Unique Appetizers and Holiday Appetizer Recipes

platter of appetizers

by: padre art

Whether you serve appetizers, mezze, tapas or zakuski to your family, companions and guests they can enjoy the convivial atmosphere and social lubrication provided by these bite sized delicacies.

Some of the names for delightful party snacks can range from practically descriptive to poetic and sentimental:

  • French - hors d’oeuvres = outside the main course
  • Italian - antipasto = before the pasta
  • Swedish - smorgasbord = buttered-bread table
  • Chinese - dim Sum = touch the heart

In Vietnam they call their ‘little bites’, Do nhau, which is similar to the casual American slang term, ‘nibbles’. You can call them chat, crudites, kanto, samosas, snacks or finger food but be sure that the treats that fill your pu pu platter will disappear like magic.

Appetizer Recipes of the Ancients

The ancient Greeks had cold finger food that consisted of shellfish, fish, garlic and sweet wine sop (bread or fish marinated in sweet wine). The Romans had a broader view of appetizer recipes.

They invariably started any meal with eggs prepared any way they could imagine. The eggs were made into hot or cold stuffed omelet’s or prepared in other ways;

  • Boiled
  • Baked
  • Custards
  • Tart-like quiches

Sometimes the eggs were sucked straight from the shell, like raw oysters. Black or green salted olives were always available as a nibble, they were served whole or pitted and blended with olive oil and other ingredients into a tapenade.

In ancient Rome the first dish (called, ‘prommolsis’) could be snails, oysters, sea urchins, and especially salted fish. Marinated octopus, marinated vegetables, cauliflower, onion, garlic, cheese with herbs, wild mushrooms and truffles, and especially, ham and bacon.

Their appetizers recipes did not stop with that simple menu. Light dishes like dormice, small fish and birds, were common but some heartier dishes might include rabbit, meatballs, roast pork, sow udder, sausage and casseroles.

Bread was never absent, whether as a diced loaf or as the base for a number of other dishes. The Romans ended with some fruit, often brought from distant lands in traveling iceboxes.

Appetizer Recipes

Cheese Puffs
Chilled Shrimp with Avocado Salsa Sauce
Coconut Shrimp
Sweet Potato Chips

Nest O'Gator Eggs Recipe

These appetizers make the best snack to give your party some zing!

Makes 3 dozen eggs per nest

36 large Jalapeno chili's, roasted and peeled
1/2 pound shrimp, cleaned, cooked and minced

In a bowl mix;

  • 2 tsp capers, minced
  • 2 tsp green onions, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 1 tsp horseradish
  • 2 tsp mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp chili sauce
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Make 1 inch lengthwise slit at stem end of each chili, just large enough to allow stuffing. Leave the stems on. Fill each chili but don't overstuff, the slit should be able to close. Arrange the chili's on a baking sheet and refrigerate.

Blend the remaining ingredients in a casserole dish to make it easy to dredge the stuffed Jalapeno's.

  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup beer, room temperature
  • 2 tbl vegetable oil
  • 2 tbl ketchup
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tbl minced green onions
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper

We like to fry our 'Gator Eggs in peanut oil but if you want to make authentic "BP Gator Eggs", you'll need to use some bubblin' crude to fry them BP style.

While peanut oil is heating to 350° in large skillet, dredge each chili in the beer mixture, coating them completely. Add chili's to the skillet in batches, don't crowd. Fry until golden brown, turning once, after about 5 minutes. Drain and serve in nest of greens.

In the Paris of 1691 such dishes as pork trotters were a favorite hors d’oeuvre among the citizens while the nobility tended to favor artichoke hearts.

Written in 1766, an early Italian cookbook, “The Piedmontese Cook”, limits the idea of the ‘hors d’oeuvre’ to soups served before the first course. Over one hundred years later, c.1890, Artusi defined them;

"Appetizers or antipasti are, properly speaking, those delicious trifles that are made to be eaten either after the pasta course, as is practiced in Tuscany, which seems preferable to me, or before, as is done elsewhere in Italy." ---Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well

Artusi presented the canape as an ingrediente with endless potential. Some of his simpler ones were under the heading, ‘various canapés’ (Crostini Diversi);

anchovy canapés
caviar canapés
truffle canapés
woodcock canapes

The more elaborate finger foods took advantage of the abundant ingredients that were locally available. These gourmet appetizers were listed as, ‘fancy canapés (Crostini Fioriti):

Crostini with;

  • capers
  • spleen
  • chicken livers
  • chicken livers and sage
  • caviar, anchovies and butter
  • chicken livers and anchovies
  • salted codfish mont blanc style

In addition to fried breads he recommends prosciutto, salami and tongue. Seafood such as anchovies, oysters, sardines, caviar and salted tuna may be served alone or with butter.

A World of Appetizers

Tapas appetizer plate

All around the globe friends, family and neighbors gather to linger over an easy appetizer of local fare and a soothing drink.

There was a strong Persian presence in the southern Mediterranean region for almost a thousand years. Their style of art, music and cuisine influenced the many cultures that flourished in the area.

Appetizer recipes could range from a simple presentation of cheese, bread and olives to elaborate versions of prepared eggplant and hummus. Their presence in Spain provided the catalyst for an explosion of hors d'oeuvre recipes called 'Tapas'.

A literal translation of tapas is 'cover'. This came from the early times when an innkeeper would cover a wine glass with a slice of bread, cheese or even salted meat to keep out dust, insects or rain.

The Spanish genius for culinary invention shows itself in the number of imaginative combination's of ingredients and preparation that go into the snacks called 'tapas'. There are eating establishments in Madrid that offer 60 or 70 different types of tapas, including hot appetizers like fried shrimp or squid cooked in its own ink, to go with a glass of beer, wine or sherry.

Appetizers for Royalty

The Royal Cookery Book, by Jules Gouffe, was published in 19th century France and exhibit’s the French taste in hors d'oeuvres for that era. Gouffe's choices in 1869 were:

Fresh radishes with dressing
Black radish peeled and sliced
Cucumber with ravigote
Raw artichokes a la Poivrade with oil and vinegar, pepper and salt

Anchovies served with oil
Sardines in oil, garnished with parsley and capers
Pickled herrings served oil, with parsley and capers
Pickled oysters with fresh parsley

Lyons Bologna
German Sausage with parsley

Gherkins served with vinegar
Mixed pickles
Green Olives
Shaped Butter

As in most of the earliest recipes seafood played an important part. When we travel further north we find a wide and ingenious use of seafood in Sweden’s smorgasbord.

Appetizer Recipes from Sweden

Smorgasbord, meaning buttered-bread table, might refer to a feast of all the best viands as opposed to a plain bread table of simple foods. Or it might make reference to the trays of hardtack, pumpernickel and rye breads ready to be spread with the butter balls that are mounded in generous pyramids on the traditional smorgasbord.

Herring plays a versatile role in these foods. They can be pickled, filleted, presented in a marinade or in ‘sill salad’ (herring salad). Many smoked foods appear in typical smorgasbord appetizer recipes;

  • Eel
  • Ham
  • Salmon
  • Tongue

One of the favorite hot appetizers at the smorgasbord is the Swedish meatball. Pork sausage, meat & potato sausage, head cheese and similar preserved meats are popular. Anchovies, anchovy paste, liver paste and cod roe paste are small dishes that garnish and round-out the meal.

Appetizers East of the Urals

Traveling through Russia you can find snacks called Zakuski. Their appetizers recipes feature a platter with a variety of hors d’oeuvres in a manner similar to the Korean Gujeolpan, Persian Metzes and Hawaiian PuPu platters.

A zakuski might consist of a combination of dishes (generally with spicy condiments), each having one or more hors d’oeuvre of locally available;

Salad or vegetables

And a marinated dish of mushrooms and vegetables or a sweet one of marinated fruit would round out the appetizer recipe. As is common with many regional appetizer versions bread plays an important role in zakuzki recipes.

Appetizer Melting Pot

In recent times finger foods include a list of ingredients that represents the melting pot nature of regional cuisines. Typical items would be;

  • Vegetables - olives, radishes, sliced tomato (or other salad vegetable)
  • Fish - slices of smoked fish, sardines, anchovies
  • Meat - various sausage and other prepared meats
  • Hot appetizers - savory pastries, small fritters or other fried bread

Unless you are aiming for ethnic authenticity it is now acceptable practice to mix regional dishes and blend influences with whimsy as your guide. These easy appetizers are ideal for a cool summer snack or as counterpoint to some warm comfort food on a wintry day.

