It's tough to say exactly when dips vanished from the Food Trend radar screen. Was it after George Costanza plunged his half-eaten potato chip back into the onion dip on "Seinfeld"? Goodness knows, there are lots of caterers around today who won't serve them in order to reduce the chances of the much-blogged-about, unsanitary practice of double dipping.

Dips surely became collateral damage in the modern assault on cals and carbs, because so many of the things we swooshed and scooped with were fried and salted. And the rest of them were crudites; there were limits to just how many bell pepper rings we could digest in one night.

Maybe we've never gotten over the taste of some onion dips, period.

Here's hoping you'll all dip responsibly, and that you'll look beyond the salsas and guacamoles currently kicking off summer parties. Dip recipes grace the appetizers chapters of the very latest cookbooks. Dips remain a great way to make an edible first impression on your guests. (Simulation: "You made this FAHbulous roasted green chili and white bean dip yourSELF? Whatever else you made must be swell as well!")

We offer that recipe, as well as a handful of old and new ones that can be made ahead of time or in relatively short order, are certifiably easy to prepare and will whet your friends' appetites while your entree's on the grill.

Parmesan Lemon Dip

Makes 1 1/4 cups

Clean and pretty enough for fancy-party fare, this dip does not suffer from being made a day in advance. It will thicken upon sitting. This amount is enough for about 40 skewers of 2 or 3 cooked tortellini. Or swipe a cucumber slice through it. (See sidebar at far right for more dipper alternatives.) Adapted from Martha Stewart's "Hors d'Oeuvres" (Clarkson Potter, 1984):

1 cup creme fraiche (may substitute half-sour cream, half-heavy cream mixture)

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Juice of 2 lemons

Grated zest of 2 lemons

3 cloves roasted garlic, peeled and crushed

Combine all of the ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 50 calories, 1 gm protein, 1 gm carbohydrates, 5 gm fat, 18 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 28 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Manchurian Dip

Makes 2 quarts

This finished dip looks a bit like barbecue sauce, but its texture is more substantial. It clings to a chunky dipper, making the trip without drips from bowl to mouth of hungry guest (or chef). Serve warm with raw cauliflower or craggy hunks of rustic bread. Adapted from "Wife of the Chef: The True Story of a Restaurant and Romance" by Courtney Febbroriello (Clarkson Potter, 2003):

1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 small green chili pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped

1 medium red onion, roughly chopped

2 large stalks celery, roughly chopped

1 large bunch cilantro, including stems

10 medium cloves garlic, peeled

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 cups ketchup

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon chili powder (or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a food processor, combine the carrot, chili pepper, onion, celery and cilantro. Add the garlic and pulse until blended.

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan on medium-high. Put the pureed vegetables in the pan and heat through, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the ketchup and soy sauce and cook for another 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. When sauce starts to thicken, add the sugar, chili powder, salt and pepper to taste. May cover and refrigerate for up to one week.

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 13 calories, trace protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, trace fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 135 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Vietnamese Nuoc Cham

Makes about 1 cup

This dip combines simple, sharp tastes you've had before, but when you dip with nonstandard crudites or baked pita bread triangles, you'll see why this recipe is a standard. This is a liquid dip, so place it in small bowls in non-stainable territory on your buffet table. Also good with halves of rice-paper spring rolls or cooked shrimp. Adapted from "Finger Food" by Elsa Petersen-Schepelern (Time-Life Books, 1999):

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 red chili pepper, cored and chopped

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 lime, peeled, quartered, seeded and chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons Vietnamese fish sauce*

1/2 cup water

In a spice grinder or using a mortar and pestle, work the garlic, chili and sugar to a paste. Add the chopped lime and any juice and puree again. Stir in the fish sauce and about 1/2 cup water. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly, then serve in small dipping bowls.

*NOTE: Vietnamese fish sauce has a darker and more intense flavor than Thai fish sauce.

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 6 calories, trace protein, 1 gm carbohydrates, trace fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 131 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Roasted Green Chili

and White Bean Dip

Makes 21/2 to 3 cups

The beans give this dip a nice body, and using canned beans will bring no shame upon your kitchen. Serve with baked corn tortilla chips, wedges of grilled flatbread or a variety of manageably sized lettuce leaves. Adapted from "Boy Gets Grill" by Bobby Flay with Julia Moskin (Scribner, 2004):

1 pound dried white beans, soaked overnight and drained, or two 15 1/2-ounce cans white beans, rinsed and drained

6 cloves garlic, peeled, or 3 cloves, minced, if using canned beans

2 large poblano chili peppers, roasted,* peeled and seeded

1 cup olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

If using dried beans, combine the soaked beans and 6 garlic cloves in a large saucepan and add cold water to cover by 1 inch. (If using canned beans, skip to the next paragraph.) Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until soft, 1 to 11/2 hours, adding boiling water as needed to keep the beans covered. Drain in a colander.

In a food processor, process the beans, garlic and chilis until coarsely mashed. With the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil and process until smooth. (If you don't have a food processor, you can use an electric mixer, but the dip will not be as smooth.) Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to a medium bowl. If made a day in advance, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving. Garnish with cilantro.

*NOTE: The poblano peppers can be roasted in the oven instead of on the grill or over a stovetop gas flame. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, rub the whole peppers with olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Roast, turning them once, for 20 minutes, until softened and blackened. Transfer the peppers to an airtight container or a bowl covered with plastic wrap to rest for 5 minutes; the resulting steam will loosen the peppers' skins.

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 73 calories, 2 gm protein, 6 gm carbohydrates, 5 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 178 mg sodium,1 gm dietary fiber

FOUR KEEPERS

Roasted Green Chili and White Bean Dip

Vietnamese

Nuoc Cham

Parmesan Lemon Dip

Manchurian Dip

* For alternative dippers, see Page 4