An Appetizing Feast

In my family, no holiday meal is complete without the appetizers. In fact, we’ve been known to skip the main meal altogether, opting for a table full of small bites, dips, crudites and cheeses.

Whether you’re hosting this year’s Thanksgiving meal at home or you’re lucky enough to be hosted elsewhere, you’ll probably be contributing something to the meal. There’s no time like the present to bone up on your appetizer-making skills and expand your recipe collection.

Below are a few options that have served me well. All of these recipes are delicious, and a few of them are items I regularly prepare for my catering clients. They’re quick and easy and they’re all vegetarian recipes too, so you can rest assured your meat-eschewing friends will feel taken care of on a day when they’re often an afterthought.

Curried Squash and Apple Bisque with Leek Soup

Crunchy Chickpeas

While this recipe from Cooking Light yields a perfect pairing for wine and cheese, this spicy snack is equally at home with a beer and a game of football. The trick to crunchy chickpeas is cooking them at a low temperature for enough time to dry them out completely. Be patient! The result is worth the wait.

Bruschetta with Poached Pear and Stilton

Cut firm pears (such as Bartlett) in half and use a melon baller or spoon to scoop out the seed core. Place them cut-side down in a shallow pan and pour in enough apple juice to come 1/2” up the side of the pan. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, until the pears are just tender all the way through. Allow to cool in the juice and then slice the pears lengthwise into 1/8” slices.

Meanwhile, slice whole-grain baguettes 1/4” thick. Place the slices on a cookie sheet and brush with olive oil, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and bake at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Cool on a rack.

To serve, arrange a couple of pear slices onto the baguettes. Drizzle the pears with a few drops of good Balsamic vinegar and top with a small slice of Stilton cheese. Serve at room temperature.

Sweet Potato Rounds

Martha Stewart’s Latin-influenced recipe starts with sweet potato slices that are roasted in the oven before topping with spicy black beans, Cojita cheese, and cilantro leaves. If you can’t find the Cojita, substitute a low-fat Feta cheese.

Polenta Wedges with Tomato Tapenade

This recipe from Eating Well produces light and savory nibbles with deep tomato flavor. If you’re looking for another side dish for your menu, you can always make the tomato tapenade from this recipe and use it to top a soft-cooked polenta.

Curried Butternut Squash and Apple Bisque

Of all the recipes I’ve developed for Guiding Stars over the years, this soup is the one I’ve made most often for myself and my clients. Its base of late-season fruits and vegetables, along with its beautiful orange hue, makes it a no-brainer for fall and winter meals. If you’re not into curry, skip it altogether and add 1/4 t. of dried thyme. And if you omit the optional cream or milk, you have a vegan soup.

I like to serve the bisque in shot glasses as part of an appetizer menu, which is fun for the guests and saves on silverware.

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