The holidays are the peak time of year for parties, open houses, and warm wishes. If you’re playing host soon and want something other than the standard cheese tray or artichoke dip to serve at your next party, here are a few easy and healthy appetizers to liven up your holiday spread.
Spiced Roasted Chickpeas
Roasted nuts are a great nibble to serve alongside drinks, but have you ever tried roasted chickpeas? Tossed with spices and blasted on high heat, these legumes become a crispy and crunchy (not to mention an addictively delicious) snack. Bonus: chickpeas are low in fat yet full of protein and fiber, so you can munch away without the guilt.
- To prepare: Toss together two cans of drained, rinsed chickpeas (garbanzo beans) with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon each ground cumin, ground coriander and paprika, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper. Spread out on cookie sheet and bake in in the oven at 425° F for 30 minutes until crispy. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Roasted Tomato Caprese
A winter version of the classic tomato-basil-mozzarella Caprese is made with oven-roasted tomatoes when the fresh ones aren’t in season. Serve the tomatoes on top of a sliced baguette for an appetizer that can be eaten with your hands, or lay the tomatoes on a bed of arugula for a beautiful red-and-green vegetable spread.
- To prepare: Slice 12 plum (Roma) tomatoes in half lengthwise. Toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a teaspoon of kosher or sea salt, and a teaspoon of minced fresh thyme. Place on a baking sheet, cut-sides-up, and roast in a 350° F oven for 50-60 minutes, until the tomatoes have lost most of their juice and have started caramelizing around the edges. Top each roasted tomato with a small piece of fresh mozzarella cheese and a fresh basil leaf. Sprinkle with good sea salt or kosher salt, and a hefty grind of black pepper. Optional: drizzle with olive oil or good balsamic vinegar to finish.
Persimmon Bruschetta with Ricotta and Hazelnut
Persimmons are in season during the holidays and make a great addition to any appetizer spread. Look for Fuyu persimmons (the round, squat kind, which remains firm when ripe). Ricotta cheese – particularly part-skim ricotta. This is an excellent lower-fat cheese that goes well with sweet persimmons (especially when mixed with lemon zest and thyme). Hazelnuts add crunch and toasty flavor to this delicious appetizer, but it is equally good when made with walnuts or pecans.
- To prepare: Slice a good, fresh baguette into ½-inch thick pieces and toast lightly in a 350° F oven for 10 minutes, flipping halfway through, until golden brown. Mix together ½ cup fresh ricotta with the zest of one lemon and 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme. Spread each baguette toast with a tablespoon of cheese, top with a slice of persimmon. Drizzle each toast with a bit of honey and a sprinkle of sea salt, then top with 2 teaspoons chopped, toasted hazelnuts (the honey will help the nuts adhere). Garnish with additional sprigs of thyme and pomegranate seeds for festive color.
Prosciutto & Goat Cheese Stuffed Figs
Bacon-wrapped anything tastes good, right? Well, how about swapping out that fatty pork belly (aka bacon) for another delicious cured meat: prosciutto! This aged Italian ham is quite lean, and adds tremendous pork flavor without the calories and fat.
- To prepare: Slice 12 dried mission figs in half (fresh figs are also excellent, but harder to find this time of year). Add a teaspoon of goat cheese to each cut half, and wrap with a strip of prosciutto (one piece of ham cut in half lengthwise works well). Secure with a toothpick and bake in a 400° F oven for 8-10 minutes, until the prosciutto is crisped and cheese has just started to melt. Drizzle with a balsamic reduction (or good honey) for a delicious final touch.
Caponata is the Sicilian cousin of ratatouille made with eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, capers and olives. Traditionally the eggplant is fried, but this version uses roasted eggplant to significantly cut back on oil. Caponata is an outstanding topping for bruschetta, or makes a healthy addition to a cheese and meat board.
- To prepare: Slice one medium eggplant into 1-inch cubes. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and roast in a 400° F oven for 20 minutes until soft. Once cooked, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large, wide saucepan over medium heat. Add one diced red pepper, one minced red onion, three cloves minced garlic and 1 teaspoon of salt. Sauté 5-8 minutes until the vegetables soften. Add the roasted eggplant plus one 14-oz can crushed tomatoes, ¼ cup minced green olives, 3 tablespoons capers, and 2 tablespoons each balsamic vinegar and sugar. Turn the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes until the mixture is thick. Top with slivered fresh basil and spoon on top of crostini, or simply serve caponata alongside a meat and cheese platter to add some veggies to your spread.
With its high-levels of heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids, salmon is one of the healthiest fish you can eat. Lox, which can be very expensive to purchase, is actually quite easy to make at home. You just need a good piece of wild salmon (previously frozen is fine), some salt, sugar, dill and a few days to cure in the fridge. Gravlax is the traditional Scandinavian preparation of cured salmon lox, made with plenty of fresh dill and served with pumpernickel toasts and mustard dill sauce.
- To prepare: Slice a 2-pound center-cut filet of salmon into two equal-sized pieces. Top each piece with ¼-cup each of kosher (coarse) salt and sugar, and rub into the flesh. Sandwich a large bunch of fresh dill between the two salt-rubbed halves. Next, rub the skin-side (the outside of the salmon “sandwich”) with another ¼ cup each of kosher salt and sugar. Tightly wrap the entire “sandwich” in plastic wrap, and place in a wide baking dish (it will emit water/juices). Place a plate or small cutting board on top and weigh it down with a few soup cans. Refrigerate the salmon for at least 2 days (maybe even 3) turning it every 12 hours. At this point the salmon is “cured.” To serve, unwrap, remove the dill and rinse under cold water to remove the salt/sugar rub. Pat dry. Using a VERY sharp knife, cut super thin slices of salmon against the grain at an angle to make wide, thin slices of lox. Fan out on a platter and serve with crackers and a prepared mustard dill sauce.
What are your favorite healthy holiday appetizers? Share them in the comments below.