Meatless Monday: 'Tis the Season Snack Treats

Oink oink. That sums up how I typically feel at this time of year, the nonstop feeding frenzy that comes with holiday fete-ing and merriment. As an omnivore, I happily wolf down old-school cocktail classics such as pigs in a blanket, rumaki and the perennial classic roast beast, but there is a price to pay for the meat-intensive feasting, including a rapid expansion of the waistline.

So when company drops in over the next few weeks, I’ll be thinking of snacks and apps that decidedly take a pass on meat. Below, a handful of faves from the MA recipe vault.

Dips for Chips ... and Other Dip Lifters

Olive-fig tapenade: A delightful sweet-savory marriage of two unlikely partners. Popping with flavor, fiber and monosaturated fats.

Kale pesto: A gorgeous emerald green sauce for either pasta or for dipping. After a quick boil, the kale purees beautifully and feels silky smooth on the tongue. This has quickly become a favorite at Casa Appetite.

Caramelized onion dip, hold the soup mix (plus details on queso sans Velveeta): Caramelized onions are one of winter's best antidotes; the smell alone shelters me from the proverbial storm and no one can believe you've whipped up this classic '70s dip without a drop from that famed soup-mix envelope.

Sweet potato hummus (recipe details below): Roasted sweets and onions get pureed then flavored with tahini paste for a wintry take on the beloved Middle Eastern chickpea dip. Think of the antioxidants!

Hand-held Goodies

I'm a big fan of itty-bitty savory pies for entertaining, as you can make a few batches in advance, freeze and then thaw and reheat on the fly when unexpected company drops by.

Jamaican beef patties get a veggie makeover here, with a tasty filling of mashed winter squash or sweet potatoes, cabbage, potato and carrot (and of course, you can mix and match veg as you see fit). They pack quite a punch, and you can make them as spicy as you like.

There are many variations on the spinach pie theme in the Middle East, but the one I've come to love hails from Jordan, where it's known as a fetayer. The yeasty dough, enriched with olive oil, enrobes a filling of spinach (or chard), feta, pine nuts and sumac, a Middle Eastern spice that yields delightful lemony results.

With Hanukah on the horizon (Sunday night, Dec. 21), a few fried treats are in order (stay tuned for Julia Beizer's deep-fried party ideas later this week). I'm partial to a beer-batter veggie tempura, made with rice flour, and pakoras, deep-fried veggie fritters made with chickpea flour. Although neither fritter can be cooked in advance, they both lend themselves to a cooking party. Give your guests an apron and invite them to join you at the stove for a frying stint. It's fun to feast on your treats as they come out of the oil.

Who's got a veggie party snack to share? Do so in the comments area.

Sweet Potato Dip

Adapted from "12 Best Foods Cookbook" by Dana Jacobi
2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 medium or large onion
Olive oil for lathering up vegetables
At least 2 tablespoons tahini paste
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice onion in half, and remove papery outer layer. Rub with oil and lightly coat. Wrap in a large piece of aluminum foil. Slice sweet potatoes in half or quarters, depending on size. (Smaller pieces will cook faster.) Do not peel. Repeat oil/foil step with potatoes and cook both until fork tender.

Puree until mixture is creamy. Add tahini. Season with salt and pepper, and if you like, add 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne. Taste for tahini; add more if flavor is not coming through.

By Kim ODonnel |  December 15, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Entertaining , Meatless Monday
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I've tried the Sweet Potato Dip, and usually make it too thick - ideas for thinning? And, what is your favorite way to serve it, Kim (meaning crackers? crudite? just not sure...)

The olive/fig tapenade ROCKS. Get good olives to minimize bitterness; dried SunMaid figs worked fine.

