(So you can enjoy the party!)
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By Ali Slagle
A survival kit for the holiday season should include a Rolodex of appetizers that can be thrown together quickly or made ahead — ideally both. Gougères and oysters Rockefeller don’t fit that criteria, but these fun and festive snacks do.
They’re the types of no-recipe recipes that are more about shopping and assembling than precise measuring, so they’re just what you need whether you’re throwing a last-minute get-together or too busy to cook for the party that’s been on your calendar for months.
Dips and spreads provide fresh and creamy richness to (store-bought) accouterments; party mixes offer crunch by the palmful; bite-size appetizers deliver single-handedly; boards and bowls give guests endless options for grazing; and chips and crackers bring from-scratch flavors.
Pick one or two from each category, aiming for a happy balance of textures and flavors. For gathering the whole family, rewatching “Elf” with your cat and every special occasion in between, here’s an app for that.
Dips & Spreads | Cocktail Snack Mixes | One-Bite Wonders | Boards & Bowls | Crackers & Chips
Dips & Spreads
Molten Feta With Nuts: Place a block of feta in a skillet, then scatter hazelnuts, almonds or walnuts around it. Drizzle with olive oil and honey, then sprinkle with thyme or oregano leaves and black pepper. Warm in a 400-degree oven or a covered medium-hot grill for 10 minutes. Serve with toasted or charred pita.
Garlic and Herb Cheese Spread: Stir a little softened butter into whipped cream cheese until the cream cheese is slightly stiffer. Add grated garlic, chopped chives and parsley and black pepper. Refrigerate to firm further and serve with crackers.
Blue Cheese Dip With Walnuts: For Sue Li’s creamy dip, combine coarsely chopped toasted walnuts, crumbled blue cheese, buttermilk, mayo, sliced chives, chopped shallot, lemon juice and sweet paprika. Season with salt and pepper and adjust ingredients until the blend is dippable and pleasantly blue cheesy. Top with more chives and walnuts and serve with red cabbage wedges, celery sticks and saltines.
Layered Ricotta Dip: In a bowl, layer ricotta; honey; chopped salted mixed nuts; toasted crushed cumin, coriander or fennel seeds; and red-pepper flakes or hot pepper jelly. (A simpler take: Season ricotta with honey, salt and pepper.) Serve with sliced fruit and bread.
Borani-yeh Karafs (Celery Yogurt Dip): For Naz Deravian’s dip, stir together Greek yogurt, chopped celery, roasted hazelnuts, scallions, dried cranberries, lemon juice, dried mint and dill, and salt. Adjust ingredients until the mix is creamy with pops of texture. Top with more hazelnuts, dried herbs and cranberries, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with chips, flatbreads or vegetables.
Pickle Dip: Mix softened cream cheese, sour cream, chopped pickles and their brine, chopped chives or dill, and salt. Adjust ingredients until the dip is tangy and bright. Serve with cucumbers, pretzels and potato chips.
Neonata: To make Kay Chun’s spin on the Calabrian condiment, chop parsley, manzanilla or Cerignola olives, jarred hot cherry peppers, salami or soppressata, celery, garlic and a small school of anchovies. Stir together with lemon juice and olive oil until saucy. Serve with grilled or roasted vegetables and bread.
Radish Butter: Finely grate some radishes, squeeze out their liquid, then stir them into softened butter. Season with salt (and lemon zest or chopped herbs or anchovies, if you’d like). Adjust ingredients until the taste is equally spicy and sweet, then top with sliced radishes so everyone knows why the butter’s pink. Serve with rye bread, baguette, celery and endive.
Smoked Trout Dip: Stir together Greek yogurt, flaked hot-smoked trout, chopped dill and lemon zest and juice. Add a little everything-bagel seasoning for crunch if you have it. Adjust ingredients until the dip is creamy and assertively flavored. Serve with bagel chips, crispbread and vegetables.
Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa: Finely chop avocado, tomatillos and cilantro, then season with green hot sauce. Serve with tortilla chips.
