Well. Seems I’m making a habit of being late to things. Here’s a post about five-layer dip, two weeks after the Super Bowl.
Layer dip is a bit of a Pavlovian thing for me. When I was in high school, a theater geek among theater geeks, every cast party we threw had multiple tubs of the stuff: a Meximurrican mishmash of refried beans, guacamole, salsa, sour cream and shredded cheese. To this day, digging straight down with a tortilla chip brings me right back to those parties, when we were young and loud and silly and weird.
Well, the weird part hasn’t changed. But the point is, I love layer dip.
The basic required layers for any Mexican-esque layer dip are refried beans, guacamole and salsa. Many versions also include sour cream, but my manfriend is dead-set against it, and I didn’t miss it much when I skipped it for a recent batch. Instead, I added in a couple of slightly fancier ingredients: a roasted poblano pepper and a lot of crumbled cotija cheese. The cheese, in particular, was a fabulous addition: salty and tart and rubbly, tumbling down into the other layers when the chips hit the dip.
The golden rule of layer dip, as I understand it, is that at least one of the layers should be homemade. I’ve included instructions for making your own refried beans, roasted pepper and guacamole, but you could certainly sub in canned beans, canned diced green chiles or pre-made guac. You’ll notice there’s no written-out salsa recipe here, because what you really want here is the gooey, oozy quality you can only get from jarred supermarket salsa. The fresh stuff is too rough and watery; you want a smooth, soft layer. The aim is for everything to mush happily together when the chips go in.
This is not exactly The Ultimate Recipe for five-layer dip, because there is no such thing. This particular version is tailored for a large group with a plethora of food demands. It’s vegetarian (though not vegan), gluten-free, and safe for cilantro-phobes, spice weaklings and people who think sour cream is gross. But this kind of recipe exists to be fiddled with. You could add the sour cream back in, or omit all traces of dairy altogether; add a layer of crumbled and browned Mexican chorizo or ground seasoned meat; scatter over some shredded lettuce, chopped olives or crumbled bacon; even add cubes of fresh pineapple or mango. The only limitation is your imagination, and what flavors you enjoy.
Five-Layer Dip (makes about 4 cups)
Inspired by Sassy Radish
Note: I brought this to a party, and it vanished in about 10 minutes. You may want to make a double recipe.
1 1/2 cooked pinto beans OR 1 (15 oz) can pinto beans
2 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, peeled and halved (one half for the beans, one half for the guacamole)
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
2-3 tbsp water, or as needed
1 poblano (pasilla) pepper
2 ripe avocados
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tsp minced fresh oregano OR 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup jarred salsa
1 cup grated cheese (Cheddar, Monterey Jack, or a generic Mexican blend)
3/4 cup crumbled cotija cheese or queso fresco
For the bean layer: Drain and rinse the beans, and mince one half of the shallot. In a frying pan or skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add shallot and a pinch of salt, and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add drained beans, chili powder and smoked paprika (if using), and saute until the beans are starting to get warm. Take a potato masher and mash the beans in the skillet, adding water a tablespoon at a time as needed, until you have a rough paste that mimics the texture of refried beans. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper, and set aside until needed.
For the roasted chile layer: Turn on the broiler, and place an oven rack in the top position. Place the poblano pepper on a foil-lined baking sheet, and broil until the skin on top blisters and turns black all over, 3-5 minutes. Flip the pepper over and broil until the second side is blistered and black all over, another 3-5 minutes. Remove from the oven and place in a heatproof bowl; cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the pepper sit for about 10 minutes, or until it’s cool enough to handle. Peel off as much of the skin as you can, remove the stem, and run the pepper under cold water to rinse away the seeds and any excess bits of skin. Dice the pepper and set aside until needed.
For the guacamole layer: Dice the avocados and place in a mixing bowl. Add lime zest and lime juice and toss to combine. Finely grate the other half of the shallot and add to the avocado, along with the oregano, cumin and cayenne. Mash everything together until you have guacamole. Season with salt to taste, and set aside until needed.
To assemble the dip: Spread the mashed beans in the bottom of your serving dish. Evenly distribute the roasted diced chiles over the top of the beans, then spread the guacamole on top of that. Top the guacamole with the salsa, then sprinkle the shredded and crumbled cheeses over the top.