One of my first kitchen jobs was at an extremely busy bistro inside a pub in Perth, Western Australia. A trio of dips was on the menu, and most tables ordered it, especially those enjoying a long boozy lunch on Fridays. We would make hummus, feta and yoghurt and red pepper dip — bucket-loads of them at a time.
The red pepper dip was the dip I dreaded most — a large Robot Coupe stick blender, 5 kg (11 lb) of Philly cream cheese, boxes of roasted red capsicums and bottles of sweet chilli sauce all pushed through a chinois into a 20 litre (5 1⁄4 gallon) bucket. To date, this is one of the messiest and least desirable jobs I’ve ever had to do, and I still despise those blenders. This version is a little friendlier on the white shirt and is delicious with warm toasted flatbreads, vegetables or, even better, with hot chips (fries).
For a deeper dive into the world of cheese recipes, get your copy of Colin Wood’s There’s Always Room for Cheese.
Red Pepper and Cream Cheese Dip
- 4 large red capsicums, bell peppers 1 long red chilli
- sea salt flakes
- splash of whey, optional
- splash of sherry vinegar
- 1-3 teaspoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 100 g (3 1/2 oz) cream cheese, at room temperature so it is smooth and spreadable — thin out with a splash of buttermilk or milk if needed
- extra-virgin olive oil
- warm grilled bread, to serve
- You will need to start the red capsicums 2—3 days ahead.
- Preferably over an open flame, gently blister the skins of the capsicums and long red chilli — being careful not to take them too far — so they are easily peeled but not mush. You can also do this in a hot oven. Once the skin is loose, place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside to steam. Once cool, peel them (see note), remove the seeds and core, then chop them in a food processor to a pulp, but don’t puree.
- Put the mixture in a small saucepan over low heat for a few minutes, stirring with a spatula to draw out some of the moisture so you have more of a paste than a liquid. Spread the mixture out on a flat tray and leave to cool. Once cool, weigh it and add 3% of its weight in salt, a splash of whey (not necessary but it will speed up the ferment) and place in a sterilised jar with a small piece of baking paper on top to help prevent bacterial growth. Cover with a lid and leave to ferment for 2—3 days, opening occasionally to burp, until it has a nice tang and flavour.
- Strain the mix through a fine sieve to remove any moisture, then transfer to a blender and process together with the vinegar, sugar, smoked paprika and salt to taste. If you’d like a spicier version, add a little dried chilli. (It should last in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks and can be used in place of mild hot sauce.)
- The cream cheese needs to be room temperature to whisk it slightly and soften it. Add 2—4 tablespoons (or more or less) of the capsicum sauce to the cheese and swirl it through lightly. If you want a more incorporated dip, stir vigorously or blend in a food processor. Serve as is in a bowl, drizzled with olive oil and salt with warm grilled bread on the side.
There’s Always Room for Cheese by Colin Wood (Hardie Grant, £28), Photography © Rob Palmer.