Sunday, May 19, 2013

Dipping Oils

My neighbor Lee is my bread man. Pizza dough, hard rolls, grainy whole wheat loaves, baguettes- it runs the gamut. Lee's travels bring him to many bread men and women who give him tips as he advises them on their machinery.

Recently Lee  and his wife Sue reminded us of the simple pleasure of bread dipped in flavored oil.  A wonderful pre-dinner treat with a glass of wine or a way to transform a loaf of bread into a special side for seafood or grilled dinners.

Lee's recipe involves "the first four herbs and spices that I pull from the cupboard" liberally scooped into a 1/2 cup of good olive oil and allowed to rest and absorb into the oil on the drive over to the party.  Yes, that fast. 

I'll give you some suggested herb and spice combos below but I want to point out the Lee's method has great merit.  Logically, the first four savory herbs you can reach are most likely ones you really like and use in foods you cook frequently.  Use enough of the herbs and spices to really flavor the oil.  If you are making this to serve in the next hour, try using 1 tablespoon total of herbs and spices per half cup oil.  If you have a few hours for the flavors of the herbs and spices to open up, use a bit less.  This is a very forgiving technique so feel free to experiment and find what pleases you.

For me that might be thyme, basil, black pepper and celery seed.  You may reach for oregano, cayenne pepper and crushed fennel.  Fresh chopped herbs and a squeeze of lemon juice are another alternative.  My sister-in-law Diana grates Parmesan cheese into her dipping oil.

Garlic and fresh parsley can turn any warmed loaf into tasty garlic bread.  Food Safety Note: if you are adding garlic to your dipping oil, discard it afterwards.  Garlic and oil grow bacteria easily even if refrigerated and it us best to start fresh with a small quantity of oil than keep leftovers. 

A Middle East herb mixture of sesame, sumac and thyme called z'tar (and spelled several ways in English) blended with olive oil turns store-bought mini pita breads into rounds worthy of a grilled lamb feast.  Brush z'tar oil on the tops of pita and warm in a low oven.  We recently threw some on the grill to go with a grilled chicken and grilled fruit. 

Don't miss out on dipping oils if you are going the no-bread route for a while.  These flavored oils taste lovely on salad greens with a squeeze of lemon juice.   Try them with vegetables for crudites or as a marinade for grilled vegetables and kebabs.

Post Script
After writing the first draft of this article, I ran across a wonderful "dry dip," a deconstructed herb dipping oil that is great with crudites.  It is from the book, 500 Low-Carb Recipes by Dana Carpender and called Dukkah.  Carpender credits her friend Lou Anne with bringing this Turkish dip to her attention.  So great to have friends to show us tasty things....

500 Low-Carb Recipes by Dana Carpender, copyright 2002 Fair Winds Press

1/3 cup almonds or hazlenuts
1/4 cup white sesame seeds
1/4 cup coriander seeds
1/4 cup cumin seeds
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Toast the nuts and seeds in dry (empty) skillet over high heat for 1 minute.  
  2. Transfer to a food processor or mortar and pestle or coffee grinder (not used for coffee).  Crush the toasted mixture and add salt and pepper.  
  3. To serve, place the Dukkah in a bowl next to a bowl of good quality olive oil.  Serve with raw sliced vegetables.