Appetizers: they are the beating heart of the holiday season. At least in my family they are. Not only do they announce the start of what will turn out to be a memorable Christmas dinner, but more importantly they force family members to gather round the table and gobble down some marvelous food as an act of familial harmony. Believe me, nothing brings a family together like spilling a glass of champagne over your grandma’s skirt or dropping a hot puff pastry canapé down your own cleavage after a (failed) attempt of trying to eat with your fingers as elegantly as possible.
The only problem with appetizers is that you often eat so many of them, you’re already full before the dinner has barely even started. At least, that used to be a problem. Where I come from – and I’m sure many of you will recognize this scenario- traditional appetizers and canapés usually mean lots of cheese, plenty of mini pigs-in-a-blanket and an over-abundance of little toasts and crostini topped with a buttery or mayo-rich spread.
Although these traditional mouthfuls are indeed quite delicious, the high quantity of fat, salt and carbs in them will make you bloat up before you’ve even reached the dinner table. And that is a shame. Surely, you want there to be some room left in your stomach for the big event, a.k.a the main? Or horror, what if you won’t be able to indulge in that fabulous dessert?
Therefore, I decided to do things differently this year and introduced my family to some incredibly delicious but lighter appetizers. Mind you, this is not about trying to create “healthier” appetizers. After all, if there is one day of the year on which you are allowed to indulge in the naughtier of foods, it is most definitely Christmas. No, these appetizers are there to give you the same mouthwatering satisfaction as the traditional ones would, but also make sure you will still have some room left for that devilishly naughty dessert.
So if you’re planning on doing some fancy appetizers for New Year’s Eve, why don’t you add one of these to your wish list? I can guarantee your party will be remembered for years to come! (And this time it won’t be because you managed to douse grandma with a bottle of booze.) Cheers!
Mexican Mango and Kidney Bean Salsa
This refreshing mouthful can be served on individual spoons or on some pretty lettuce leaves. You can add as much chili as you like, and if I were to make this appetizer for me and my friends I would add a bit more fire than this recipe suggests, but since I had to take into account my grandparents and their incapability of eating anything spicy without getting gassy, I was very cautious with the vavavoom heat. But if you like it hot, be my guest to chop in some more!
- 1 mango, finely diced
- 1 can of red kidney beans, drained
- ½ red chili
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 tomato, deseeded and finely diced
- ¼ cucumber, finely diced
- Fresh coriander
- Mix all the ingredients together in bowl.
- Season with salt and pepper and add just enough lime juice so that the balance of sweet, savory and acidity is just perfect.
- Finally, stir in lots of finely chopped coriander.
Cauliflower “Tabbouleh” with Freekeh and Hemp Seeds
Now, before you start thinking I was secretly trying to drug my grandparents: hemp seeds won’t get you high. On the contrary, not only are the seeds an innocent variety of their naughty cousin Cannabis, they are also considered a superfood and are a great source of protein and antioxidants for vegetarians and vegans. Plus, their nutty and savoury flavour make them really yummy too! And a great combo with that lovely toasted aroma of the freekeh. “Freekeh?” I hear you ask. This ancient, Middle Eastern grain with an admittedly funny name is the next big thing in foodie land. Forget quinoa, that’s so 2014. In 2015, everyone will be eating this marvelous fiber-rich super grain. Mark my words!
This cauliflower tabbouleh is anything you could wish for and more. Crunchy, savoury, nutty, fragrant, zingy and a little bit sweet. Heaven!
- 1 small cauliflower
- 100gr freekeh
- 5 tbsp hemp seeds
- 3 tbsp freshly chopped dill
- 3 tbsp freshly chopped coriander
- ½ tps ground cumin
- Juice of one lemon
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff)
- Handful of finely chopped dried cranberries
- Chop the cauliflower really fine, until you get a coucous-like texture.
- Cook the freekeh for about 15 minutes in salted water and drain.
- Add the cauliflower and freekeh together in a bowl. Add the juice of half a lime and season with plenty of salt and pepper.
- Stir in the chopped cranberries, herbs and hemps seeds.
- Finely stir in the olive oil to bind the whole lot together.
- Put the tabbouleh in small glasses and serve with a teeny tiny spoon on the side.
Cucumber “toasts” with a feta, dill and Pomegranate filling
All credits for this recipe go to the wonderful and brilliant Lorraine Pascale, who made this appetizer in one of her latest cooking shows. This one is an absolute winner. The cucumber is a great and refreshing alternative for the traditional and boring mini-toast and the filling truly is a flavour sensation in your mouth. Salty feta? Check! Fragrant dill? Check! Little bombs of pure juicy delight, also known as pomegranate seeds? Check!
- 1 cucumber
- 200gr feta cheese
- Seeds of ¼ to ½ pomegranate
- Lots of fresh dill
- You can use the cucumber in 2 different ways. The first is to simply cut the cucumber in slices and top it with the feta mixture. This is the easier method, although it might be a bit tricky to put the feta on top of it without making a mess. The second way is to peel the cucumber and cut them in somewhat thicker slices, approx. 1 cm thick. Scoop out the inside to create a whole for the feta mix to sit in. It is a bit more work to do it this way, but it neatly contains the feta, so you don’t have to be afraid of the filling falling on your lap while trying to stuff it down your gob. I tried both methods and although the scooping is a bit more work, it does look slightly daintier 😉
- Mix the feta together with the dill and pomegranate seeds and add some olive oil (1 tbsp) to make sure everything stick together. Don’t forget to add a good touch of black pepper.