My favorite dip is Smoky Red Pepper, from Vegetarian Times Magazine (and it's bright red):

2 med. red peppers
1 lg. red onion, sliced 1/4" thick
2 cloves garlic
1/4 c. plain breadcrumb
1/4 c. plain lowfat yogurt
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. olive oil
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
salt & pepper

1. Halve red peppers, remove seeds and membranes. Place skin-side up on baking sheet with onions and garlic. Roast or broil 6"-8" from oven heat source until peppers blacken, then place peppers in paper bag for 10-15 minutes.

2. Remove skins from peppers.

3. Place all roasted vegetables in blender or food processor, add yogurt, vinegar, olive oil and process until smooth. Stir in breadcrumbs.

4. Fold in cilantro, season to taste. Serve with pitas, corn chips, excellent on sandwiches. Heck, just eat it with a spoon.

Posted by: CentreOfNowhere1 | December 15, 2008 8:39 AM

I haven't tried this one yet, but it sounds really good.
Saute mushrooms with garlic and herbs. blend with cream cheese.

Posted by: chiquita2 | December 15, 2008 9:52 AM

This is what I do when unexpected guests are coming down the walk (as they did this past Saturday!) I calmly reach for a can of white beans, my immersion blender, some chopped rosemary, pepper...don't need much salt, splash of olive oil.

If I have more time, I will saute some onions and garlic and heat the beans through before whizzing them up.

Serve with crackers, pita, veggies, whatever.

Posted by: mdreader01 | December 15, 2008 6:01 PM

If I have more time, I will saute some onions and garlic and heat the beans through before whizzing them up.

Posted by: mirunalini | December 16, 2008 2:08 AM

i will give some new tips for Chicken Biriyani

1/2 kg - chicken
1/2 kg - basmati rice
1 cup - mint and coriander leaves, chopped
1 - onion, sliced
4 to 5 - green chillis
1 - lemon, small
4 - cinnamon, small pieces
4 - cardamom
1 1/2 tsp - ginger garlic paste
salt to taste
4 - clove


1. Wash chicken and marinate with lemon, a little bit salt.
2. Heat oil or ghee add cinnamon, cloves and cardamom and add onion fry till brown in color, add ginger garlic paste.
3. Then add chicken peaces fry for 2 mins then add soaked rice.
4. Mix well add salt cover and cook till done.
5. Add mint and coriander chopped on top mix well and serve with raitha.

Posted by: mirunalini | December 16, 2008 2:12 AM

I served Ina Garten's roasted eggplant spread and Nigella Lawson's red kidney bean dip (both at at my annual Christmas cocktail party, and both got eaten up even though I doubled the recipes! They're super easy, requiring minimal prep and can surely be made in advance. Nobody wants another heavy meal at the holidays, so going vegetarian (vegan actually) is welcome by all I'm sure. I also served homemade gravlax which is also super easy and everyone welcomes a chance to eat salmon! Of course, I also served Ina's super rich coconut cupcakes (miniature) and Giada's hazelnut choco chip cookies, but at least I tried to modulate the total calories!

Posted by: otabenga | December 16, 2008 12:01 PM

mirunalini - I'm curious as to why you posted a chicken biriyani recipe on Meatless Monday. [Not criticizing the dish. I consumed many biryanis when I lived in Sheffield.]

The juxtaposition inspires me. Not to make a chicken biriyani, but rather a vegetarian biriyani. I don't think my Indian "go to" book has one, but I'll search around and work on the recipe. Results to be posted soon!


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | December 16, 2008 7:43 PM

Just checked. My "go to" book, Art of Indian Cuisine by Rocky Mohan, has a biriyani, but it calls for 4 pounds of lamb. [Shahjehani Biryani]. Looks great, if more than a little complicated.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | December 16, 2008 7:45 PM

Thanks much for the link to the non-velveeta queso. It was mentioned in the chat, but I never could find a link to the actual recipe. Someone might want to go back and clean up the comments section on that page (remove the stuff about yankees and so on...) but thanks for the recipe. I can't eat velveeta -- it tastes like plastic -- but I have been on the hunt for a good cheese dip. This looks like just the ticket.

Posted by: margaret6 | December 21, 2008 9:54 AM

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