Nori Dip: In a blender, purée silken tofu with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Stir in lemon zest and snipped chives, adjusting seasonings until the mixture is thick and bright. Transfer to a serving bowl and cover with furikake (or sesame seeds and blitzed nori), more chives and, if you’re feeling flush, salmon roe. Serve with lettuce leaves, poached shrimp and seedy crackers.
Charred Tangerines: Segment tangerines or clementines like you’re going to snack on them. Simmer olive oil, rosemary or thyme sprigs, honey, cloves and red-pepper flakes over low heat until fragrant. Pour into a serving bowl and season with salt. Add a drizzle more oil into the pan and crank up the heat. Add the tangerine wedges in a single layer and char on both sides. Stir gently into the infused oil. Serve with baguette toasts, ideally with ricotta for spreading or prosciutto for topping.
Roasted Pepper-Feta Dip: Inspired by Greek htipiti, this dish starts with mashing crumbled feta with a dribble of its salty brine. Stir in finely chopped roasted peppers and a pinch of red-pepper flakes, then add olive oil, more brine and more red-pepper flakes until it’s spreadable, salty, sweet and a tad spicy. Add thyme or oregano leaves if you have them. Serve with pita chips.
Rosemary Nut Butter: For this appetizer of cocktail nuts in dip form, stir maple syrup, ground cayenne and salt into almond or another nut butter until the blend is sweet and spicy. Fry a handful of rosemary sprigs in a little olive oil until crisp. Thin the dip with some of the rosemary oil, then crumble the fried rosemary leaves on top. Serve with sliced persimmons, apples, pears and vegetables.
Palmitos Aguachile Verde: The acid and heat of aguachile work well with creamy but firm hearts of palm. To make Jocelyn Ramirez’s recipe, blend serrano chiles, cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, nori sheets and salt until smooth. Adjust ingredients until the sauce is assertively spicy and tart. Pour over a bowl of thinly sliced hearts of palm, red onion, cucumber and avocado. Gently fold to combine and serve with tostadas or tortilla chips.
Fennel-Chile Fun Dip: Toast fennel seeds and red-pepper flakes, then smash with a pestle or a heavy skillet. Stir together with lemon zest, salt and sugar until the mix is savory and sweet. Serve with sliced seasonal juicy fruit, such as oranges, pineapple and apples.
Cocktail Snack Mixes
Spicy Party Mix: For Margaux Laskey’s take, start with 16 cups of your ideal combination of cereal, nuts, pretzels, cheese or rice crackers, bagel chips and sesame sticks. Melt ¼ cup butter and add Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, garlic and onion powders, sweet or smoked paprika, salt and pepper until it tastes as spicy and savory as you like. Toss the butter with the cereal mix to coat and bake on two parchment-lined sheet pans at 250 degrees, stirring every 15 minutes, until crisp and darker, about an hour.
Honey Mustard Party Mix: Follow the process for the Spicy Party Mix, but stir equal parts honey and Dijon mustard into the melted butter. (Or try other sweet-and-savory combinations, such as miso and maple syrup, brown sugar and chile powder or coconut flakes and Thai curry paste.)
Hot Honey Mixed Nuts: Melt butter with honey, red-pepper flakes and salt. Toss with a mix of whole nuts and seeds (like pumpkin, millet, sunflower, quinoa or sesame), then bake on a parchment-lined sheet pan at 325 degrees until tacky and toasted, 20 to 25 minutes. Right out of the oven, sprinkle with salt and turbinado sugar for crunch.
Coconut-Chile Cashews: Liven up cashews with Tejal Rao’s all-purpose blend of coconut, chile and garlic: Soften dried chiles de árbol in hot water while you mash dried, shredded coconut and garlic with a mortar and pestle. Mash in the chile. Toast cashews in coconut oil in a skillet with black mustard seeds and sliced curry leaves, if you have them, then add the coconut paste and stir until dry and fragrant. Season with salt.
