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How to dress up store-bought dips like hummus and guacamole

When doctoring store-bought dips, consider the following components.
/ Source: TODAY

On this installment of TODAY's Kitchen Conundrums, chef and TV host Elena Besser is answering viewer questions on everything from how to prep ingredients ahead of time to the best ways to jazz up store-bought dips to what snacks to feed kids on the go.

How far in advance can you chop garlic and squeeze lemons?

Prepping fresh ingredients is the perfect way to set yourself up for success in the kitchen. It is called your "mise en place," which means "putting everything in its place." When it comes to garlic and lemons, there are different things you should think about for each ingredient.

Garlic

The flavor of garlic actually comes from a compound within the garlic called allicin and that compound is only activated when the cells of the garlic are ruptured from chopping. So, as soon as garlic is chopped, the potent garlic flavor starts to develop, and the longer it sits out chopped, the stronger the garlic flavor gets. Therefore, I advise that you only chop garlic right before you cook with it, so it doesn't overpower the dish. (If you're like me and you don't particularly enjoy chopping garlic, use a rasp grater or garlic press and cut your prep time in half!)

Lemons

Feel free to squeeze lemon juice in advance of cooking. The lemon juice will be at its peak freshness for the first three days after squeezing, but will stay good up to two weeks, though its color and taste may become a bit dull. If you want to extend the shelf life of the lemon juice even longer, use your freezer. Pour the lemon juice into an ice cube tray and freeze. Once frozen, transfer to an airtight container. It will taste best in the first 3 to 4 months, but you can store it in the freezer for up to six months.

Easy Lemonade

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 2 cubes frozen lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon agave nectar (optional)
  • 1 (1/4-inch-thick) lemon round, for garnish (optional)

Method:

In a wide-mouthed water bottle or glass, combine 6 ounces of water with 2 lemon ice cubes and agave nectar, and stir or shake to combine. Add the optional lemon round to garnish and enjoy.

Elena Besser's lemonadeNathan Congleton / TODAY

Adult 50/50 Vodka Lemonade

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces iced tea, such as English breakfast or Earl Grey
  • 2 cubes frozen lemon juice or 3 ounces lemon juice
  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 2 ounces water
  • 1 teaspoon agave nectar
  • 1 (1/4-inch-thick) lemon round, for garnish (optional)
  • 1 sprig fresh mint (optional)

Method:

In a shaker, combine the iced tea, lemon juice ice cubes, vodka, water and agave nectar. Seal and shake to combine. Pour into a highball glass, top with ice and garnish with optional lemon round and sprig of mint.

What's the best way to dress up store-bought dips?

I love to add pizazz to an already purchased dip to save time but still make it feel special. When doctoring dips, I always like to consider the following components:

Mix-ins

  • Fresh herbs: Tender herbs like basil, mint, parsley, cilantro, chives and tarragon.
  • Dried spices: Za'atar, sumac, crushed red pepper flakes, paprika, flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.
  • Oils: Extra-virgin olive oil, nut oils, etc.
  • Citrus juice: Fresh lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit juice.
  • Cheese: Crumbled feta, grated Parmesan, goat cheese, etc.
  • Nuts and seeds: Toasted pine nuts, grated pistachios, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.

Plating

Transfer the store-bought dip into a wide bowl. Using the back of a spoon, create a divot in the middle of the dip to hold finishing oil. Drizzle in the oil along with an optional squeeze of citrus juice. Next, top with optional nuts, seeds, cheese, herbs and spices.

  • Guacamole: Avocado oil and lime juice, basil, cilantro, mint and feta cheese.
  • Baba Ghanoush: Olive oil, lemon juice, sumac, pomegranate arils and mint.
  • Hummus: Olive oil, za'atar, smoked paprika, toasted pine nuts and sesame seeds and fresh parsley.

Fancy Store-Bought Hummus

Serves 4

Elena Besser's dressed-up store-bought hummusNathan Congleton / TODAY

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup store-bought hummus
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon za'atar
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • 2 teaspoons sesame seeds, preferably toasted
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley

Method:

Place the hummus in a serving bowl and garnish with remaining ingredients.

What are some fun and healthy snacks for kids to take to camp or school?

Snack time should always bring fun and flavor. When I'm preparing snacks, I like to integrate creative plating and diverse textures to keep things exciting. So much creativity can be rolled up inside a tortilla, making them easy for kids to enjoy. These are some of my favorite combos:

  • Cheese board: Fig jam, salami and cheddar cheese stick.
  • PB, B & J: Peanut butter, banana and jam.
  • Mediterranean: Hummus, carrots, cucumber and bell peppers.
  • Pizza: Tomato sauce, pepperoni and a mozzarella cheese stick.

Lunchbox-Ready Mediterranean Wrap

Serves 1

Elena Besser's Mediterranean lunchbox wrapsNathan Congleton / TODAY

Ingredients:

  • 1 tortilla
  • 1/2 cup hummus
  • 1 small carrot, peeled into ribbons with a veggie peeler
  • 1 small Persian cucumber, cut into about 4 ribbons
  • 1 medium bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/8-inch-thick strips
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon za'atar (optional)
  • 1 lemon wedge (optional)

Method:

Spread the hummus onto the base of the tortilla, top with carrots, cucumbers and bell peppers, sprinkle with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and za'atar, if using. Serve sliced into easy-to-eat rounds with the lemon wedge on the side, if using.