Ahhh, appetizers. Maybe you call them antipasti where you’re from. Maybe it’s hors d’oeuvres. Or maybe it’s tapas, mezze, aperitif, maybe even plain old snacks? But really, no matter what you want to call them, can we all just take a moment to just pause and appreciate whoever the genius was who invented eating something before you eat something?
Nevertheless, this passion seems to be something we all share. Everyone loves to eat, and therefore, everyone loves eating before we eat. It doesn’t matter if it’s recipes for wedding appetizers, for Christmas appetizers, or just for Tuesday appetizers. But just what makes an appetizer recipe an appetizer recipe? Because despite the concept’s ubiquity, the humble hors d’oeuvre takes many different appearances indeed. It all depends on where in the world you’re ordering them. But one thing is certain: everyone can find a use for some easy appetizer ideas.
All about the appetizers
Dips are always a good place to start. It’s just the easiest thing—arrange some chips, cut vegetables, and bread onto a plate, serve a couple dips, and go to town! Chips and salsa is always a classic, but why not get creative? Spinach artichoke dip is a true American classic, that cheesy, fatty, and rich spread is as at home on a baby carrot as a chunk of french bread. But if you feel like going crazy, a true modern classic is Buffalo Chicken Dip. Spicy, buttery, and extremely dippable, this new dip has recently taken the internet by storm.
But it’s true that Americans, if we aren’t talking about dips, seem to prefer appetizer recipes that result in treats of the golden-brown and crunchy variety. Sure, we mean french fries, but really we just mean anything deep fried. Country fair fare, if you will. Onion rings, french fries, maybe some nachos? But Americans also have an unsung hero of pre-meal snacks. We’re talking about spring rolls.
The humble spring roll
Why are they called spring rolls? Did they get the name from the tender vegetables, so evocative of that most vernal of seasons, that they hide concealed within their crispy skins? Or do they get the name from their lightly rebounding crust, so flaky and chewy? Also known in some areas as an egg roll, this crispy, cylindrical parcel amounts to nothing short of a tightly-rolled expression of real American cultural harmony.
Who created this manna from heaven? In the most American of thought processes, some inspired inventor must have seen traditional Asian-style summer rolls and thought: why wouldn’t I just deep fry this right now? Her name is now lost to history, but you can still pay tribute to her unknowable genius by cooking these beautiful rolls of the American dream today.
How does it work? A sheet of pastry is rolled into a sheath for a bright medley of crisp vegetables and toothsome glass noodles. The whole package is rolled, cigar-style, and dunked into some oil at 325°F for a few minutes until it is perfectly browned and crunchy on the outside, but steamy and moist on the inside.
Now is the time to choose your dip. This has the added benefit of giving your brand-new spring rolls a couple minutes to cool down. Seriously, be careful! These things are hot when they come out of the oil. For dips, there are essentially three schools of thought: sweet chili sauce, plum sauce, or hot chili sauce/sriracha. All can be easily found in the Asian section of your local supermarket, and all are equally good.
Deep-fried rice balls: a voyage to Sicily
Still looking for more good appetizer recipes? We have a great one from across the pond, to the place that invented the aperitif. The Italians invented the aperitif as a sort of liquid appetizer, a cocktail invented to stimulate the appetite before a nice meal. But naturally, that wasn’t enough for the Italians, and now aperitivo drinks are usually accompanied by a variety of snacks. Olives and cheese are common enough, but perhaps the king of Italian aperitivo is that glorious glowing orb, the bright-orange Sicilian arancino.
What is that? Like the humble panini, it is more commonly known outside Italy by its plural form, arancini. But what it is is nothing short of magnificent. Juicy saffron-scented risotto is gently formed into balls around a center of tender ragu, peas, and gooey melted mozzarella. The whole thing is rolled in bread crumbs and, in the way of all appetizer champions, deep fried into gorgeous perfection.
Arancini also lend themselves to variations on the recipe. Everyone likes vegetarian appetizer recipes: want to make your arancini meat-free? Just replace the ragu with a little bit of tomato sauce. Want to go extra meaty? Double up on the meatiness with some Parma ham in the center. You can’t go wrong: one can hardly imagine a sight more welcoming than a stack of arancini, arranged neatly into a pyramid shape in the center of a table.
But what if you really want to blow them out of the water with your presentation? Maybe that’s not just a figure of speech—that’s right, we’re talking about seafood. And aren’t clams and other shellfish really nature’s ultimate appetizer? They even come right on their own cute little hors d'oeuvre plate, after all!
Mussels on the half-shell
So if you want an easy appetizer recipe that can really wow them, you’ve come to the right place. Because if there’s one thing we have, it’s appetizer options. Take for example, this recipe for baked mussels on the half shell. Lightly browned, juicy, briny, and most of all—impressive! This easy appetizer recipe will surely impress your guests.
To give you an idea of the recipe, the main time-saving trick is to pre-cook the mussels while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Then you chuck it all together and put them right back into the half shells, sprinkling with a little bread crumbs. The result is golden-brown oceany goodness, straight out of your oven! Check out our easy recipe for Italian-style baked mussels here.
This recipe is also quite flexible: though we gave you an Italian variation, it’s easy to mix it up and add different flavors to match it to the rest of your meal (these are appetizers, remember? We know it can be tempting to just sit down and eat the whole platter, but please, please don’t do that. You have guests coming). For a Thai-style flair, try subbing out the parmesan and parsley for ginger, lime, and sugar. Or maybe go Mexican with some cumin and pineapple. The possibilities for easy variations on this classic appetizer recipe are endless. The world is truly your oyster—or really, your mussel.