Two of the things people worry about during the holiday season: too much food and too much entertaining, especially when it requires time-consuming extras like hors d'oeuvres. Tasty but light, make-ahead vegetable spreads address these problems.

Vegetables are easily pureed in a blender or food processor after they have been cooked until tender. The natural sweetness and rich flavor of many vegetables make them ideal bases for dips, making fat-laden flavoring unnecessary. And because vegetables come in such bright colors, they add a festive tone to an array of holiday snacks. Vegetable dips can be used with a variety of raw vegetables, crackers, even pita-type breads.

Sweet peppers make great dips. They are mild but flavorful and come in vibrant colors, in shades of green, yellow, orange, red and purple. Sweet peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C and contain substantial amounts of vitamin A.

The most commonly used sweet peppers are called bell peppers. They are usually sweet and mild, with a crisp, juicy texture. Most bell peppers are green when young, although they do come in other colors. When a green bell pepper ripens on the vine longer, it becomes red and sweet.

Green bell peppers are available year round, while red, yellow, purple and orange varieties appear from time to time throughout the year.

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Choose peppers that are firm, deep-colored, shiny and heavy for their size. You don't want peppers that have soft spots or are limp and shriveled. You can keep fresh peppers in a plastic bag in the refrigerator up to a week.

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Roasting peppers, as in the following recipe, gives the dip a rich, smoky flavor. This balances nicely with balsamic vinegar's slight sweetness.

A simple dip can be made several days in advance and dressed for the holidays with a bed of green lettuce or sprigs of parsley.

Roasted Red Pepper Dip

Makes 1 cup.

  • 3 large red bell peppers
  • 2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat the broiler. Cover a baking sheet with foil and place peppers on a baking sheet. Place peppers 4 inches under broiler and cook until charred on all sides, turning frequently, about 10 minutes. Remove from broiler and let stand until cool enough to handle.
  2. Peel, core and seed peppers over a strainer set in a small bowl to catch juices.
  3. Place peppers, any pepper juice, vinegar and garlic in a food processor or blender. Puree until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Serve with raw cut-up vegetables (like broccoli florets, green bell pepper, carrot or celery sticks, zucchini spears, or steamed snow peas). Crackers, small wedges of pita bread, tortilla chips, or crackers can also be used.

Nutritional Information Per 2-Tbsp. Serving:
19 calories,
less than 1 g. total fat (0 g. saturated fat),
4 g. carbohydrate,
less than 1 g. protein,
1 g. dietary fiber,
2 mg. sodium.