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vegetarian dips & spreads 
by Emily Meyer
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As the weather gets nicer, the grills get dragged out of the garage, and the party invites start piling up on your refrigerator door, it's time for some fresh ideas for picnic food contributions. With a mixed crowd of vegetarians and carnivores, I've found that it is always easier to just bring a vegetarian dish. The key is to make something so full of flavor, the meat-eaters will snarf it up too. Rather than fussy canapés and other finger foods, my all-time favorite party foods are dips and spreads. They take less time to prepare, are simple for guests to serve themselves and hold up well either on the bar or the picnic table. Dips and spreads are easy to make special too: just look to cuisines from other cultures for inspiration, and your potluck dish is guaranteed to stand out among the usual all-American potato salad fare. Here are some flavorful and out of the ordinary ideas that everyone will love. Your meat eaters might not even notice that the food they're so eagerly devouring is vegetarian.

muhammara This is a Middle-Eastern dip that is extremely addictive. The main flavors are roasted red peppers, walnuts and cumin, an unlikely combo that proves really delicious. Serve with veggies and homemade pita chips mentioned below, as a sandwich spread, or even thinned out with a little water as a pasta sauce. If you're strapped for time, you can substitute roasted red peppers in a jar, drained well. If you use the pomegranate molasses* rather than honey, this is vegan as well.

*Pomegranate molasses can be found at a Middle Eastern grocer, if you're lucky enough to have access to one. Alternatively, recipezaar.com tells you how to make your own. Or try ordering it online at ethnicgrocer.com.

6 large red peppers, roasted and peeled 
2/3 c. breadcrumbs
1/3 c. chopped walnuts
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 T. lemon juice
2 t. pomegranate molasses (or honey)
1 t. ground cumin
½ t. red pepper flakes
¾ c. extra virgin olive oil

Toss all ingredients except for olive oil in a food processor. Blend until combined. With food processor running, drizzle in olive oil until the mixture is smooth. Makes approximately 2½ cups.

pita chips These are so much better than store bought! Cheaper, too. I like to use whole-wheat pita bread for a little extra health kick.

1 package pocket pita bread
non-stick cooking spray
variety of spices ( I like the combo of garlic powder, dill and paprika, but you can use whatever you like)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Split each pita, inserting a knife into the pocket to get the two sides apart. Cut each half circle into three triangles. Spread the pieces rough side up on cookie sheets and spray lightly with cooking spray. Sprinkle on spices and bake for 15 minutes or until crisp.

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