Pepperoni Pizza Almonds: Coat almonds and sliced pepperoni in olive oil or the oil from a jar of sun-dried tomatoes, garlic powder, dried oregano or fennel seeds, red-pepper flakes and salt. Bake at 325 degrees until nuts are toasted and pepperoni is crisp, 10 to 15 minutes. In the last few minutes, add oil-packed, sun-dried tomatoes to crisp. Once cool, dust with grated Parmesan.
Sweet and Spicy Chip Bowl: Combine sweet potato chips, plantain chips, coconut chips, spicy chips and, for extra scorch, coarsely chopped and seeded habanero chile.
Crunchy Roasted Za’atar Chickpeas: Melissa Clark found a trick for crispy chickpeas in “Rose Water & Orange Blossoms” by Maureen Abood: Pat cooked and drained chickpeas dry, then bake without oil at 400 degrees until crunchy, about half an hour. Toss with olive oil, za’atar and salt.
Cacio e Pepe Popcorn: Toss warm popcorn with grated Parmesan and black pepper. (If popcorn isn’t warm, coat with nonstick spray first, which helps toppings stick.)
Vegan Cheesy Popcorn: Toss just-popped popcorn with salt, pepper, nutritional yeast and dried rosemary or powdered kelp seaweed. A sprinkle of soy sauce or liquid aminos is great, too.
Chile-Lime Corn: Imagine elotes that you can eat by the handful. Lightly spray corn nuts and popcorn with nonstick spray, then toss to coat with Tajín (or chile powder and lime zest), garlic powder and crumbled Cotija.
Black and Green Olives With Celery: For this Sicilian snack that Molly O’ Neill adapted from Viana La Place, lightly smash Kalamata and green olives. Remove the pits. Combine with thinly sliced celery, a smashed garlic clove and a little red-wine vinegar and olive oil.
Salted Cocoa Snacks: For this spin on cocoa granola, stir together olive or melted coconut oil, cocoa powder, maple syrup, cayenne and salt. Add nuts, cereal and pretzels to coat, then bake on a parchment-lined sheet pan at 300 degrees until dry to the touch, around half an hour.
Blistered Shishito Peppers: Lightly coat peppers in neutral oil and heat a skillet until smoking. Add a single layer of peppers to the skillet and cook undisturbed until blistered, then stir and cook until puffed and tender. Season with flaky salt — or lemon or lime zest, gomasio, bonito flakes, grated hard cheese, smoked paprika, sumac and so on.
Stuffed Dates: Cut a slit lengthwise down dates and pluck out the pits. Stir together goat cheese and lemon zest or chopped preserved lemon and spoon into the dates.
Paprika Seared Dates: For dates with smoky outsides and caramelized insides, heat a slick of olive oil in a skillet, then add dates and smoked paprika and stir until warmed and blistered in spots. Season with flaky salt and pepper.
Stuffed Olives: For a single bite of salty and sweet, stuff a raisin into a pitted olive, preferably ones marinated with herbs. Or, fill with savory options, such as almonds, blue cheese, goat cheese, anchovies or roasted garlic cloves.
Radishes With Butter and Kosher Salt: Serve radishes with cool unsalted butter and good salt. Or, stir together soft butter and miso paste and serve with radishes.
Endive With Parmesan and Honey: Nestle a rectangle of Parmesan (or Asiago) into an endive leaf. Drizzle with honey.
Pears With Prosciutto: Drape prosciutto over pear wedges.
Pineapple With Ham and Jalapeño: Wrap a small piece of pineapple with a small slice of cured ham, such as prosciutto or serrano. Top with a sliced, pickled jalapeño and skewer with a toothpick. Squint to see Hawaiian pizza.
Citrusy Edamame: Microwave edamame in their pods. Toss with salt and any mix of lemon, tangerine, orange, grapefruit and lime zests.
Caviar Potato Chips and Lemon Cream: For this bite from Melissa Clark, stir lemon zest into crème fraîche or sour cream. Top potato chips with a small spoonful of the cream and another of salmon roe or other caviar.
