This cold artichoke spinach dip is a lighter variation on the standard dip! Fresh and preserved lemon adds a bright flavor that makes this dip perfect for spring and summer. Serve with crackers, crostini, or fresh veggies!
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I was recently introduced to preserved lemons when I sought to replicate this recipe for toasted angel hair pasta with crab, preserved lemons, and habanero cream sauce from my favorite restaurant. I ended up buying a jar of preserved lemons on Amazon and I loved the salty, lemony burst of flavor they added to the pasta dish.
I had some left in the jar and started thinking about what else they would go well with. While preserved lemons are traditionally used in Moroccan cooking, I couldn’t help but envision them as an unexpected addition to a springy, cold artichoke spinach dip.
I gave it a shot by modifying my favorite baked spinach, artichoke, and crab dip recipe and was super pleased with the results!
About lemon spinach artichoke dip
I was brainstorming spring recipes and came across artichokes as an example of spring produce. I thought a chilled or room temperature artichoke spinach dip with a bright burst of lemon would be the perfect way to add a warm-weather twist to a dip that’s usually served hot.
I often cross the line from “delightfully bright” to “HOLY COW SO MUCH LEMON” without noticing. “More, more”, I beckon to the lemons. They are happy to comply. I’m pretty much a lemon addict and I think my taste buds — and soul — have been desensitized to my favorite citrus.
However, my readers aren’t always happy with the overly-lemony results.
That’s where my sister Julie comes in. She has been nannying for my daughter a couple times a week so I can get some work done on the blog, and I have been roping her into taste testing while she’s at it.
So when I said “yes, this is good” and would’ve been happy to eat the whole super-lemony bowl of dip, she intervened and suggested some additional parmesan cheese would balance out the tang into a dip anyone would be thrilled to eat. She was right, and this dip is now suitable for ALL audiences.
Ingredients in cold artichoke spinach dip with preserved lemon
Here’s a breakdown of what you’ll need for this dip.
- Cream cheese, mayonnaise, and sour cream: These provide the creamy base for the dip. The cream cheese provides the thickness the dip needs, the mayonnaise gives it a rich, buttery flavor, and the sour cream adds just a smidge of tang to complement the lemon. You can substitute unflavored Greek yogurt for the sour cream if you prefer.
- Artichoke hearts: You’ll want to make sure your artichoke hearts are tender, not fiberous. I have some tips on choosing the best artichoke hearts below!
- Spinach: I always use fresh spinach to make my artichoke spinach dip after having an unpleasant experience with frozen spinach that literally tasted like dirt. DIRT! Not what you want in your dip. It only takes a couple minutes to steam a bag of fresh baby spinach, after which you squeeze the heck out of it in a kitchen towel to get as much liquid out as you can so your dip isn’t watery.
- Lemon zest and juice: This gives the dip that lemony flavor that makes it perfect for warm weather. The juice is mixed throughout, and the zest adds some extra lemon flavor without the extra liquid, so your dip stays creamy instead of watery.
- Preserved lemon: Small dices of preserved lemon rind (you don’t use the flesh) add little bursts of salty, lemony goodness without adding to the lemoniness of the overall dip. You can omit it if you don’t have any, but this ingredient was the inspiration for the whole recipe so I recommend you try to get some! You can buy them in a jar at World Market, on Amazon, or you can even make your own (two weeks in advance).
- Parmesan cheese and cayenne pepper: Parmesan adds a nuttiness to the recipe and cayenne pepper gives a little kick (add as much or as little as you’d like). Both ingredients serve to round out the dominant flavors of the dip and balance the lemon. I use parmesan cheese I get freshly-grated in tubs at the grocery store rather than pre-shredded parmesan you find in the zip-top bags (which have anti-caking agents and preservatives added). You can also grate your own.
Choosing the best artichoke hearts
I’m often frustrated by the leathery outer leaves I find in many canned artichoke hearts. I don’t want to be stuck chewing cud while trying to enjoy my artichoke spinach dip on a dainty tea sandwich or crostini.
I’ve had some success with Progresso brand artichoke hearts in the past but they don’t seem to be available at the grocery stores I commonly shop at. So I searched for a different brand that had good ratings and came across this helpful article about the best processed artichoke hearts from Cooks Illustrated.
Here’s the basic gist:
- Buy whole artichoke hearts, not quartered. The “quartered” ones often come from much larger artichoke hearts and can actually be eighths. And the larger the artichoke heart, the more likely it is to be tough on the outside.
- Likewise, the smaller they are, the more likely they are to be tender. Look for ones labeled baby artichoke hearts, or small, tender artichoke hearts. Look for ones about an inch and a half long or shorter.
- Do not get marinated artichoke hearts – you’re adding your own flavor here.
I tried two new brands: Vigo canned baby artichoke hearts, and Reese jarred “tender small” artichoke hearts. The Vigo was pretty good and not overly leathery, but they still had a couple slightly fibrous outer leaves throughout. Nothing that would make me chew for minutes so still a very good option.
