Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Looking for Love Dip

love dipIt's true: while I may be, shall we say, in between boyfriends at the moment, there is no shortage of love in my life, thanks to a beautiful bounty of fantastic friends and family. But despite all that, one thing I am without is my beloved Central Market, hence I'm looking for Love Dip.

I’ve long held a huge passion for supermarkets. Yes, those fluorescent-lit, big-box stores catering to the masses. While there’s more authenticity and artistry in an outdoor street market or large covered market, such as Rue Poncelet in Paris or La Boqueria in Barcelona, no matter where I travel in the world, one of the must-visit places for me is the local supermarket.

In supermarkets, you can get an instant view of the culture: what people eat, how marketers view them (and consequently, perhaps how the population views itself), what food costs, the culture’s aesthetics and what the people value. For instance, if you go to the Monoprix in Paris, you’ll find a long cheese counter positioned in between the wine and the bread. Or in Tokyo, at the supermarket you’ll not only find rice displayed at the end of every aisle, but both the meat and the produce packaged with a care and delicacy usually reserved for gifts.

I’ve been to supermarkets all over the world, but I have to say my favorite one is in Texas: HEB’s Central Market. When I lived in Austin, the first store in the chain opened a few blocks away from me, and I’d ride my bike there every day. Most of the time I’d just wander the aisles and gawk at what was available, but of course, I’d often buy food there as well.

If you’re not familiar with Central Market, it’s quite an experience. It’s been said that it was one of the first supermarkets to manipulate people’s foot patterns, making it a forced-flow place much like Ikea. Some people balk at this, but I love it.

When you walk in, all you can see is the produce, nothing else. Like a maze, you walk through the bounty of fruits and vegetables, both organic and conventional. Then before you know it, you’re suddenly in the seafood department, with fishmongers hawking today’s fresh catch just like they would at any independent fish market. From there, you move to the butcher, and then you hit the dairy and from there, the breads. At this point, the store goes wide open, and you notice there are shelves stocked with your typical packaged goods with gourmet treats sprinkled in as well.

Unlike another Texan store—Whole Foods—Central Market sells some junk. But there’s more good stuff than bad, and the way the store flows, if you squint, you can pretend that you’re shopping at just a green grocer or just a bakery or just a butcher. And that’s the brilliance of Central Market; it’s taken the advantages of one-stop shopping but arranged it in such a way that you can still feel the intimacy of small-market shopping. Plus, they have an excellent selection of foods.

Amongst other great offerings, some of the hallmarks of Central Market are its olive bars, its condiment bars and its store-made breads and dips. Everyone that shops there has a favorite, but the one dip people sigh over the most is Central Market’s Love Dip.

Love Dip is a spicy, tomato-cream cheese blend that’s actually quite simple to make. Of course, there’s a certain flavor profile that’s impossible to put your finger on, and Central Market is no fool: they refuse to give away the recipe for this signature of theirs. You have to go to the store and buy it if you want some true Love. After a constant barrage of emails from fellow homesick Texans craving the stuff, a couple of years ago the Houston Chronicle published a recipe it dubbed “Mock Love Dip,” only so called because it didn’t come from the source. But after one taste, if you’re familiar with Love Dip, you’ll agree it’s a decent facsimile of the original.

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, and while the occasion is known for chocolates and pink foods, why not try some Love Dip as well. As it’s spicy and garlicky, it’s probably best shared in intimate company with one you love. Of course, some people adore it so much, they’ve been known to eat a whole carton in one sitting. No matter how you eat it, beware—it could be love at first bite. And if you may be asking, what does Central Market say about Texans, well, I reckon it shows that we hanker for smaller-scale experiences, even if they have to be found under one large roof.


Love Dip (adapted from the Houston Chronicle)
Ingredients:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup tomato salsa
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chopped cilantro
1/8 teaspoon lemon juice

Method:
Throw all the ingredients except lemon juice in a blender and mix until smooth. Add lemon juice to taste. Goes well with crackers, bread, tortilla chips, vegetables, chicken and fish.

Yield: 4 servings

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Related Stories Widget by LinkWithin

57 comments:

Linda said...

how lovely. i need to work on my valentine's day menu -- i almost gave up but this looks so wonderful, i will have to give it a try :) thanks for sharing!

i'll have to get the ingredients soon because I'm hoping for snow and lots of it - i need a break. though nothing ever seems to close in this city... get your boots ready!

Tommy said...

