Cheese, for those of us with lactose tolerances, is just the best. It's the best on a sandwich, or on a crackeer, or shredded in a salad. It's especially wonderful in its melted state. It glues lasagna together. Put out a big bowl of cheese dip at your next party, and that's the corner that people are going to flock to.
There are several schools of thought on how to make a basic cheese dip. There's the microwaving salsa and Velveeta together school, and there's the crockpot school, among others. None of those dip schools are wrong!
Once you have a basic cheese sauce in your back pocket, you can improvise on it to your heart's desire. Want it spicy? Add more chili. Want to swtich up the cheeses? By all means! As long as it's a cheese that melts well—no halloumi—you can add it in there. Cheese dip is just a hop and a jump from fondue, after all.
The trick here is to cook down whatever vegetables you're adding before putting them in the dip. In this case, that's onion, garlic, and chilis. This is your chance to develop some flavor on that end—softening the onion and chilis takes away that raw bite. You don't want to get them browned, just soft—so keep an eye on them.
Once you're at this stage, add half-and-half, or whole milk if you prefer. Cook it just until it's warmed through and begin whisking in cheese, a handful at a time, until it's all melted in. Taste it and season to your liking before serving it.
Watch: How to Make Beer Cheese Fondue
To thicken the dip, this recipe calls for cornstarch, one of several thickening options you have for sauces, soups, and dips. Cornstarch is great because you can add it to the liquid you want to thicken directly to activate it, without having to cook it first.
A couple of caveats, though: Always add cornstarch to a warm liquid for it to activate, otherwise it won't do anything. Also, be careful about adding too much too early on, otherwise you'll end up with overly thickened dip. And third, know that cornstarch's staying power isn't forever. If you're planning on saving leftovers, they'll likely get liquidy again.
You can also make a dip by making a white roux, mixing together an equal amount of butter and flour and adding the half and half a splash at a time, then cooking it until it thickens. At that point you'd add your cheese and the vegetables, which you'd have had to cook down in a different pot. You could also drop in my favorite thickener, beurre manie, a mixture of equal parts flour and softened butter that turns into a kind of dough that you can drop in, a bit at a time, to make your dip thicker. Just know you have all kinds of options. Once you settle on your favorite way, you'll have a party magnet up your sleeve whenever you need it.