I know some people who would be happy eating an entire meal of appetizers. Grazing on a half-dozen small plates can be very satisfying. After all, that’s the whole point of tapas, which are Spanish finger foods to nibble on in a bar while enjoying an icy pitcher of sangria.
Most appetizers we’ve come to know in the U.S. started out somewhere else in the world. Even in the 1950s, which was not the most sophisticated decade for food, sweet ‘n sour Swedish meatballs, baba ghanoush (roasted eggplant dip from the Mideast) and rumaki (bacon-wrapped chicken liver and water chestnut) were internationally inspired.
Following are some substantial appetizers that you can make into a meal or serve as a first course.
Crab Mango Cocktail
This recipe is from my Age Beautifully cookbook. When served in martini glasses, these crab cocktails make elegant appetizers for dinner parties. I use Alaskan king crab legs, but you can use grilled shrimp instead. Semi-ripe mangoes are tarter than fully ripe mangoes and hold their shape better.
BENEFITS: Crab and other shellfish contain selenium, an antioxidant that increases resistance to infection. The mango, lime, and hot sauce deliver plenty of vitamin C, which helps the body resist infection and protects against skin aging.
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup sliced scallions
2 tsp. sliced jalapenos
1-2 tsp. sea salt
1-2 tsp. hot sauce
2 cups diced green (semi-ripe) mangoes
1 1/2 cups diced Roma tomatoes
1 cup julienned young coconut meat
1/4 cup minced cilantro
1 cup steamed, coarsely chopped crab meat
1. In a glass bowl, combine the lime juice, scallions, jalapenos, salt, and hot sauce. 2. Fold in the mangoes, tomatoes, coconut meat, and cilantro.
3. Carefully fold in the crab meat without breaking it apart. 4. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. 5. To serve, spoon into martini glasses.
Yakitori is a Japanese term for grilled. These skewers of moist, flavorful thigh meat are simple to prepare and high in protein.
Makes about 6 skewers
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thigh meat
½ cup dark soy sauce or tamari
¼ cup mirin or rice wine
2 Tbs. sake or dry sherry
1 Tbs. brown sugar
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
½ tsp. grated fresh ginger
Scallions, cut into 1” pieces
Toasted sesame seeds for garnish
1 package of thin bamboo skewers
1. Cut chicken into one-inch pieces and place in a shallow dish.
2. In a small saucepan, combine soy sauce or tamari, mirin, sake or sherry, brown sugar, garlic, and ginger. Bring to a simmer and cook for 7 minutes, until thickened. Reserve 2 tablespoons sauce for serving. Pour remaining sauce over chicken, cover, and chill for at least one hour.
3. If using wooden or bamboo skewers, soak them in water for one hour. Preheat grill or broiler. Thread chicken and scallion pieces onto skewers, and grill or broil, turning halfway, for about 3-4 minutes per side. Serve drizzled with reserved sauce and garnished with toasted sesame seeds.
Spanish Chorizo-Manchego Bites
Manchego is Spain’s most famous cheese. It’s made from the milk of Manchego sheep who graze the plains of La Mancha. Cervantes even mentions it in his novel, Don Quixote. Spanish chorizo is a hard sausage much like hard salami. The salty/sweet pungent flavors make this tapas-like appetizer deliciously appealing. Just imagine yourself sitting outside a café in Barcelona.
1 lb. Spanish chorizo *
1 lb. Manchego cheese
15 oz. jar pitted green Manzanilla olives
Honey to drizzle
3 oz. sliced almonds
1 box bamboo toothpicks, paddle-shaped (or frilled)
1. Slice the chorizo into ¼-inch thick ‘coins’
2. Slice the cheese into approximately 1 ½-inch squares, about ¼-inch thick.
3. Skewer the chorizo on top, olive in the middle and cheese on the bottom.
4. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with slivered almonds.
*Mexican chorizo is the ground kind that you’ll find with the breakfast sausage. Spanish chorizo is cured, and you can find it by the salami.
Seoul Satisfying Korean-Style BBQ Meatballs
Though Koreans are masters of the barbeque, these savory-sweet meatballs are prepared in the oven. As the meatballs bake, the soy sauce, garlic and scallions create a brown, glossy glaze. Two meatballs are a meal’s worth of protein. Add steamed rice and fresh peapods and you have an easy supper.
½ cup chopped scallions
2 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbs. minced garlic
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
½ cup panko breadcrumbs or finely crushed
Ritz crackers (12 crackers)
1 lb. ground beef (round or chuck- 15%-20% fat)
1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and use your hands to gently mix—handle as little as possible!
2. Shape the meat into 12 loosely packed golf-ball-size balls (about 2 inches in diameter) and arrange on a greased rimmed baking sheet.
3. Bake until golden and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Serve warm.
· Leftover meatballs freeze well and can be reheated in the oven at 375 degrees F. until warmed through (about 20 minutes).
· For the Ritz crumbs, place the crackers in a resealable plastic bag and lightly crush them with the back of a wooden spoon or bottom of a glass.
Here’s a little cross-cultural nugget that marries lox and cream cheese with a popular Asian appetizer. These little packets of fried goodness are usually made with crab meat, but using lox is a bit of a twist and makes them kosher to boot. Neufchatel cheese has 1/3 less fat than cream cheese and tastes just as good. I like to fry these in avocado oil, which has high heat tolerance and contains healthful monounsaturated fat.
8 oz. cream or Neufchatel cheese, softened
4 oz. lox, finely diced
2 tsp. powdered sugar
1 ½ Tbs. chives, minced
Pinch of sea salt
20 wonton wrappers
Avocado oil, for deep frying
1. In a small bowl, mix the cream cheese, lox, sugar, chives, and salt thoroughly.
2. Place about 1 heaping tsp. of the cream/Neufchatel cheese filling in the middle of a wonton wrapper.
3. Fold two pointy ends of the wonton wrapper together to make a triangle.
4. Fold the other two ends to make a tiny parcel. Use a little water to pinch tight and ensure there is no leakage.
5. Heat up a heavy bottomed pot of 2-3 inches of oil to 350 degrees F. and fry the rangoon in batches until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.