Hey,I just thought it was me who had this strange urge to visit supermarkets or grocery stores. I can't put my finger on it. US stores hold special allure. You have so much more variety than we do here in Toronto. It doesn't matter which state or country I'm in, I always make a beeline for the grocery store.
Business and travelling companions think I am whacked.

Recently I took a trip to Asia. Walmart in China was a hoot, Hong Kong has stores stocking US staples for expats, and Seoul had some "Harrods" like food emporiums in the better dept. store lower levels. The clerks, I'm sure were amused. I took it all in. I agree with you that you can learn so much about a culture by just studying their food stores.

Anyway, thanks for letting me know that I am not the only one who shares these proclivities. I don't feel so alone now.

Happy Valentines Day. Maybe if you find yourself in Toronto, I can show you the St Lawrence Market?

Rachel said...

This looks so great!

Susan said...

Thanks for a great story! I have sometimes thought I have an addiction to supermarkets as I always visit them when I travel. By strolling around markets I discover new regional cuisines and meet friendly locals.

Have you ever visited Vancouver? Capers is a marvelous market with delicious prepared foods.

nika said...

I can up you 4 central markets for one Dekalb Farmers Market in Atlanta. It is by far the most superb food experience (I miss that about Atlanta tho not a whole lot more) .. heres a few links

http://www.dekalbfarmersmarket.com/
http://www.fabuloustravel.com/gourmet/travel/dekalb/dekalb.html


140,000-square-feet of fantastic food and wine and beer, etc.

If you ever go to Atlanta with some time to spare, go there.

Homesick Texan said...

Linda--You're welcome. And I can't wait for all the snow, it's about time!

Tommy--You're not alone! I've been to Toronto several times, but I don't think I made it to St. Lawrence Market, just Loblaw's and Kensington Market.


Rachel--Thanks!

Susan--Another grocery store lover! I've never been to Vancouver but if I ever go, I'll definitely make a trip to Capers. Love the name!

Nika--I've never been to Atlanta (just the airport) but I'd love to see DeKalb Farmers Market. Wow! Thanks for sharing!

Carrie said...

Long time reader, first time commenter: I love, love, love the Love Dip from Central Market. We moved from Dallas, Texas to Washington, DC 2 years ago, and Love Dip is one of the items I would always buy when I shopped at Central Market. Everytime I go home, Central Market is my first stop. The Wegman's markets here are a good substitute, but Central Market is King. I must try the copycat recipe. Thank you for your blog, which is a source of comfort for all of us displaced Texans.

Tommy said...

Homesick,
I was hoping you would jump all over my offer of a tour of St. Lawrence Market.

You did say you were a free agent right ?

Will you find yourself in the area in the next bit ?

Some really awesome eateries in our town. What do you think ?

Jaye Joseph said...

As an Austinite, I feel for you. I'm however, much more partial to Whole Foods (the new WFM on 5th and Lamar is spactacular). CM's Pancetta Blue Cheese dip though, now that, is a dip full of heaven.

I'm glad I found your blog!

Chris said...

I am lucky enough to live near both a Whole Foods and a Central Market in San Antonio, and I have to say CM is by far my favorite (actually, one of the things that swings it in my favor is the fact that you can get some "junk" there!)

Ahh...Love Dip...I haven't had it in a while - I think I need to make a stop after work tomorrow....

Ivonne said...

Only you could make a supermarket seem sexy! I love the dip!

wheresmymind said...

Interesting observation on the supermarkets! I'm totally with ya on that one :)

Homesick Texan said...

Carrie--I've never been to a Wegman's but I hear good things about them. And glad to help with the recipes!

Tommy--Thank you for your very kind offer, but unfortunately I don't think I'll be travelling to Toronto in the near future.

Jaye Joseph-I wasn't a fan of the first big superstore they built in the 90s on 6th Street. But I'll be in Austin next month so I'll have a chance to see the new one on 5th.

Chris--You are lucky!

Ivonne--Thanks! And yes, I have a special place in my heart for supermarkets!

Homesick Texan said...

Wheresmymind--It's so refreshing to hear I'm not the only one who loves supermarkets!

Frank M said...

Homesick Texan,
Well, it's VD today, so here's a big Happy Valentine's Day from Austin, Texas! I live near the south Central Market, and am really spoiled, living so close. I'll have to check out the dip (and your recipe too). Grocery shopping and hitting the Farmer's Markets on Saturdays are two of my favorite things(the latter because I can take my dog)!

Marce said...

