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Eric Akis: Lighten up with veggies ’n’ dip

If you’re planning to serve a plump, glazed ham, creamy scalloped potatoes, divine desserts and other rich foods for Easter supper, lighten things up when choosing snacky foods to serve before the feast.
Dips and vegetables make a light, tasty and colourful snack to enjoy before Easter dinner.

If you’re planning to serve a plump, glazed ham, creamy scalloped potatoes, divine desserts and other rich foods for Easter supper, lighten things up when choosing snacky foods to serve before the feast.

One of my go-to items in that regard sounds boring: vegetables and dip. But when you offer full-flavoured dips and present a fine selection of raw vegetables, called crudités in French, in an attractive way, this lighter snack can go gourmet.

You can, of course, buy ready-to-eat dips. But I prefer to make my own and today, I offer three recipes.

One is a twist on nutritious hummus that’s given an eye-appealing, red/orange hue by blending in cooked carrots and harissa. Harissa is a chili-based sauce that’s used as a condiment/flavouring in North African and Middle Eastern cooking. It’s sold at some supermarkets and Mediterranean-style food stores and has different levels of spiciness. I used a mild version of it and it added a wonderful flavour to my hummus, but did not overpower it.

My second recipe, a brilliant-green avocado spinach dip, has a rich taste, despite the fact that no-fat yogurt and low-fat mayonnaise were used. Not surprising as the ripe avocado and baby spinach used in the dip were flavoured with tangy lime, sweet honey, bold-tasting cilantro, hot pepper sauce and cumin.

My last recipe is a spring onion dip that also used those lower calorie versions of yogurt and mayonnaise. Mixed into them were finely chopped and cooked leeks and garlic, green onion, tarragon and a few other tastes. The end result was an onion dip that was infinitely better than store-bought.

All of today’s dips can be made up to a day in advance of serving.

As to what kind and how many raw vegetables to serve with dips, I like to choose at least six types and allow eight pieces per person, or even more as any leftovers can be used in salads and other dishes. Listed below are vegetables you could serve. For a stunning presentation, serve your dips in attractive bowls and place your vegetables in glass vessels around them as shown in today’s photo.


Vegetables for dipping

Below is a list of raw vegetables great for dipping. When choosing which ones to serve, to ensure a nice variety, pick those with different colours and shapes.


• cherry tomatoes

• raw asparagus spears

• radishes

• green onions

• sticks of bell pepper, or whole mini peppers

• regular, purple and/or orange cauliflower florets

• broccoli or romanesco florets

• carrot sticks or whole, small carrots with some of their green tops attached

• snap or snow peas

• celery and cucumber sticks

• Belgian endive leaves

• Small, whole mushrooms


Hummus with Carrots and Harissa

This version of hummus has a red/orange hue thanks to the addition of cooked carrots and harissa. Beyond raw vegetables, the hummus could also be served with wedges of pita.


Preparation: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 12 minutes

Makes: 3 1/2 cups


3/4 lb. carrots, peeled and sliced in 1/2-inch coins

2 cups low sodium vegetable or chicken stock or broth

1 (19-oz/540 mL) can chickpeas, drained well, rinsed and drained well again

1/2 cup mild harissa (see Note)

1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup tahini (see Note)

3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp ground cumin

• salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

• extra virgin olive oil and harissa, for garnish


Place carrots and stock in a small pot, bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until carrots are very tender, about 12 minutes. Lift carrots out of the pot with a slotted spoon, set in a shallow bowl and cool a few minutes. Keep leftover cooking liquid.

Place carrots and remaining ingredients, except garnish, in a food processor. Pulse until smooth. Thin the hummus to the desired consistency by blending in 2 to 4 Tbsp of the carrot cooking liquid. Taste hummus, and season with salt and pepper, as needed.

Spoon into a decorative bowl, cover and keep refrigerate until ready to serve. When ready to serve, drizzle the top of the hummus with 1 tsp or so of olive oil and harissa.


Note: Harissa is sold in the ethnic-foods aisle of some supermarkets and at Mediterranean-style food stores. I bought it at Thrifty Foods and the brand I used was Mina. Tahini is sesame seed paste and is sold in jars at most supermarkets. Blend it well before measuring.


Avocado Spinach Dip

This vibrant, emerald green dip, with tangy, sweet and spicy flavours, has a rich taste, despite the fact that no-fat yogurt and low-fat mayonnaise are used.


Preparation: 10 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: 1 1/2 cups


1 ripe, large avocado, quartered lengthwise, peeled and cubed

1/3 cup no-fat Greek-style yogurt

1/3 cup low-fat mayonnaise

3 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1 Tbsp honey

1 cup tightly packed baby spinach, any long stems removed (about 1 oz./28 grams)

12 small cilantro sprigs

1 tsp hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco

1 tsp ground cumin

• salt to taste

Place all ingredients, except salt, in a food processor and pulse until well combined and smooth. View mixture and, if desired, make a little thinner by mixing in a little more yogurt or mayonnaise. Taste dip and season with salt, as needed. Spoon into a decorative bowl, cover and keep refrigerated until ready to serve.


Spring Onion Dip

Leeks, green onion and other tastes combine in this dip that has much more flavour than store-bought onion dip.


Preparation: 15 minutes

Cooking time: Eight to 10 minutes

Makes: About two cups


2 Tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 cups finely diced leeks, white and pale green part only (see Note)

1 large garlic clove, minced

1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock or broth

1 cup no-fat Greek-style yogurt

1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise

1/3 cup very thinly sliced green onions

1/2 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp dried tarragon

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco

• snipped fresh chives or thinly sliced green onion, for garnish

Place oil in a nine-inch skillet set over medium, to medium-high heat. Add the leek and garlic and cook five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the stock, bring to a simmer and cook three to five minutes more, or until liquid has evaporated and leeks are very tender. Remove from the heat and cool leeks to room temperature.

Place yogurt and mayonnaise in a bowl and whisk to combine. Mix in the cooked leeks and remaining ingredients, except garnish. Transfer to a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

When ready serve, sprinkle with some chives or green onion and enjoy.


Note: Finely diced means to cut into 1/8-inch cubes. To cut leeks like that, after washing them well and drying, cut them into thin long strips. Thinly cut those strips, widthwise, into small pieces.


Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.