The table as the gravitational center of our lives.

Mediterranean Seven Layer Dip with Za’atar Pita Chips

“Remember how they always thought there wasn’t a way to kill a ‘toon?  Well, Doom found a way.  Turpentine, acetone, benzene.  He calls it ‘The Dip.’ ” -Actor Richard LeParmentier as Detective Valiant’s loyal ally Lt. Santino in Robert Zemeckis‘ 1988 comedy Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

I don’t recall the precise circumstances under which this recipe stumbled into existence between my ears, but I do know that it had a little bit to do with the consumption of wine and/or beer (or both) during a casual discussion at my sister’s round kitchen table.  And lest you think that I’d soak my good, quality family time in a little bit too much booze, I’ll have you know that it’s so much worse than that.  One too many with my brood and the next thing you know I’m starting utterly stupid conversations like this:  ”I’m your dream 7-layer dip.  What’s in me?  You go first!”

Of course, the 7-layer dip we all know and love is the one we usually get on Superbowl Sunday or at trashy potluck dinners.  A container of refried beans, some Mexican cheese blend from a re-sealable pouch, a scattering of black olives from a can…..these are the things that come to mind.  And whatever you think of the ingredients…..wherever you’d place them on a scale of trailer park to custom yacht, you just can’t argue with the concept.  That a chip or cracker can be plunged into one bowl and come out wearing 7 different foods at once, well, that just about deserves a standing ovation and a tear.  Why not take this kind of brilliance and run with it a little bit?

I love me some overly-toppinged nachos, so an upmarket version of the classic 7-layer was one of the first things to come to mind.  But I will also pretty much add a falafel joint’s entire side item menu to the pita if they’ll let me, so I thought “Hey!  Let’s take this party to another cuisine entirely and see what shakes down.”  What shook down was good.

I seriously sat down with a sheet of notebook paper and charted this out before I made it, nerding out on analogs between the classic 7-layer recipes I found and the one I was envisioning.  Refried beans were swapped for hummus, canned olives were upgraded to homemade tapenade, plastic pouch cheese stepped down in favor of labneh.  And the tortilla chips?  They gave way to za’atar-enhanced homemade pita chips.  (If you’ve never had za’atar before, these easy-to-make pita chips are a really nice introduction.)  This was so good that we hoovered too much and weren’t even hungry for dinner afterward.  It needs a warning label next time, but other than that I think it’s safe to say that America’s favorite game day snack’s game done changed.

Ingredients:

For the pita chips:

6 plain or whole wheat pitas, cut into squares roughly 1 1/2″ in size

2 tbsp. za’atar

Neutrally-flavored oil, such as vegetable or canola

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dip:

(From the bottom up)

Layer 1:  Hummus – either homemade or store-bought.  The Sabra stuff is pretty good if you’re buying it, but homemade is really so much better.

Layer 2:  Cooked ground lamb.  I basically used the ingredients from this recipe, minus the fresh herbs.  Instead of forming into balls I just cooked it like you would taco meat, starting with sautéing the onions and then adding the meat and spices, breaking up with a wooden spoon until meat is cooked through and slightly browned.  Any leftovers would be great with pasta and tomato sauce, or you could use it to make stuffed grape leaves or filling for phyllo pastry.

Layer 3:  Chopped fresh tomatoes.  I used cherry tomatoes that happened to look really lovely in the store.  You could use any tomatoes you want, really.  I quartered the cherry tomatoes, salted them lightly, tossed gently with clean hands, and then left them in a sieve set over a bowl for about 15-20 minutes to shed some of their water content before adding them to the dip bowl.

Layer 4:  Babaganouj.  I have yet to find a store-bought babaganouj that’s worth it’s price tag, so I always make my own.  I have a recipe for it here, and it makes beautiful baba every time.

Layer 5:  Chopped fresh cucumber.  Like the tomatoes, I chopped the cucumber, salted it lightly, tossed gently with clean hands, and left over a sieve to drain for a good 15-20 minutes before adding to the dip bowl.  It’s a good idea to even blot them dry with paper towel after draining as a lot of the water content tends to stick to the cukes without draining.

Layer 6:  Kalamata olive tapenade – either homemade or store-bought.  There’s some good store-bought stuff out there, particularly at gourmet food shops and good cheese shops or delis.  One of these days I’ll get around to posting a recipe at some point because it’s a great one to know – 5 minutes and a food processor and you’re done.  Incidentally, if you want to try this with green olive tapenade instead of kalamata, I have a recipe here.

Layer 7:  Labneh (Lebanese yogurt cheese).  If you can’t find labneh, a good, thick plain yogurt (such as Greek yogurt) will work just fine.  Crumbled feta would be good for this layer too.

Garnish ideas:  Finely chopped parsley, finely chopped mint, toasted pignoli nuts, pomegranate arils, extra virgin olive oil, ground sumac

Instructions:

For the pita chips:

1.  Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with aluminum foil or parchment paper.

2.  Arrange the sliced pitas on the prepared baking sheet.  Sprinkle pitas with za’atar and season with a liberal pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  Drizzle lightly with oil.  Toss pitas, oil, and seasonings together gently with clean hands and re-distribute into as thin a layer as possible.  (You could use another baking sheet or work in two batches if necessary.)

3.  Place baking sheet in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until dried out, toasted, and fragrant.  It’s a good idea to rotate the baking sheet about half-way through to ensure even cooking.  If there’s a few stragglers that aren’t crispy yet, just take out the ones that are done and let the rest keep going in the oven for a few more minutes.  Allow to cool completely when done.  Leftovers (uh-huh, whatever…..) keep for a good week or two in an airtight container.

For the dip:

1.  Find a good glass vessel for this dip since it’s nice to see all of the layers and colors.  Starting with the first layer, arrange all of the ingredients in as even and smooth layers as possible until you reach the top.  Garnish with one, some, or all of the garnish suggestions and serve with pita or bagel chips.

Yield:  Who wants to come to my chip-n-dip party?

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