This Central Market of yours sounds terrific. I´m now officially "coming out of the closet" as another supermarket lover lol Some people like going to the mall, give me a big supermarket with a great selection of gourmet foods and I´m good to go.
I especially agree with what you said about them being a good reflection of the culture of the place, I also check them out when I travel, it´s quite eye-opening as to the fact that our "normal" may not be somebody else´s "normal".

gilly said...

This love dip looks so tempting! I love your supermarket observations... my sister-in-law and I always say that a large part of visiting new places is exploring the local supermarket!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Ethan said...

I'm in Plano TX. The "it" item for us is garlic marinaded olives. They're also one of the few sources of tagliatelle locally (that I am aware of).

I used to call CM the "food zoo." It was fun to just browse around and be fascinated by all of the off-the-wall stuff. However, I don't shop there very often, and am instead very surprised and excited by stores like Fiesta and Carnival. Amazing produce for much, much less.

Ruth said...

I love the cafe at the Central Market off of 37.5 Street in Austin but I LOOOVE the new Whole Foods in Austin. It is a true experience for a foodie - my mom only eats meals from their cafe when she visits ATX. Now I'm in Houston and looking for that next great grocery store!

Kim U said...

Oh, I so miss Central Market. I never went to the one in Austin, but the ones in Plano and Fort Worth are really wonderful. My favorite CM items were the freshly made tortillas and the made in the store roast beef cold cuts. Since there wasn't one really close to us, we didn't go there often, but it was fun to wander around and gawk at everything.

Homesick Texan said...

Frank M--You are spoiled! Have fun with your dog at the farmer's market!

Marce--That's so true! I'll take a supermarket over the mall anytime!

Gilly--Happy Valentine's Day! I love that so many people go to supermarkets when they travel.

Ethan--I LOVE Fiesta! That's another "Food zoo" for me. I'll just wander the aisles amazed at the variety. I've never been to Carnival though, what's that?

Ruth--OK, you're the second one touting the new Whole Foods--I can't wait to see it next month! In Houston, there's good shopping near River Oaks/West U.--a Whole Foods and a Central Market. And there are Fiestas all over town.

Homesick Texan said...

Kim--Oh how I miss the tortillas! I loved it when they were so fresh that the bag would be warm!

Sue (coffeepot) said...

I can't wait to try this. I am going to be hosting a baby shower for my daughter in law and I just might whip up some Love Dip and crackers.

I wish we had markets like that around here. Just reading gave me goosebumps.

Garrett said...

Sounds like a great dip! I make a white bean dip using a can of drained, rinsed white beans, zest and juice of a lemon, olive oil, and some cayenne pepper. Totally addictive.
I also have the ingreidents for this love dip, so it's going on the table tonight!

Casey said...

I too am a huge fan of supermarkets. Whenever, I'm home (in Austin) I hit up the new behemoth Whole Foods, the Hyde Park CM, and the HEB on Red River. Supermarkets are one of the things I miss most about Texas. There are some nice ones in New Jersey though.

vlb5757 said...

I am with you. I love grocery stores and loves ones that have different things from the run of the mill chain grocery stores. I would kill to have a Whole Foods or a Central Market here where I live. The nearest Whole Foods is 4 hours from here. We got a Trader Joes 45 minutes from here so we go two or three times a year. I would love a larger Farmer's Market here too. I don't think folks here take it seriously. My Knitting Guild will be having a program there in the fall but I would love to see more things at the market to call attention to it. A Green Market like NYC would be great. So for now I make due. Hope you had a nice Valentine's Day!

Homesick Texan said...

Sue--I hear you! I wish Central Market was near me too. If you make the dip, I hope you like it!

Garrett--That bean dip sounds stunning!

Casey--There are some great ones in Jersey, yes! I went to an amazing International supermarket in Hoboken once and was blown away by the variety of foods.

Vickie--That's a shame people don't take y'all's farmer's market seriously. Hopefully that will change as more people learn to appreciate fresh, local food.

Terry B said...

Note to self: reading food blogs two hours before lunch? Not good. This dip sounds TOO good right now.

I know what you mean about supermarkets. Central Market sounds wonderful. There's a great supermarket in New York that isn't Central Market but is its own brand of wonderful. You probably know about it, since you've been in New York for so long now: Fairway Market. Great produce department and lots of fun foods like Trader Joe's and then a whole lot of standard supermarket fare.

When we visit NYC, we try to stay on the upper west side near the Fairway on Broadway. We'll often buy readymade foods, some fruit and some treats and have some meals in our hotel suite--not only saves some money, it gives us a little break from constantly being out in the world and creates at least a fleeting sense of living in New York.

