Maneet Chauhan takes party food seriously. "You have a drink in your hand, so it needs to be portable and easy to eat. But that small bite needs to have a big impact," says the Chopped judge and chef-owner of Nashville's big-buzz restaurant, Chauhan Ale & Masala House. "What makes great party food is an element of surprise, and an element of wow."

Chauhan brings the wow factor by crafting snacks that are like favor symphonies: hot and spicy rhythm, lilting sweetness, savory undertones, tangy high notes. "One of my guests once said a dish of mine is like a party in your mouth, and that's exactly what I'm trying to create," she says.

For surprising elements, Chauhan likes to deliver familiar ingredients in unexpected ways. While most people think of split peas or lentils as the base for hearty soups, Chauhan challenges expectations by turning them into light, blini-style pancakes. She tops them with a mustard seed–flecked mushroom relish, spiced up with fresh serrano and chile paste. Try her original dish—she features fresh morel mushrooms—this month at Chauhan Ale & Masala House in Nashville.

Split Pea Mini Pancakes with Mushroom RelishHands-on: 40 min. Total: 2 hr. 30 min.Garnish these festive bites with cilantro. They're best served hot but are also good at room temperature.

1¼ cups dried green split peas8¾ cups water, divided¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger1 tablespoon grated unsweetened coconut1 teaspoon cumin seeds1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided1 teaspoon ground turmeric, divided½ cup plus 1 tablespoon canola oil, divided1½ teaspoons mustard seeds1 cup finely chopped red onion1 serrano chile, minced2 cups sliced shiitake mushroom caps (about 6 ounces)1 cup chopped tomato2 teaspoons sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste)

1. Place peas in 8 cups water; let stand for 2 hours. Drain. Place soaked peas, cilantro, ginger, coconut, cumin, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon turmeric in the bowl of a food processor; process until smooth. With processor running, slowly drizzle in ½ cup water until a smooth batter forms.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and mustard seeds; sauté 3 minutes or until seeds begin to sizzle and smell pungent. Add onion and serrano; sauté 3 minutes or until tender. Add mushrooms; sauté 6 minutes or until lightly browned. Add remaining ¼ cup water, tomato, sambal, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and remaining ½ teaspoon turmeric. Simmer 5 minutes or until thickened. Remove from pan; wipe pan clean with paper towels.

3. Return pan to medium-high heat; spoon 8 (1½-tablespoon) mounds of batter into pan; flatten slightly to make pancakes. Pour one-third of remaining ½ cup canola oil around cakes. Cook 90 seconds on each side or until golden brown. Repeat procedure twice with remaining batter and oil. Top each pancake with 1 tablespoon relish.

SERVES 12 (serving size: 2 cakes and 2 tablespoons relish)CALORIES 126; FAT 11.2g (sat 1g, mono 6.7g, poly 3g); PROTEIN 2g; CARB 6g; FIBER 1g; CHOL 0mg; IRON 1mg; SODIUM 183mg; CALC 14mg