Smart Appetizers in 20 Minutes or Less

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In my family, holiday parties are always about the meat, which leaves this little vegetarian out in the bitter Chicago cold. This Christmas, I’m looking to the appetizers and side dishes to round out an appropriately filling holiday meal.

Mark Bittman of the Minimalist Kitchen and the No Knead Bread has just published a list of 101 simple appetizers that can be produced in 20 minutes or less. Lots are vegetarian, some vegan, and all of them are made with happy natural ingredients. Once again, the beauty of real food is that it’s quick and easy to prepare (no Velveeta cheese-balls here!).

Here are a few of my favorites:

On Bread or Crackers

7. Slice soft goat cheese and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and chopped herbs, then with bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees until soft, about 10 minutes, and serve hot.

13. Chop fresh mushrooms. Cook slowly in olive oil with salt and pepper until very soft. Stir in minced garlic and parsley. Cook a few more minutes until garlic mellows. (Especially good if you add reconstituted dried porcini.)

18. Bruschetta is the basis for so many good things. Don’t make it too crisp, and start with good country bread. Brush thick slices with olive oil. Broil until toasted on both sides. While it’s still hot, rub with cut clove of garlic on one side (optional). Drizzle with a bit more olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and serve, or top with prosciutto or tapenade.

21. Top bruschetta with chopped, well-cooked broccoli rabe or other greens tossed with minced garlic and olive oil while still warm. Health food, practically. Also good with a layer of Tuscan beans (above).

On Toothpicks

38. Marinated mushrooms: Cut button mushrooms into chunks and toss with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Let rest five minutes. Spear two chunks with a piece of Parmesan about the same size.

Finger Foods

55. Stuff Medjool dates with a piece of Parmesan or Manchego or an almond. Or fresh goat cheese. Or mozzarella, and bake until the cheese begins to melt.

Dips and Spreads

75. Purée white or other beans (if canned, drain them) with garlic and olive oil in food processor, adding olive oil as needed. Stir in lemon juice to taste. Garnish with chopped scallions or red onion. You can add cumin or chopped rosemary with lemon zest.

Soups

98. Gazpacho: Chop 2 pounds of tomatoes and a cucumber; blend with a couple of slices of day-old bread, torn into pieces, olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic (optional) and anchovies (optional). Add a little water (or more oil) to the blender, if necessary. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve in small cups. Optional garnishes include minced bell pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, a piece of anchovy, and/or parsley.

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