Ethan said...

Carnival is the hispanic Tom Thumb/Minyard. Fiesta is much more "wordly", but both have consistently excellent produce. I am fortunate that they're literally across the street from each other locally.

Homesick Texan said...

Terry--I love Fairway, an excellent shopping experience. I haven't been to the newest one in Red Hook yet, but aim to go soon.

Ethan--Thanks! I'll have to check Carnival out next time in Texas.

Hannah said...

I made the Love Dip for Valentine's and loved it, no pun intended. And then had the leftovers yesterday and they were even better, so apparently it benefits from some time in the fridge (although I usually think the concept of letting flavors meld overnight as a Junior League Cookbook notion that is often unnecessary.)

Speaking of Texas grocery chain products, any chance you can hunt down the recipe for Randall's old Chocolate Chewies? I miss them the most and was devastated to learn on my last trip home that Randall's no longer even sells them.

Homesick Texan said...

Hannah--Yea! I'm glad you liked it. And it does always taste better the next day (if there's any left). I don't remember Randall's Chocolate Chewies (and I even worked at Randall's one summer) but I'll see what I can find.

Olivia said...

Hi Texan - WOW, I am so glad I found you. I wasn't born in Texas, "but I got there as fast as I could" as the bumper stickers say :)
I lived in Houston (well, The Woodlands) for many years and enjoyed it every day. I miss it - I miss Central Market and Whole Foods, even World Market...perfect April days, pine trees in the moonlight...and so on.

The Love Dip looks scrumptious.

leo said...

the best part about cm, is the bread area. huge selection including freshly made tortillas in different flavors.

the closest i can think of is the "sorianna" markets in mexico. as soon as the bread is out of the oven, it's like feeding time at the zoo scrambling to get at the fresh goodies. i think the heb's in mexico may be just as good. (sidebar, the great thing about the heb in mexico, where else can you find a liquor aisle that's dedicated to just tequila? and no plastic bottles there.)

up north.... no one has mentioned "stew leonards" yet??!!! talk about being herded like cattle. what a great experience, though.

Keren said...

I was born and raised in Austin and miss it terribly. Central Market is great but I have to agree with the other two people who raved about the new Whole Foods on 6th and Lamar. It is an incredible place you can find just about anything. I have eaten there several times and the food is wonderful. There is a chili and cornbread bar that my husband and I tried out last time we were there that is great. The cheddar and jalapeno corn bread is to die for. Of course the healthier food is great too. I recommend the vegetarian lasagna. Oh, and there is a whole section devoted to chocolate!!

patrick said...

Lisa,

Your blog is been read as far away as London England. After living in Texas (Brenham and Houston) for over 15 years, I miss Tex-Mex cooking. There is a difference between Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking. I even shipped a case of BOB's hot Texas crisps over here by DHL, but I soon gave up on that idea after being hammered by import duty. After many years of looking I found this great Tex-Mex restaurant in London called Cafe El Paso. I will be going there tonight to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. As you say just anoher excuse to drink beer, tequila, margaritas (top shelf only) and eat tortilla chips and Fajitas and of course refried beans. You mention that even the Irish bars are Mexican for the day, well on St Patrick's day in USA every bar is Irish for the day, its just good marketing.

Renee said...

I just came across your blog after I googled "HEB love dip recipe". I am new to TX (I live in Kingwood, outside Houston) and was shopping in my neighborhood HEB today when I happened upon a free sample of Love Dip with fresh baked bread. I ended up buying a small tub and a baguette, and I ate it all in the car on the way home. It is delicious!

-Renee

Mama in Pajamas said...

You are my new hero, Homesick Texan! I have LOVED Love Dip for years, and I never thought to look for the recipe online. I stumbled across this when I was looking for a good charro bean recipe.

Thanks!

Amanda said...

I was so excited to find your blog! I grew up in Texas (San Antonio, home of much beloved HEB), and I have been so upset about leaving my Central Market!!! The fresh produce, great selection of fish and meats, great assortments of worldly fare, and of course their HOMEMADE TORTILLAS. Which is what led me to your sight. I was searching for a tortilla recipe to start playing with. I'm moving to Philadelphia, and I'm quite confident I won't find fresh tortillas at the local supermarket.

I'm so glad there are other people in this world as obsessed with Central Market as I am! Ha ha. And do you not miss Blue Bell ice cream?? Ugh, I've been eating all the strawberries and homemade vanilla that I possibly can.

suzinoz said...

