Wednesday, February 25, 2009

no-cook appetizers

As I've mentioned here before, I like serving a snack or two before dinner. It gets everyone in a relaxed, comfortable mood (nothing like stuffing your face if you're having a hard time making conversation) and tides their appetites over until dinner, which might not be served right away. I know I've arrived at many parties absolutely starving after a long subway ride and just wanted a cracker or two instead of the glass of wine that's usually handed to me immediately.

But when you're cooking a full meal, it's easy to cross snacks off your list. Sometimes it just requires way too much energy to think about or make fussy finger food when you've already got all this other food you're making. Who's got time for puff pastry or bite-sized quiches? Not you!

And who needs that stuff anyway? Unless you really love using a piping bag, I say forgettaboutit. I like to assemble things that don't require any cooking at all on a big platter and call it a day. Stuff that's a bit more thoughtful than opening a bag of chips, but nothing that requires too much fiddling. And you know what? That's what people genuinely want to eat. I cover events for a living, and almost every time I'm at a party and there's a big cheese plate or charcuterie bar, that's where people gravitate. Hot passed hors d'oeuvres are nice, but also sometimes sloppy and hard to eat in one bite. And when you've got a full meal ahead, they are pretty unnecessary in my humble opinion.

Here's two snacks from last weekend's Indian dinner. Both require no more work than slicing and displaying. So you can actually eat with your friends and not get (too) drunk before finishing dinner.

Goat cheese with mango chutney and aloo paratha

(Serves 4 to 6 people)
This snack doesn't really require a recipe. I think it goes without saying (does it?) that I did not bake this bread. I bought it at the Indian market and cut it into triangles. If you don't have an ethnic grocery store near you, soft flatbread or pita will do the trick--or plain old crackers.

Other combinations:

Goat cheese + fig jam + sliced baguette
Farmers cheese + jalapeno jelly + Ritz crackers
Brie + tapenade + whole wheat crackers
Feta + roasted pepper slice + pita triangles
Cream cheese + smoked salmon + mini bagels

Mango with spicy, salty sugar

I stole this idea from a party awhile back. It's a twist on a Caribbean or Mexican snack of mangoes sprinkled with salt or cayenne pepper. This combines both, but with a bit of sweetness and tang from fresh lime juice. You could subsitute fresh pineapple or melon for the mango, but I like the mango the best.
(Serves 2 to 4 people)
One mango, peeled, pitted, and sliced into bite-sized pieces
1/2 lime
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper

Put the cut-up mango in a bowl and squeeze the lime over it. Stir until the mango is evenly coated. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, salt, and cayenne pepper. Serve alongside the mango, with plenty of toothpicks for spearing and dipping.


Vanessa said...

Yum, that mango one sounds terrific.

I also love goat cheese drizzled with honey (and sometimes cracked pepper on top, but whatever). I know you have mixed feelings about Trader Joe's but they've got a 2-dollar small log of it there and you can just dress it up however you like and it looks all fancy. Not exactly a blog-worthy idea but every time I do it I think to myself, "You are a genius."

Lisa said...

Hey Vanessa!

Yeah, totally. I think that's the whole point. It makes you feel like you made something really fantastic, even though it was sort of brainless.

I stand by my theory that Trader Joes outside of NYC are a completely fine and normal shopping experience. But here, no.

Vanessa said...

It's all relative! I still think it's annoying there. When I first moved here from NY I thought Safeway was heaven on earth. Now I want to kill everything I see once I leave there.

Lisa said...

It is. Lots of things that are horrible in NYC are great in other places. Prime example: Target.

Daniel said...

I first tasted mango with cayenne at the Red Hook soccer fields in Brooklyn, which host a bunch of great Latin street food in the summer. Unfortunately, like everything else in New York, a rise in hype now means mega-long lines for your tacos and spicy mango. It's the Trader Joe's of Latin street food.

Vanessa said...

That is a shame to hear--I loved those stands. At least they're still around, I heard they were getting shut down for some reason or another.

I think I like the granular dip idea that the mango app illustrates--this is an appetizer that involves minimal cooking but one thing I loved at my dad's friend's house in London was how they always served tiny hardboiled quail eggs with celery salt for dipping. So f'ing good. Though it's that same dangerous deviled egg territory--you want to eat 5 million but they are EGGS. So you shouldn't do that.

Lisa said...


Pink of Perfection said...

I love your little nibble math problems. So many great ideas.

juliette said...

oh lisa, speaking of pre-diner nibbles, i had nathan recreate your pineapple salsa that you had served pre-lunch last august in ny. he used the leftovers this morning (along with a leftover goat cheese infused hamburger patty) scrambled into some eggs for the most interesting breakfast i've had in some time.

as for other no-cook appetizers, i'm completely obsessed with homemade tzatziki (greek yogurt, garlic, olive oil, dill, salt & pepper) served with slices of cucumber to dip in. i've literally been making it every night for the last month however i think that mango dish sounds fantastic so i might have to trade in my cucumbers for some mango! thanks!

Lisa said...

Hey Juliette!

That actually sounds kind of good! Nathan gets points for creativity.

And I second you on the tzatziki. I could eat that stuff by the bowlful.

Daniel said...

I like that you can just place orders with Nathan, Juliette.

Do you just give him a ticket and then he rings a bell when your salsa is ready?

Anonymous said...

a bell? no, that's a good idea. i'm going to get on that... thanks.

Anonymous said...

Yep, that's pretty much exactly how it goes Dan, I even "get" to wear a paper hat!

Lisa said...

Oh, man. I need to get Dan one of those.

Anonymous said...

what? you didn't get him one for his birthday? bad wife.


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