Pintxo Gilda: Bold, salty and spicy, this Basque tapa has the same attributes as its namesake, Rita Hayworth’s character in the 1946 movie “Gilda.” Spear an anchovy, pitted manzanilla or other green olive and pickled guindilla or pepperoncini pepper with a toothpick. Repeat.
Salt-and-Vinegar Eggs: Stir together mayo, malt vinegar and salt. Spoon a little onto halved, soft-boiled eggs. Crush potato chips — regular or salt and vinegar — on top for crunch.
Jammy Eggs With Gribiche Butter: Stir together softened butter, whole grain mustard, chopped cornichons or capers and chopped parsley or tarragon. Spoon a little on halved 8 ½-minute boiled eggs.
Boards & Bowls
Charcuterie Board: Purée ricotta with salt until fluffy, then drizzle with olive oil and serve with charcuterie, pâté, smoked fish, cheese, nuts, olives, dates, radishes, guava paste, sliced baguette and crackers.
Sweet and Hot Board: Arrange wedges of mixed citrus, honeycomb, ricotta, spicy salami and toasted baguette.
White Winter Board: Add a smidgen of white miso to a bowl of sour cream and stir until smooth. Taste and add more miso until equally tangy and salty. On a board, set thinly sliced crisp apples or Asian pears, peeled and cut jicama or halved baby turnips and thinly sliced cauliflower for dipping.
McSorley’s Cheese Plate: McSorley’s, an Irish saloon that’s been going in Manhattan since the 1800s, serves a beloved snack plate of sliced white Cheddar, a half sleeve of saltines, spicy brown mustard and thinly sliced white onion. Gabrielle Hamilton personalized the dish by frying the saltines, a tradition in the American South and her household.
Best With Beer Board: Lay out smoked sliced sausage, coarse mustard, pickled beets, grapes and pretzels.
Chaat Party: Priya Krishna’s go-to chaat formula includes layering a crunchy base like chakri with two complementary chutneys, such as tamarind and mint, and salted yogurt, then sprinkling with sev and chaat masala. But as this recipe from Maneet Chauhan shows, there are many ways your chaat party can go.
Better Butter Board: Set out a bowl of softened butter sprinkled with flaky salt, then set on a board with tinned fish, charred bread and sliced radishes.
Crackers & Chips
Cacio e Pepe Frico: Toss together equal parts finely grated Parmesan and pecorino. Place heaping tablespoons on parchment-lined sheets about a half-inch apart, flatten with your fingers, then sprinkle with black pepper. Bake at 400 degrees until golden and crisp, 6 to 10 minutes.
Honey Butter Potato Chips: At one point, these store-bought chips were so craze-worthy in South Korea, they inspired an online black market. To D.I.Y., melt butter with honey, then taste on a salted potato chip and add more salt and honey until assertively sweet and salty. Lightly coat chips with the butter, then eat right away or bake at 300 degrees until tacky and toasted, 8 to 10 minutes.
Vegan Cheddar Ranch Chips: Warm potato or tortilla chips in the microwave or a 425-degree oven. Toss in neutral oil until lightly coated, then toss with nutritional yeast, onion or garlic powder, dried dill and black pepper until totally coated. Add salt and more seasonings to taste.
Seed & Cheese Brittle: For these crackly crackers inspired by the ones from Market Hall Foods in Oakland, Calif., combine equal parts coarsely grated fontina and Asiago on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Spread the cheese out to create holes like a snowflake. Sprinkle with salt and mixed seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flax, nigella, poppy, millet, quinoa or a combination), then bake at 350 degrees until golden-crisp, about 10 minutes. Cool then break into crackers.
Ginger-Dill Pita Chips: Stir together olive oil, grated ginger, chopped dill and salt and pepper. Cut pita into triangles and toss in the oil. Bake at 425 degrees until golden, 8 to 10 minutes.
Salumi Chips: For this salty chip, bake pepperoni, prosciutto or salami as you would bacon; in a single layer at 350 degrees until rigid and darker in color. Drain on a paper towel to crisp and cool.
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