Quick, can you name all seven layers in a seven-layer dip? If you can, you're invited to join me on Team Party Dip. This team knows that a party is only as good as its best dip, and a classic seven-layer dip with all its spicy Southwestern goodness is a guaranteed win at the party.
Even if you're skeptical of all those layers, I'm willing to bet we'll find you hovering over the dish within five minutes of walking in the door.
In Praise of the Old-School Dip
With all these moving parts — all seven of them, to be specific — there's plenty of opportunity to do some fancy customization. But the goal with this particular recipe is to illustrate seven-layer dip at its most pure and basic form.
For us, that means some of the components are homemade, and some you get to purchase. The schematics of that can change every time you make it, but this particular iteration with homemade refried beans, guacamole, and pico de gallo is our suggestion starting out right in the middle. Medium effort, maximum impact.
The Anatomy of a 7-Layer Dip
Before we dive into the details of the seven layers, let's all get on the same page about what they are.
- Refried beans
- Sour cream
- Grated cheese
- Pico de gallo
- Black olives
- Greenery in the form of shredded lettuce, jalapeños, and/or green onions
The Major Players
- Beans: For the refried beans, I use canned pinto beans (drained and rinsed) and cook them with some chopped onion, garlic, and spices. Some broth splashed into the pan helps to smash the warmed beans into a chunky purée. I like to use the beans just like this, but if you like, you can give them a spin a food processor to make a very smooth purée.
- Guacamole: This layer is a pretty standard guac recipe. The biggest factor here is using very ripe avocados. Avoid avocados that are rock-hard unless you have a few days to let them ripen on the counter.
- Pico de gallo: Go with a classic blend of ripe tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, and cilantro. If this isn't the season for tomatoes, buy cherry tomatoes for best flavor. I also recommend letting the fresh salsa drain for at least a few minutes so this layer doesn't make the rest of the dish soggy.
The other layers — sour cream, grated cheese, black olives, and the greens — don't need much by way of explanation. Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese are great choices for the cheese layer.
Putting the Dip Together
When assembling the layers of this dip, two things are important: color contrast and structural integrity. I usually put the heavier layers — beans, guacamole, and sour cream — toward the bottom, and the lighter, fresher layers — grated cheese, pico de gallo, and black olives — toward the top. I always finish with the green layer because this is the freshest and stays nicely crunchy when sprinkled on top.
Use a glass dish if you have one so that all the layers are on full display. When adding each layer, spread (or sprinkle) a little more thickly around the edges so that the layer shows up well.
If you'd like to make this dip ahead, assemble all the layers except the pico de gallo and the shredded lettuce. Cover the dish and refrigerate for up to a day. Let the dish come up to room temperature before your party and then sprinkle the pico de gallo and lettuce over the top just as guests arrive.
How To Make 7-Layer Dip
What You Need
For the pico de gallo layer:
4 to 6 medium ripe tomatoes, diced small (about 4 cups)
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced small
1 to 2 jalapeño peppers (1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons minced)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
About 1/2 bunch cilantro (1/2 cup chopped)
Juice of 1 lime
For the refried bean layer:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder, plus more to taste
2 (14-ounce) cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
For the guacamole layer:
6 medium ripe avocados
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves and upper stems
Pinch or two of coarse salt
Juice of one lime
3 cups sour cream
4 cups (1 pound) shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
1 head iceberg lettuce, shredded
2 (14-ounce) cans black olives, drained and roughly chopped
4 whole spring onions, thinly sliced
Corn tortilla chips, to serve
9x13-inch glass baking dish
- Make the pico de gallo layer: Combine the tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, and salt in a strainer set over a mixing bowl. Stir to combine, then let stand for at least 10 minutes for the tomatoes to drain and the onions to soften. Transfer to a clean mixing bowl and stir in the chopped cilantro and lime juice.
- Make the bean layer: Warm the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the onions and cook until softened and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and chili powder, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the pinto beans and the salt. Let the beans warm for a few minutes and then smash them against the bottom and sides of the skillet until the beans are almost entirely smashed and paste-like. Add the broth, and continue to stir and smash until the broth is absorbed and the beans are as smashed as you like. (For a very smooth layer, transfer all ingredients to a blender and purée until creamy. Remove from heat and set aside.)
- Make the guacamole layer: Cut the avocados in half and remove the pit. Scoop the flesh into a big mixing bowl and smash with a fork until it's as chunky or as smooth as you like it. Mix in the cilantro, lime juice, and salt. Taste and add more of anything, to taste. Set aside.
- Assemble the layers: Spread the refried beans evenly on the bottom of the baking dish, followed by the sour cream, guacamole, grated cheese, and pico de gallo. When adding each layer, try to disturb the layer beneath it as little as possible and push the layer all the way up to the sides of the pan. Spread (or sprinkle) a little more thickly around the edges so that the layer shows up well. At this point, the dish can be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
- Top with greens: When ready to serve, uncover and top with the shredded lettuce. Scatter the olives and green onions over top.
- Serve with corn tortilla chips on the side.
- Dip for small parties: Cut the recipe in half if making for a smaller crowd and serve in an 8x8-inch pan or medium-sized glass bowl.