Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Heaven Layer Dip

With a big sports-watching weekend upon us, I want to fess up about an irrational weakness of mine. I only watch the Super Bowl so I can hover over the inevitable platter of seven layer dip. I seriously think it's my favorite food in the whole world. I don't know why I find the stuff so satisfying, but I guess there's no accounting for taste. I pride myself on my discernment and appreciation of authentic (tipico) latin cuisine, and yet, I can't get enough of this domestic American football food. Do any of you make this stuff regularly? If so, can I trouble you for some advice? There are plenty of ways to make this dish and it's not REALLY cooking, so I expect even the lurkers and those who only wish they could cook will feel free to let loose and chime in on this.

Three questions:
  1. What are YOUR seven layers?
  2. What order do you layer them and why?
  3. Any other possible regional themes besides southwest? Mediterranen? Middle Eastern?

To stir this pot a little, I'll relay some of my seven layer dip beliefs, since I'm pretty opinionated about this subject. But first, here's a seven layer dip tutorial that will increase your competence (skip it if you feel you're a mensa select level dip maker).

Most versions of this dish start with a layer of canned refried beans on the bottom. This is so common that no one is surprised when they break the first five chips off in the dip and then just scoop the stuff onto a plate (or straight into your mouth with your four cupped fingers, depending on who's watching and how much beer you've had). To loosen up those beans, whip some cheap gooey nacho cheese into them, preferably the spicy stuff. That solves part of the problem, making the beans more pliable. You can get a chip into the dip, but the beans may still stick to the bottom of the pan, causing more chip breakage. Solution: put your seasoned and sauteed fake meat crumbles (or ground beef) on the bottom before the bean layer. You'll need enough to act as a buffer. The "meat" will release from the pan, but stick to the beans. Any left behind will get cleaned up by the next dunken chip dipper.

I was looking for a popular conventional recipe for seven layer dip and the one I found at had a common but glaring error that led reviews to call it bland or "not spicy enough." The problem? The sour cream was plain. Next time, stir a packet of taco seasoning into the sour cream and add some mayo before shmeering. If you're competent with southwest spices, skip the packet and mix your own, but don't skimp on the salt. This tip comes from my mother, by the way. I remember helping out by making the doctored sour cream as a kid. This step is really crucial if you don't want to go to great lengths to season the other layers to make them pop. Apparently, many of the recipe reviewers are familiar with the taco seasoning packet trick as well.

About an hour into the Super Bowl party (or the UFC 94 Penn/GSP mega-fight), you'll notice that the dip is half-gone and there's a nasty looking soup pooling in the empty portion of the platter. There could be a few reasons for this. If my old coworker made the dip, then there's a layer of shredded iceburg lettuce on the bottom, completely wilted and basically liquified. Don't ever do that, mmmmkay? The more common cause is the lazy approach of dumping a jar of salsa as your tomato layer. Flavor-wise, it makes sense, but it's usually a consistency disaster. Over time, gravity pulls the water out of the salsa to the bottom of the pan. Instead, you can go with seeded fresh tomatoes (as we see in the video), or you can go with a jar of taco sauce poured into the shredded cheese layer to hold it in place. I recommend Frontera brand taco sauce if you want your dip to win friends and influence people (or maybe a start a blog).


  1. I am also a huge fan of the seven layer dip. One time we were at a gathering at a friend's house and she made the dip and the two of us ate the entire pan of it before it could be served.

    My layers....
    1. Refried beans
    2. cheese
    3. guacamole
    4. Sour cream mixed with taco seasoning
    5. salsa
    6. more cheese
    7. black olives and scallions

  2. Anonymous10:58 AM

    I've experimented with mixing guacamole and sour cream to eliminate the blander "middle layers," but I can't wait to try the seasoned sour cream - I don't know why this never occurred to me before. For cheese, I like using freshly grated pepper jack because other mild cheeses are just too boring. I've never tried making a salsa fresca for the dip before, but I would love to try a layer of pico de gallo tossed with corn and minced chipotles.

  3. I've never had positive results diluting guac with anything except ground pepitas and/or chilis. Glad you mentioned pepper jack. Maybe I'm just a heat-freak, but I reach for it on every party platter I pass. In fact, every cheese shop in town has heard me ask if they have "high brow pepper jack." I don't really know the cheese world that well, so that's what I say when they ask "can I help you find something?". I just assume that something spicy and fancy is gonna be good. To date, no cheese shop has really known what to do with my request.

    Janet: you clearly know how it is to be enslaved by the oppressive allure of the seven layer dip. I like your classic layer sequence (cheese twice?). AND it's vegetarian.

  4. I've never understood the appeal of layered glop. Nor do I care for pousse-cafes.

    (Hell, I never heard of this layered glop stuff until I left Texas over 20 years ago.)

  5. Anonymous6:53 PM

    For something different, a Middle-Eastern style works well with hummus, chopped cucumber, tabouli, finely chopped tomato, feta cheese, olives, and a drizzle of tahini sauce on top. I have mixed tahini, sour cream, lemon juice and garlic with good results.

  6. instead of sour cream, i am a cream cheese layerer.. and the seven layers .. just too much for me.

    4.cream cheese
    3 black beans/refried .. your choice
    2 sweet salsa - cherry or peach - but spicy
    1 cheese

  7. Seven layers may be overkill, R. It generally overwhelms even the heartiest chip. Your post reminds me that I went to Trader Joe's recently and picked up their premade 5-Layer dip. Good stuff, with black bean refried, sour cream, guac, pico style salsa, and cheese.

    I can't believe that I posted this without focusing on the worst layered dip on the face of the earth. Ukrop's seven (five, three?) layer dip is the clunkiest pile of canned ingredients you've ever tasted. There is no flavor or life in those platters of over-priced garbage. Should I tell you how I really feel?

  8. rva- sorry that was me - ivv - posted as r. different account - i concur on the disgusting slop from ukrops. i can never figure out why people purchase it. it look just as gross as it tastes.


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