5 Ways to Approach the Appetizer, with 3 Great Recipes

by Jakob Anderson, Food Writer –

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So you have been given the daunting task of providing an appetizer or two for a dinner party or spring barbecue. First, do not panic. Second, eliminate the idea of “chips and dip” or a “veggie platter.” Third, salsa and guacamole are great, do not get me wrong, but they are so overdone. You want to impress your friends, don’t you? These options are always a cop-out for uninspired home cooks when they are stumped for creativity. Fear not, there are many ways to develop the perfect bite-sized precursor. Get excited, because you’re Picasso on codeine in the kitchen.

1. Color is Paramount 

The old saying “you eat with your eyes first” is a little silly, but presentation is important. When creating an appetizer, focus on eye-catching color! In the spring and summer, fresh herbs can add a ton of life to dishes.

2. A Baguette or Crackers Are Not the Only Choices

crispybeets

Baked beet slices make a great foundation

Baguettes are fantastic (see below) but do not let them limit your ideas. Get creative with the foundation of your appetizers! Get crafty with your prep. For example, serve salt-baked beets with goat cheese and pistachio. Slice the beet in thick rounds to serve as the base. Slice and fry thick rounds of eggplant and top it with labneh, chickpeas and harissa. Leave your sister-in-law to serve the classic bruschetta on a toasted baguette while you do something exciting and unexpected.

3. Go with the Seasons 

Use seasonal choices such as springtime’s fiddlehead greens for a unique, fresh option

“Local fried fiddleheads with farmer’s cheese and mint.” Sound like a foodie hipster and work with whatever is in season. Not only will you impress with your knowledge, but what you are using will most likely be from a local source and be extra tasty.

4. Grill Something Unusual

“I’m going to grill a pineapple.” Shout out to my best friend, who confidently made this statement and then prepared a beautiful marinated and char-grilled pineapple dish. I have been using grilled fruit for appetizers ever since!

5. Simple Concept, High Quality

Your local farmer's market is a good place to let your creativity loose!

Your local farmer’s market is a good place to let your creativity loose!

My personal favorite way to approach any sort of food-related conundrum. Go to your local farmer’s market and let your creativity loose; allow the produce available to dictate your dish. If you approach food in this fashion, there is no need to manipulate the product in some strange fashion. Sometimes purity is the best option.

Here are some simple, no-fuss appetizers that if done correctly can be 100 times more satisfying than a bowl of chips and dip.

Recipe 1: Ricotta, Roasted Cherry Tomato and Basil Baguette

Ricotta Cheese on Baguette

Ricotta cheese on basil baguette

Wait until tomatoes are in peak season to unleash this bad boy. Oh it sounds so simple? That’s because it is. Visit the farmer’s market the morning of the party – grab ricotta still warm from the straining process, tomatoes that are bursting with life, herbs form the strange bearded hippy and olive oil of the highest quality. Let the produce do the talking.

1 baguette, sliced and toasted

2 cups fresh ricotta

2 cups cherry tomatoes

1 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups fresh basil leaves

Heat oven to 450ºF. Toss tomatoes in olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in oven for 15 minutes or until they begin to burst. Top each baguette with a generous scoop of ricotta, tomatoes and basil leaves, and finish with another drizzle of olive oil.

Recipe 2: Mini Lamb Meatball Skewers with Feta, Kumquats and Mint

Mini lamb meatball skewers

Mini lamb meatball skewers

Use toothpicks for these one-bite meatball skewers. Assemble beforehand and just pop them in an oven at 350ºF for 15 minutes when you arrive at your great aunt Edith’s.

2 cups feta cheese, cut into 4-inch chunks, double the size of the meatball

2 pounds ground lamb

1/2 cup pine nuts

1/2 onion, finely diced

3 cloves garlic

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup fresh oregano leaves

6 kumquats, thinly sliced

Olive oil

Combine lamb, pine nuts, oregano, onion and garlic, shaping ½-inch meatballs out of the mixture. Make sure that there is a flat bottom to one side of the meatball so that you can place them standing upwards in the oven. Sear in olive oil and allow to cool before skewering. Skewer lamb meatball, feta and a slice of kumquat. Place in oven at 350ºF – the meatball on the bottom and the feta and kumquat rest above it. Serve with additional oregano.

Recipe 3: Chickpea Fritters with Spiced Maple Yogurt Dip

Tasty chickpea fritters

Tasty chickpea fritters

Socca, pakora, farinata, all are names for a fried chickpea product. As I have no ties to Middle Eastern, Indian or Italian cuisine (my family thinks we are Italian; I’m skeptical), I will call these fritters in order not to piss anybody off! They can be prepared in advance and warmed in the oven before serving.

2 cups chickpea flour

1 leek, white part only, finely diced

1 small sweet potato, grated, skin as well

1 cup water

Salt and pepper to taste

Vegetable oil, as needed

Yogurt Mix Recipe

2 cups labneh or greek yogurt

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander

2 sprigs fried rosemary, finely chopped

For fritter add chickpea flour, pepper and salt to bowl. Slowly whisk in water. Stir in potato and leek. To cook, you’re going to use a large spoon and drop dollops of batter into a pan filled with 1/2 inch of hot vegetable oil. Do not worry about them looking pretty – the more rustic the better. They should take about 1-2 minutes per side. For yogurt mix, combine all ingredients in a bowl. You can choose to top each fritter with yogurt individually or serve them dry with the yogurt on the side as dip.