This spicy, creamy, cheesy party food came into my life in the most improbable of ways: through a diet. Specifically, my husband Ed’s low-carb diet. If you know Ed, you’re probably thinking, Why is he on a diet? He’s fine! That’s what I said for months anytime he mentioned that he wanted to lose weight. “You’re a tall, lean drink of water,” I’d say. “You look great,” I’d insist. It was only after he explained that he was uncomfortable—it was hard to exercise, he had ferocious indigestion, he was always tired—that I realized this was about more than vanity.
Over the past couple of years, Ed has slowly gained nearly thirty pounds. Through a devilish combination of stress (work, moving, new homeownership), midwestern portion sizes, and a wife with a baking hobby, the pounds crept up and stuck. Life finally slowed down this summer and Ed turned his energy to losing the weight. He knew a couple of guys who’d had great success cutting carbohydrates and it sounded like something he could do. It sounded like my worst culinary nightmare (see above reference to baking habit), but he stood by me as I went full-Gwyneth for our wedding, so I pushed the pasta to the back of the pantry and suited up as a soldier in his war on carbs.*
At first, it was fun to find new recipes. Ed even helped me—I reminded him how to use Pinterest and he swamped my dinner board with ideas like portobello pizzas, cauliflower rice, and shirataki noodles.
It was all terrible.
We marched on.
Eventually, the victories started coming: zucchini boats, a shrimp and sausage skillet, a steak salad. Now that we’re three months in, we’ve come up with a decent selection of weeknight options: eggs and bacon, stir-fries without rice (but only the recipes that don’t have a ton of sugar), taco salad by the bowlful, chicken cutlets swimming in cream, and steak, of course. (If you’re curious, I’ve created this Pinterest board with some of our low-carb favorites).
But what about the fun stuff: the party food, the snicky-snacks, the nibbles? Surprisingly, those turned out to be a much easier battle. The low-carber’s arsenal is stocked with excellent snack options: cured meat, cheese, and nuts. Although many veggies are off-limits, a few garlicky roasted tomatoes are okay, especially when served on top of herby whipped ricotta. By far our favorite low-carb app is this jalapeño popper dip. I discovered it on Joie’s legendary “Keeper Recipes” Pinterest board. Instead of wasting time stuffing a bunch of individual jalapeños with a cream cheese mixture, you stir everything together and bake it as a dip. It’s not carb-free (yogurt gets in the way), but it’s darn close. The result is satisfying, rich, and downright popper-y. I’ve served this to low-carbers and pro-carbers and everyone agrees it’s a winner.
Has low-carb worked for Ed? Absolutely—not only because we discovered this dip in the process. He feels much better and is ready to lead a new charge that includes exercise and bringing back some carbs. Victory for all!
*I’m a supporter of Ed’s low-carbing, but I’m not on the diet. I cram in my carbs at breakfast, lunch, and when we eat out. I’m eating crackers as I type this.
low-carb, low-fat jalapeño popper dip
adapted from Ring Finger Tan Line
For people not worried about carbs, I recommend serving this dip with tortilla chips. For low-carbers, try it with slices of bell peppers (though Ed usually just eats it with a fork).
Why both low-carb and low-fat? I’m not low-carb (and most of our friends aren’t either), so I can’t in good conscience keep up with the high-fat lifestyle of a low-carber all of the time. This dip is my compromise.
8 oz. reduced fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup fat free greek yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
4 oz can diced green chiles (mild), drained
1/2 cup shredded mexican blend cheese or cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375ºF.
Seed and dice three of the jalapeños. Slice the fourth jalapeño into rings. (This level of spiciness is good for us, but if you love spicy food, leave more seeds in. Can’t handle the heat? Remove all of the seeds.)
In a medium bowl, stir together softened cream cheese, yogurt, and mayonnaise until smooth. Stir in diced jalapeños, diced green chiles, the mexican cheese, and 1/4 cup of the parmesan. Taste for salt and pepper (I usually add 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper). Spread mixture into a small pie pan or other baking dish. Scatter the rings of jalapeños over top and sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Bake for 20 minutes. (Optional: Turn on broiler and cook for 2 or 3 more minutes until the top browns slightly.) Serve hot.