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COOKING WITH CHEF JESS: Going Greek

Layered Taco Dip gets lightened up with yogurt. (Photo by Accent contributor Jessica Karley Rerick)1 / 3
Spiced Yogurt Spinach Dip makes it easy to get your daily greens. (Photo by Accent contributor Jessica Karley Rerick)2 / 3
Tzatziki will keep you cool as a cucumber this summer. (Photo by Accent contributor Jessica Karley Rerick)3 / 3

Greek yogurt has been all the rage for the last couple years, but there is good reason for it. It's so versatile.

Whether or not you like to eat it the same way that you would eat your usual breakfast yogurt, there is another way to use it that is very popular in our house: I like to use Greek yogurt as a base for dips. It's a great way to add a little extra protein into snack time while at the same time cutting calories from fat.

One of my favorite dips to make is spinach dip. Although I love the traditional spinach dip out of the packets at the grocery store, when I was younger, I made Spiced Yogurt Spinach Dip.

I found it to be popular with a lot of my guests because I wasn't trying to "hide" the fact that it was yogurt. Because it tasted different than everyone else's spinach dip, mine was unique and more rememorable.

I now use Greek yogurt because I like the dip to be on the thicker side, but you can use regular plain yogurt if you choose. To my yogurt I add cumin, cayenne (ground red pepper), onion powder, salt, water chestnuts and, of course, spinach.

For the spinach, I take the easy route and use frozen spinach from the grocery store, but you could quick blanch, drain and chop your own if you'd like. Trust me, if you want to save your sanity, go to the freezer section of your grocery store, buy the block of spinach, and let it thaw in your fridge for 24-36 hours before you want to use it. Give it a good squeeze to drain all of the excess liquid, and you are done. This method is a lot easier and more real-life friendly.

Layered Taco Dip

My second dip is often a guilty pleasure for me on an appetizer table: Layered Taco Dip. I can't get enough of it. I am the daughter of a bean farmer, so of course I love anything with refried beans.

I used yogurt in this dish to replace the traditional sour cream. I also seasoned the yogurt with taco seasoning and fresh-squeezed lime juice to lighten everything up a bit.

To make the dip, I spread the beans on my serving platter then topped them with the seasoned Greek yogurt. Next, without disturbing the yogurt, I spread my favorite jarred salsa over the top. To finish it off, I sprinkled shredded cheddar cheese and green chilies over the top.

You can adjust the heat of this recipe to suit your taste and make it as hot (or mild) as you like by opting for a more fiery salsa or by using the hot green chilies instead of the mild. I find that this makes a great work or school lunch option if you make it into a few small shallow containers instead of a serving platter.

Tzatziki

My final dip to share with you today is already a yogurt-based dip, but with cucumbers in season, it's too good not to share. Tzatziki is a traditional Greek yogurt-based sauce containing cucumbers and seasoned with garlic, dill and a pinch of salt.

It is traditional to strain the yogurt with cheese cloth for a day or so beforehand to ensure you get the right texture, but since the yogurt I was using was already fairly thick, I skipped that step.

I like to make sure my cucumber is diced very finely and to let the whole mixture sit for about an hour before serving so all of the flavors have time to meld together.

To keep things on the traditional side, you can serve this sauce with grilled meats, veggies or pita chips. I might have also been known to use a cool ranch Dorito or two as well; it's not very gourmet, I know, but the flavor combo is actually quite good. It would also still count as a dairy and vegetable serving.

Spiced Yogurt Spinach Dip

2 cups Greek Yogurt, plain

1 teaspoon cumin

¼ teaspoon cayenne

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon onion powder

⅓ cup fine diced water chestnuts

1 10-ounce package of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove moisture

Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and stir gently until evenly combined. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Layered Taco Dip

1 cup greek yogurt, plain

¼ cup taco seasoning

1 12-ounce can refried beans, black or pinto

½ cup salsa, medium heat

½ cup shredded cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons diced green chiles, mild

In a small bowl, combine the greek yogurt and taco seasoning. Stir until well blended. Set aside.

On a serving platter, spread refried beans to ½ inch thickness. Top with yogurt mixture. Without disturbing yogurt, top with salsa. Finish by sprinkling cheddar cheese and diced green chilies over the top.

Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Tzatziki

1 cup greek yogurt

1½ cups seedless cucumber, finely diced

3 tablespoons fresh chopped dill

1 clove garlic, fresh, minced

pinch kosher salt

pinch pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and gently fold together until evenly combined. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

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