Eric Akis: Get dunking with two tasty dips

Eric Akis

Ladies and gentlemen, roll up your sleeves and get ready to dunk! Today I have a couple of tasty dips for you to try that will require you to grab some tortilla chips and happily dunk away.

One is my version of the warm, cheesy, addictive and comforting Tex-Mex-style dip chili con queso. To make it, two types of grated cheese, tossed with some cornstarch to help thicken the dip, are gradually mixed into a seasoned and simmered stock, tomato and green chili mixture. When the cheese is melted and the mixture is gently bubbling, the chili con queso is ready to be immediately enjoyed with tortilla chips.

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I simply served the chili con queso in a heated bowl, because it always seems to quickly get devoured soon after I set it out. But, if you’re worrying about it cooling down, you could also serve and keep the chili con queso warm in a small fondue pot.

My second recipe is what I would call a table-style salsa you might see served in homes in some parts of Mexico. It’s called salsa rosa (red salsa) and is made by simmering whole tomatoes and a jalapeño pepper in water until tender. The water is drained, and then the tomatoes and pepper are blended with a bit of garlic and onion until a smooth salsa is created. I’ve also given you the option to blend in some cilantro, if desired.

After you season the salsa with salt and let the mixture cool, you have quite a zesty and flavourful dip/condiment made with just a few ingredients.

Note: The fantastic tortilla chips you see in the photo were made by Saanichton-based company Adriana’s The Whole Enchilada. Bags of them are sold at some Vancouver Island food stores listed on the website

Chili Con Queso

This is a warm, cheesy, rib-sticking, Tex-Mex-style dip you can scoop up and devour with tortilla chips.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: about 20 minutes

Makes: about four (1/2 cup or six (1/3 cup) servings

1 medium red on-the-vine tomato

1 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup finely diced yellow or white onion

3/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock, plus more if needed

1 (113 gram/4 oz.) can diced green chilies, drained well (see Note)

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, or to taste

• pinch garlic powder

100 grams havarti or Monterey jack cheese, grated (about 1 1/4 cups)

100 grams aged orange cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 1/4 cups)

1 Tbsp cornstarch

• tortilla chips for dunking

Set a pot of water, large enough to submerge the tomato in, over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Cut out the stem section and then mark a shallow X at the blossom end of the tomato. Set the tomato in the water one minute, or until its skin starts to loosen.

Lift tomato out of the water with a slotted spoon and set on plate. When tomato is cool enough to handle, peel off the skin. Now cut tomato in half and pull out and discard the seeds. Finely dice the seeded and skinned tomato flesh and set in a bowl.

Pour the oil into a medium pot (mine was 8-inches wide) and set over medium, medium-high heat.

Add the onion and cook until tender, about four to five minutes. Now add the 3/4 cup stock, diced tomatoes, green chilies, salt, hot pepper sauce and garlic powder and mix to combine.

Bring the mixture to a gently simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Lower the heat as needed to maintain that gentle simmer. Simmer mixture, uncovered, 10 minutes. While that occurs place the grated cheeses and cornstarch in a bowl and toss to combine.

When mixture has simmered 10 minutes, add 1/3 cup of the grated cheese mixture. Stir until the cheese is melted. When it is, add 1/3 cup more of the cheese and stir until it is melted. Keep adding the cheese is this gradual way until all is melted and incorporated. Thin chili con queso with a bit more stock, if you find it too thick. Let the chili con queso bubble and cook about 30 seconds. Transfer to a heated bowl and serve immediately with tortilla chips for dunking.

Note: Cans of diced green chilies are available in Mexican foods aisle of most supermarkets.

Eric’s options: You can keep chile con queso warm in small fondue pot. For a spicier, smokier tasting dip, mince and add one canned chipotle pepper when simmering the stock mixture.

Salsa Roja

This is a zesty salsa that you can serve with tortilla chips for dunking, or use as a condiment for Mexican-style dishes, such as tacos or burritos.

Preparation time: five minutes

Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes

Makes: about 1 1/2 cups

3 medium red on-the-vine tomatoes, any stems removed

1 medium jalapeño pepper (see Note)

1 medium garlic clove, minced

2 Tbsp minced yellow or white onion

• salt to taste

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, or taste (optional)

Place tomatoes and jalapeño pepper, left whole, in a pot (mine was six-inches wide) and cover with water. Set pot over medium, medium-high heat and bring water to simmer. Simmer tomatoes and jalapeño pepper until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Carefully drain water from the pot, reserving 1/4 cup of it. Place the drained tomatoes and jalapeño pepper in a food processor or blender with the garlic and onion. Puree the mixture until a smooth salsa is created, adding a bit of the reserved cooking water if you find it too thick. Taste and season the salsa with salt, and then blend in the chopped cilantro, if using.

Transfer salsa to a serving bowl and cool to room temperature. Now cover and refrigerate salsa until ready to serve. Salsa will keep at least three days in the refrigerator.

Note: This salsa is fairly spicy. If you prefer a milder taste, only use half a medium jalapeño pepper, seeds removed.

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

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