The Reese ones, however, were amazing and probably the most tender I’ve ever had. I don’t know if the brand was the difference or if it was the jarred vs. canned, but there you have it!
How to use preserved lemons
If you haven’t cooked with preserved lemons before, it can be confusing to know what exactly to do with them. Interestingly, with preserved lemons you only use the rind, not the flesh of the lemon. (And if you’re tempted to use the flesh too so as not to waste it, please taste it first, and then don’t use it. It’s SO. SALTY.)
So to use one, here’s what you do.
- Remove the lemon from the jar. Rinse off the salty brine.
- Cut the lemon into wedges.
- Carefully run a knife between the rind and the flesh of the lemon to remove the rind.
- Discard the flesh, and dice the rind to use in the recipe.
There you have it! Now you have nice tangy lemony bursts you can add to your dip.
If you can’t find preserved lemons, never fear. This dip is still great with just the lemon zest and juice!
How to make cold artichoke spinach dip with lemon
Prepare the spinach. I know many artichoke spinach dip recipes use frozen spinach, but the last time I had frozen spinach it tasted like literal dirt. So I steam my own from fresh — and you can really taste the difference!
I just throw it in a microwave-safe bowl with a small splash of water, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave for three minutes until it’s all evenly wilted.
Then, and this is the most important step to avoid a runny dip, you squeeze out all the water you can. Like, don’t even worry about pulverizing your spinach. Drain it first, then dump the spinach into a clean kitchen towel. Then squeeze the heck out of it over the sink. Take out the spinach and squeeze out the towel. Then put the spinach back in and squeeze it again. Repeat until you can’t get any more water out.
It should resemble a dark green golf ball at this point. Just totally compact. Then you can slap it on a cutting board and chop it.
Prepare the preserved lemons. Rinse off the brine, cut the lemon into wedges, remove the flesh and discard it, and then dice the rind. More details and photos are in the section above.
Drain and chop the artichoke hearts.
Mix creamy base. Add the mayo, softened cream cheese, and sour cream into the bowl of a stand mixer and blend until evenly creamy, or do the same with a hand mixer or whisk.
Mix together dip. Add the rest of the ingredients, adding lemon juice and cayenne pepper to taste at the end.
Then you can either chill it or serve it at room temperature!
FAQs about cold spinach artichoke dip
Can I use frozen spinach instead of fresh?
I really think it tastes better with fresh steamed spinach, but you can use frozen if you have some you need to use up.
Where can I find preserved lemon?
World Market carries them, as well as some Whole Foods stores (check in advance if your specific location of either store carries them). You may be able to find them at other nicer grocery stores or ethnic groceries as well (It’s a traditionally Moroccan ingredient). I order mine on Amazon. Or you can make them yourself (Please allow a full month for them to cure).
I don’t have preserved lemon. Should I add extra fresh lemon instead?
No, you don’t need to add any additional lemon to the recipe if you leave out the preserved lemon. It’s plenty lemony enough throughout. The preserved lemons just add little salty lemony bursts here and there in addition to the throughout-lemon flavor.
Can I serve this artichoke spinach dip hot?
Absolutely! You can put it in the slow cooker to keep it warm or bake it in the oven, topped with some extra parmesan cheese if you’d like. Bake in a small casserole dish at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes until it’s browning around the edges, then broil for another 2-3 minutes to brown the cheese on top. Keep a close eye on it while broiling so it doesn’t burn!
How long will this keep?
This dip will keep for about a week in the fridge.
What can I do with with cold lemon artichoke spinach dip?
This dip is great spread on crackers or crostini, as a dip for fresh vegetable crudites, or as a filling for tea sandwiches. Check back soon for some extra recipes you can make using this dip!
More dip and spread recipes
- 5 oz fresh baby spinach
- 4 oz cream cheese softened
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1 14-oz can or jar baby artichoke hearts drained and finely chopped
- 3/4 cup freshly shredded parmesan
- 2 cloves garlic minced or pressed
- 1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice to taste
- zest from 1 lemon
- 1 preserved lemon (optional)
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper to taste
- Put spinach in a microwave-safe bowl with a splash of water and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Microwave for 3 minutes or until fully wilted.
- Drain spinach. When cool enough to handle, put spinach in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze out as much excess moisture as possible. You'll end up with a tiny little ball of steamed spinach. Transfer to a cutting board and chop finely.
- To prepare the preserved lemon, first cut it into wedges. Remove the flesh from each wedge with a knife and discard. You will only be using the rind. Finely dice the rind and set aside.
- In a large bowl or stand mixer, whisk together cream cheese, mayonnaise, and sour cream until smooth.
- Add in chopped spinach, artichoke hearts, parmesan, garlic, lemon zest, preserved lemon rind, and black pepper. Add 1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice to taste and 1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper to taste.
- Serve at room temperature or chilled with crostini or on tea sandwiches.