- A large part of creating a beautiful presentation with vegetables is making sure you are using a variety of fresh and in-season options. This will guarantee an array of vibrant colours and shapes
- My favourite way to arrange vegetables is to pile them high in little mounds according to type. This will help each vegetable stand out and keep the presentation from feeling overwhelming; I recommend against mixing them all together like you would a salad
- Space out similarly coloured vegetables so they aren’t visually blending together. For example, place green beans and green bell peppers on opposite sides of the platter and have something like purple beets or pink radishes between them
- Do the same thing with shapes: if your carrots are cut into large matchsticks, add some round radishes or cherry tomatoes next to them
- You can also create variety within the vegetables themselves; for example, leave some of your cherry tomatoes whole and mix in a few halves and quarters
- If you are putting some items in bowls (like pickled vegetables) and keeping others on a platter or board, fill the space between the bowls with vegetables
- Allow some of the vegetables to hang off the board or platter slightly (but not so much that they touch the table) to create a more organic and abundant feel.
Smoky sun-dried tomato and walnut dip
Shelly says: “Inspired by one of my favourite romesco recipes, this dip is full of smoky flavour and texture. When pulsing all the ingredients together, make sure to keep this dip a little chunky so you can still enjoy some of the crunch from the walnuts.”
Yields about 350g
- 120g walnut halves
- 1 roasted red pepper (about 170g) from a water-packed jar
- 100g sun-dried tomatoes (from an oil-packed jar)
- 1 or 2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (depending on your affinity for heat)
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced
- 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tbsp adobo sauce (from the can of chipotle peppers), plus more as needed
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180°C and lay out the walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast for 7-8 minutes, tossing halfway through, or until the walnuts have darkened and are omitting a nutty aroma. Let cool and roughly chop.
Place the chopped walnuts, red pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, chipotle pepper, garlic, lemon juice, 1 tbsp of the olive oil, the adobo sauce, salt and paprika in a food processor and pulse 15 times or just until a chunky consistency has formed.
Taste and add more adobo sauce if it’s not hot enough for you.
Transfer to a serving bowl and drizzle with the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil and the black pepper.
The dip can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Wait to drizzle with the olive oil and black pepper until right before serving.
White cheddar and green chilli pinto dip
Shelly says: “This flavourful bean dip is delicious eaten with crisp, raw veggies, tortilla chips and even stuffed into tacos.”
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- one 430g can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 tsp chilli powder
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- one 200g can diced green chillies
- ½ tsp salt
- 60g shredded white cheddar cheese
- tortilla chips, for serving
In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes or until it starts to soften. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the beans, chilli powder, and smoked paprika and sauté for another 30 seconds.
Transfer the bean mixture to a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Add the diced green chilis (including their juices) and salt. Process until smooth, about 20 seconds.
Transfer the dip back into the small saucepan and turn the heat to medium. Stir in 40g of the cheddar and stir until completely melted, about 30 seconds.
Remove from the heat and transfer the dip to a serving bowl. Top with the remaining 20g of cheddar and serve with tortilla chips. Store leftover dip in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Blackberry-dijon whipped ricotta
Shelly says: “Creamy and sharp all at once, this will be a purple-tinged offering when blended.”
Yields about 530g
- 150g seedless blackberry jam
- 1 tbsp dijon mustard
- 1½ tsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ½ tsp salt
- ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 440g ricotta
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ⅛ tsp freshly ground pink peppercorns, for serving (or more black pepper)
In a small bowl, whisk together the jam, mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, salt and black pepper. Set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the ricotta on high speed for 2 minutes.
With the mixer running on medium-low speed, slowly pour in the jam mixture. Continue to whisk for another minute or until the blackberry jam is completely incorporated into the ricotta.
Transfer the ricotta mixture to a shallow serving bowl, press it down into an even layer, and top it with the olive oil and pink peppercorns.
This dip can be made a day ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Wait to drizzle with the olive oil and pink peppercorn until right before serving.
Adapted from Tables & Spreads: A Go-To Guide For Beautiful Snacks, Intimate Gatherings, And Inviting Feasts by Shelly Westerhausen Worcel (£21.99, Chronicle Books), out 13 May
Photography: © 2021 Shelly Westerhausen Worcel
Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.