I'm a Native Texan who now lives in Australia--home to the dullest supermarkets on Earth. Two years ago I went to Dallas to visit family and friends and my best friend took me to a Central Market. I was there for 3 hours. I spent several hundred dollars and begged to go back several times during our stay. I LOVED it. What a great grocery store. How I miss it! Didn't have the Love dip though, will put that on the agenda for the next trip stateside.

Jason said...

I'm so enjoying your recipes! I'm always on the look out for new food blogs to inspire me and yours has been such a great find. My family is from Indiana with ties to Mississippi and I'm amazed how many of your recipes I grew up with but had forgotten about. Seasoned oyster crakers! Loved them as a girl! It's interesting how recipes travel. Well thank you for reintroducing me to an old favorite. I've made them twice and now my young girls are enjoying them! cheers! monica

chocolate tamales said...

I just found your site! I love love love the love dip. So much in fact you'll be jealous. I live in Houston! Think I'll buzz over to HEB and grab some now....lovely site ..Hi from home! BTway it's unusally cool and beautiful today. Not at all the usual hot and muggy heat we usually start to have this time of year.

Whittney said...

LOVE DIP!!! Oh my goodness - thank you! I just moved to NYC from Austin. Lived in San Antonio before that where I discovered love dip. Now I don't have to miss it! Can't wait to try it!!!

Mickie Poe said...

Thank you so much for posting this recipe. I've been jonesing for Central Market Love Dip for years! You're a love-saver.

CattyinQueens said...

I know this is an old post, but I just had to chime in with the others to say thanks...

I went to CM this past summer on a trip, and I couldn't help wanting to cry a little bit over the produce.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/fridayholmes/3623415533/in/set-72157619708313964/
Sniff.

Kim S. said...

I love Love Dip SO MUCH. My dad bought it one year for the Super Bowl and I was a little skeptical. After one bite though I was hooked! You can't stop eating that stuff!! It does give you killer garlic breath though... ;)

Love your blog! I'm a lonely homesick Texan in Paris, France! To get myself by I've been making myself guacamole on a monthly basis. They also sell El Paso brand spices at the grocery store here! Who knew?!

Sami said...

I tried out this recipe recently and let me just say, it was a HUGE success. Seriously. If you make this for a date I can promise you you wont be looking for love for very long!

Angela said...

Thank you so much for the mock recipe!! I'm having a secret love affair with this infamous dip that I bought on impulse (I'm not usually a 'dip' person, but I needed a variety for a party I was hosting) and after tasting a tiny schmear I couldn't believe how tasty it was - and powerful, lol

kristennw712 said...

I am so excited to try this dip!! I'm from texas and have been CRAVING this love dip!!!! Arizona just doesn't have anything close...thanks so much for your blog, it makes me feel a little less lonely :)

Anonymous said...

I live 4 blocks from the Fort Worth CM and confess to making a meal or two out of a pound of Love Dip and a loaf of CM white Italian bread. If I
run out of bread my next favorite to use with Love Dip is pretzels. I was just eating $8.00 worth of Love Dip and thought surely there is a recipe - and I do appreciate you posting it!!! I will make it and compare the two.

Anonymous said...

If you really love supermarkets then a must see is Wegmans. Fresh food, fun and fab...I promise. Pittsford, New York Wegmans is the bomb...I love, love, love it and so will you...please come for a visit. It's a suburb of Rochester, New York.

Brittany said...

I love this dip! And I LOVE your blog! I'm going to make this dip to take to the lake this Labor Day. Thanks so much!

Skye said...

Mmmm.. this was DELICIOUS! I haven't tried the original love dip from Central Market, but it has looked good but I just have never got it before. I made this just to try it and the ingredients did not have sour cream in it so that's a plus for me, it was delicious. It was a little too spicy for me so I will use less cayenne pepper next time. Also I think it needed more lemon juice, but it was so delicious, and it was pretty thick. I like thick dips though, Delicious with crispy flat bread chips. Defiantly making this again. Thank you!

Chris3610_Houston said...

Went to CM today & picked up some Love Dip, as I recently read this post. I'd forgotten just how yummy it is! Thanks for the reminder...

Annie W said...

If you make it to Central Market, be sure to buy the Butter Tortillas. I dare you to get them home intact!!!

Stephen Welborn said...

just discovered Love Dip last night. We ate it on CM-brand red quinoa and flaxseed tortilla chips. We are in love...dip!

Susan Weaver said...

I Love central market.. my fav store

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated to avoid spam. And if you don't have a blog, please leave your name as it makes it friendlier that way!