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Holiday spread features cilantro, cranberries, cream cheese

This super-easy and flavorful holiday dip features a mixture of cilantro, jalapeno and dried cranberries over a block of cream cheese. (Dan Pelle)

When my 20-something cousin brought this holiday spread to Christmas dinner a few years back, no one could stop eating it.

The mixture was so simple – dried cranberries, diced jalapeno peppers and cilantro atop a mound of cream cheese – and, at the same time, so memorable.

I don’t remember the main entrées at dinner that year, but I definitely took note of the fresh and flavorful appetizer, served with thin, wheat crackers and a glass – or two – of red wine.

Red, green and white, it paired perfectly with Christmas.

And each ingredient complemented the next. The sweetness of the berries and creaminess of the mild cheese balanced the distinctive crispness of the cilantro. A little red wine vinegar added just enough acidity.

It would be easy to make the hors d’oeuvre light by using low-fat cream cheese. Similarly, it would be simple to make it vegan by using a dairy-free substitute for cream cheese.

Or, for a more complex, tangy flavor, use a large goat cheese log instead of cream cheese.

If you’re a cilantrophobe – who thinks the pungent herb tastes more like soap than seasoning – try flat-leaf Italian parsley instead.

Whichever variation you use, you probably won’t be able to stop after just one bite.

Cilantro and Jalapeno Holiday Spread with Dried Cranberries and Cream Cheese

2 bunches fresh cilantro, diced and de-stemmed

3 to 4 medium jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced (leave in some seeds to taste for increased heat)

1 cup dried cranberries

2 to 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar

1 (8-ounce) block of cream cheese

In a large bowl, combine cilantro, peppers, cranberries and red wine vinegar. Pour mixture over cream cheese on serving platter. Serve immediately with thin, wheat crackers.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings