Whether it's an impromptu get-together with friends or a formal cocktail party, these 20-minute recipes will whet the appetite.
Everybody needs a great creamy dip like this one in their repertoire, but what makes this one special is the inclusion of lots of basil for extra pesto-like flavor on top of the creamy, tangy, cheesy base. The easiest way to serve this dip is cold, but it can work hot as well: Leave half the Parmesan out of the recipe, pour the dip into an oven-safe bowl, top with the reserved Parmesan, and stick under the broiler until warm and browned on top.
Curry powder adds an incomparable element to mayonnaise-based salads like this one―it's not really a spicy flavor, just a hint of exotic fragrance and a nice golden color that are both highly welcome. Leaving the bell pepper and celery raw gives nice crunchy contrast to the soft crabmeat and creamy sauce. This same recipe works just as well with crab as with chopped cooked shrimp or canned tuna or salmon, and you can make a delicious melt with any leftovers: Put a scoop of the spread on a slice of toasted bread, top with a slice of cheese (cheddar or gruyere works well), and place under the broiler until melted.
Top familiar toasted baguette slices with something wholly nontraditional―bittersweet chocolate and orange zest, with just a touch of salt to intensify the flavors. This dish is sweet, but not in a dessert-like way; it fits any hors d'oeuvres spread. Choose a great chocolate for best results: Our semisweet chocolate taste test gives some good options and tips.
Packaged hummus may be convenient, but all you need for a better-tasting homemade version is a can of chickpeas, a food processor, and about three minutes. This recipe uses sautéed garlic and toasted spices to create an Indian-flavored dip that'll wow your guests. Serve with vegetables (cauliflower is especially good), crackers, pita, or naan (store-bought or homemade).
Rather than using sad, underripe, out-of-season summer fruits for holiday dishes, why not try crisp, sweet, tart Fuyu persimmons? They're in season October to February, and pair excellently with many different flavors. This slightly spicy salsa, which also uses ginger and lime, makes a great partner to soft, mild cheeses like brie, chévre, or ricotta. Make a simple canapé with buttery crackers or toast points, a spread of cheese, and a dollop of salsa.
White beans make a wonderfully creamy and hearty dip when pureed, and the fall flavors of rosemary and sage make this dip a perfect one for sharing in front of the fireplace at a small holiday gathering. If serving with pita or baguette slices, heat the bread in a 250-degree oven for a few minutes first so it's nice and warm.
These wonderfully summery bites are a truly perfect for unexpected guests; they take all of two minutes to put together and use one of the season's best fruits. Stone fruits and pork products pair extremely well together, so you also could use plums, peaches, or apricots, with slices of ham or salami. Arugula provides crunch and bitterness to contrast the rich prosciutto and sweet fruit.
This dip is chunky like a salsa, but the similarities end there. Its assortment of flavors―crisp, anise-tinged fennel, plump and chewy raisins, piquant capers, and tender, slightly sweet artichoke―create a uniquely delicious taste. The dip is best with something nice and crunchy; slice baguette very thin and toast well, or use fancy crackers.
This dish might be a bit messy for a more formal party, but it's ideal for a gathering of close friends. The crunchy chips, loaded up with plenty of toppings, are fun to share. And if you don't tell the carnivores, they'll never know it's made with soy crumbles and not ground beef. You can easily vary the toppings to suit your taste―try adding jalapeño slices, or using pepper jack or queso fresco instead of the cheddar.
This is somewhat similar to the refried beans you find at every Mexican restaurant, only it's much healthier and tastes better, thanks to fresh cilantro, lime, jalapeno, and tomato. The toasted pumpkinseeds (you might find them in a Hispanic grocery labeled as pepitas) add a lovely crunch, but you can leave them out if you want without losing much. The spread also works well in place of refried beans in our Grilled Chicken Tostadas.
Even appetizers fancy enough for a black-tie New Year's Eve party can be made superfast. Raw oysters are delicious enough on their own, but this light dressing elevates them into the stratosphere. The subtly sweet acidity of champagne vinegar, fruity spice of pink peppercorns, and licorice-like herbalness of tarragon contrast with and highlight the briny, sweet, and mineral elements of the raw oysters. For an extra elegant presentation, freeze the mignonette on a baking dish, then scrape with a fork as for a granita and top the oysters with the icy shards just before serving.
This dip packs a huge amount of flavor into a little bit of space, probably because it features three ingredients that bring big taste in small packages: olives, capers, and anchovies. Many supermarkets have olive bars with several varieties to choose from―you can substitute pretty much any olive for any other here, so take the opportunity to try an unfamiliar one for this dish and maybe you'll find a new favorite. For a larger party, try pairing the tapenade with a hard cheese like manchego or pecorino.
Other than the tortillas, there's nothing Mexican about this elegant appetizer. The sweet bite of peach and the mild and creamy flavor of brie combine well, and soft cheese melts beautifully to create a deliciously gooey dish. The sweet dipping sauce adds just a hint of acidity to make all the flavors stand out. For a clever dinner- or cocktail-party menu, make all quesadillas by adding this dish to ones with mushrooms and fontina and grilled chicken and goat cheese.
Smoked salmon has a wonderfully salty, savory flavor, and mixing it with tangy cream cheese tones down the fishiness it can sometimes have. The trick to this easy recipe is blending some of the salmon in the food processor, so its taste gets spread throughout, but also folding in some larger bits for textural contrast. If you have any leftover dip after your party, spread it on a toasted bagel half for an excellent breakfast.
Sweet and savory collide in this dish that works as appetizer, hors d'oeuvre, or dessert. Grilling caramelizes the sugars in and intensifies the flavor of the fruit (you need two pounds total, but you can use any combination you like), while the black pepper, balsamic vinegar, and hot sauce in the dressing bring out hidden elements you'd never expect to find in peaches, plums, and nectarines. To highlight the fresh tastes of summer, try this recipe before (or after) a 20-minute entree that also uses fruit.
Everybody's used to bottled salsa, which is why telling your guests you made this one yourself will impress them far more than you'd ever expect. It's an easy-as-pie recipe whose secret is using one can of tomatoes drained and the other undrained for the perfect scoopable texture. It's easy to adjust to your taste―add more or less garlic, cilantro, jalapeño, and lime as you see fit, and try stirring in diced avocado, radish, or jicama for extra interest. This is a good salsa to have on hand for more than just parties, too: You can put it on tacos, quesadillas, or anything else that needs flavor.
Caramelizing onions creates one of the most versatile flavors in any cook's repertoire. The sweet, savory, and toasty flavors of well-browned onions fit well in lots of recipes. Here, along with cocoa, they contribute a unique taste to this spread. For something truly different, try replacing some of the beans in Black Bean Soup with this recipe.
Bruschetta with chopped tomato and basil is certainly delicious. This recipe adds an element of surprise to the familiar with a combination of sautéed mushrooms, creating a brand new dish with deep savory flavor. Use whatever mushrooms are your favorite; if chanterelles or morels are in season, either is amazingly good here. Because it's used in such small quantity, high quality cheese is also important―spring for real Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The smoky-sweet flavor of roasted red peppers makes a perfect combination with creamy cannellini beans in this Mediterranean dip. It's similar to the Spanish classic romesco, making it a great addition to a tapas-style spread. Serve with crunchy veggies like carrot, zucchini, broccoli, and jicama for dipping.
The food processor makes quick work of this basic dip that's rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. We like the heat from leaving the seeds in the jalapeño, but you can seed the pepper for a milder guac. Serve with tortilla chips or crudités.
Mini-burgers are trendy lately, and the simple but sophisticated sauce on these makes them appropriate for tailgating or an elegant cocktail party―and they're kid-friendly to boot. Use your favorite kind of mini-rolls for buns, or for something different, cut out mini-buns from slices of pumpernickel bread with a cookie cutter. The chunky relish also makes a great dip for onion rings.
This quick and easy dish highlights gently oil-poached salmon paired with creamy mascarpone, tangy pickled shallots, and briny fried capers in a delicious twist on bagels and lox.
Serve with sweet mini bell peppers or sliced summer squash. If you can find roasted garlic cloves at the salad bar in your grocery store, sub for raw garlic and skip the 8 minutes of cooking in the skillet.