The stuffed vegetable, a finger food that has a wonderful blend of crunchy and creamy, appeared in America early in the 1900's. The most popular were segments of celery stuffed with sardine paste.

By the end of the roaring twenties different soft cheese and cheese spreads had replaced the sardine paste. After WWII military personnel were returning from around the globe with some exotic ideas in food preparation and with expanded horizons regarding possible ingredients for everything from gourmet appetizers to party snacks.

All the favorite stuffing ingredients from earlier appetizers recipes were tried out in tasty mushrooms, cucumber rings, peppers, hard boiled eggs, and tomatoes. Stuffed celery remains a traditional favorite but vegetables of any kind from many far-flung geographic locations offer mysterious culinary adventures.

Hawaiian PuPu Platter

Recipe Dip

Easy snack foods that are always popular are cheese dips. In the 1940's James Beard wrote in a cookbook;

"I think it is delightful to have large bowls of cheese mixtures which are of a consistency that permits dunking."

His influential statement popularized the recipe dip and the clever variations have led to many exotic varieties that can surprise and delight even the most jaded palette:

Exotic fruit dip recipes
Vegetable dips like a spinach

Guacamole made with your favorite salsa recipe
Taco dip recipe

Cream cheese and clam dip recipe (President Woodrow Wilson's choice)
Crab dip
Shrimp dip
Smoked salmon dip recipe

Buffalo Chicken recipe dip (a Super Bowl favorite)

There are many holiday recipes for decorative and delicious snacks. Gingerbread in the shape of Halloween treats with different pumpkin dips near for dunking make a delightful holiday surprise.

While a fancy recipe dip makes for good party snacks sometimes the most simple ingredients can lead to subtle flavor sensations. A mix of sour and cream cheeses with chopped chives and parsley blended in makes a quick and wonderful dip.

This basic recipe dip can be expanded in ways that are limited only by what is available. Try adding just about any chopped veggie;

  • Avocado
  • Green peppers
  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach

Or add one or more types of soft cheese;

Blue cheese

Or try something classic like seafood. Chop up some of these tasty ingredients and add them to your recipe dip;

  • Crab
  • Clam
  • Smoked salmon

What is perhaps the most popular dip recipe, guacamole, is made with the avocado and a salsa recipe that suits your taste. Dunk some blue corn chips into this all time favorite right away because guacamole goes fast.

You will need something to dunk into these dips and potato chips are the starting point. Here are just a few hints to spur your imagination:

Vegetable sticks of carrot, celery, zucchini, etc.
Slices of melon, whole strawberries, candied orange and lemon peels, etc.

Chips, potato and corn, pretzels
Toasted pita bread triangles
Sourdough, pumpernickel or other bread
Crackers, hardtack and other crisp breads

The possibilities are endless and since we are talking finger foods here you might just dunk a finger into your favorite recipe dip.

Cheese Spread

A sophisticated Brie will spread at room temperature but baked it is heavenly.

Cheese balls are easy to make party appetizers, have infinitely variable flavors, and surprising textures that are a delight to the sense of vision as well as taste. Appetizers treat all the senses and the presentation can include clever containers for the dip recipes such as hollowed out;

  • Melons
  • Peppers
  • Pineapple
  • Squash
  • Whole loaves of bread

Round out your finger food creations with a bit of garnish. This is an opportunity to let your creative spirit soar. Let these small items be a springboard to your imagination;

  • Poppy or sesame seeds
  • Small berries
  • Herbs
  • Fruit zest

Powdered sugar and cocoa can enhance many recipe cheese concoctions, cheese balls, cheese spreads and other snacks. Place your culinary works of art in a decorative frame like fancy trays, cutting boards, colorful bowls and baskets for the bread.

Share these appetizer recipes with family and friends, neighbors and other loved ones in a convivial tradition of cuisine that is common to many countries and cultures.

Appetizers with finger foods dipped in Guacamole
are a cool and delicious treat.

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