A DELICIOUS STARTER FOR THE HOLIDAY FESTIVITIES


SMOKY GARLIC STUFFED ENDIVE

Hosting a holiday party can make one a little crazy during the busy month of December, when so many parties and events fill the calendar. I thought if I could make an appetizer or two a day in advance, it would take the squeeze out of getting ready for a pack of hungry invitees.

Turns out this little easy starter was perfect. In fact, it has many attributes on the plus side, aside from being very tasty. First, it’s not drippy, so it definitely won’t spill on the furniture or the floor. Second, it requires no special utensils–it’s finger food, after all, but better serve it with extra napkins–just in case. And last, it’s easy to make.

This well-seasoned smoke-flavored and bold garlicky mixture makes endive a delicious two-bite treat that can be prepared up to one day ahead. The filling is versatile enough to work as a stuffing for raw button mushrooms, celery, and hollowed tomatoes.

SMOKY GARLIC STUFFED ENDIVE

Yield: 2 1/2 cups filling for about 40 endive leaves

5 to 6 heads endive

1 pound extra firm tofu

3 to 4 cloves garlic

4 to 5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoon water

2 1/2 teaspoons natural hickory seasoning (also called liquid smoke)

1 1/2 teaspoons dried dill weed

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

 

2 green onions, minced

1 (15-ounce) jar roasted red peppers, cut into thin julienne, or 2 to 3 fresh red peppers, roasted and cut into thin julienne

3/4 cup frozen green peas, thawed

Paprika (optional)

  1. Separate the endive leaves and set them aside on a dish. To make the filling, rinse the tofu and drain well. Break the tofu into several chunks, and put them in the food processor.
  2. Add the garlic, lemon juice, water, hickory seasoning, dill weed, salt, and pepper and process until smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add the green onions.
  3. To assemble, use a small spoon to fill each leaf with the smoky garlic mixture.
  4. Garnish each stuffed endive with a strip of red pepper and 3 green peas. Sprinkle the tops with paprika, if desired.
  5. Store leftover filling in the refrigerator where it will keep for up to 1 week.

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FIGGY LOVE IN EVERY BITE!

Fig CrackersFIGGY WAFERS

Hunting for a stand-out holiday appetizer? I think I’ve got just the one!

Welcome your holiday guests with something warming to sip and a surprise taste adventure to invigorate the appetites –a platter of Figgy Wafers. Beautiful little flavor-infused morsels, these delicious crackers stand out because of a generous measure of aromatic cardamom to complement the sweetness of the figs.

While these irresistible little wafers make wonderful tidbits without accompaniments, pair them with a thin slice of vegan cheese and send your happy little flavor receptors into vegan nirvana. Even better, top the crackers with a slice of banana and then put the cheese on top.

Fig CrackersPlan ahead for the holidays by making one or more batches of the recipe, rolling them into logs, and freezing them. Then, when you’re planning to serve them, it takes only a few minutes to slice and bake them.

 FIGGY WAFERS

 

Yield: about 40 slices

10 dried figs, either black or golden

1/4 cup rum or brandyFig Crackers

1/2 cup whole almonds

1 cup Old Fashioned rolled oats

1/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup dairy-free margarine

  1. Have ready a large bowl and a pair of kitchen scissors. Using the scissors, snip off and discard the tough stems from the figs and snip the figs into small dice into the bowl. Pour the rum over the figs and set aside to soak for several hours or overnight.
  2. Combine the almonds, rolled oats, flour, ground cardamom, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are finely ground.
  3. Add the margarine and pulse until the mixture becomes crumbly. Transfer the mixture to the bowl with the figs and use a fork to blend the mixture into a dough.
  4. Form the dough into a long log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic and freeze for at least 3 or 4 hours, or until solidly frozen. The log will stay fresh in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  5. When ready to bake the wafers, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment.
  6. Unwrap the frozen log and use a firm, thin-bladed knife to cut it into 1/8-inch slices. Put them on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 15 to 18 minutes. Carefully, lift the wafers with a metal spatula and transfer them to a platter to cool completely.

Fig CrackersA Note About Cardamom

Because cardamom is not as familiar a spice as cinnamon, it frequently gets overlooked. But give it an opportunity to show its mojo and you’ll be hooked.

cardamom-greenYou can buy this spice already ground into a powder in the spice section of most markets. You can also find it in Asian and Indian markets where it’s available in whole pods or already ground. While the ground cardamom is certainly more convenient, it quickly loses its pungency and its flavor fades.Cardamom brown

For its flavor delightful strength I much prefer to buy the whole pods and crush the small seeds with a pestle. Really fresh pods are green, but if they’ve been around awhile, they turn beige. It’s a bit painstaking because first I pound each pod to open it. The, one-by-one by hand I open each pod and empty the seeds into the mortar. You can also put the seeds into a spice grinder for a quicker grinding process.

A HOLIDAY CELEBRATION ON A PLATE!!!!

Jolly Green Christmas Tree4JOLLY GREEN CHRISTMAS TREE

This alluring, easy-as-pie appetizer recipe has a way of putting everyone into a festive mood and quickly attracting guests to the holiday table to scramble for a taste! And there are infinite ways to decorate the tree, while having fun.

Choose bright colored veggies and cut them into different shapes and sizes to create thisVegan Holidays highres very flavorful starter. Because people come to a holiday gathering ravenously hungry, they’ll appreciate this ready-to- serve appetizer that can be prepared several hours ahead or even a day ahead. The recipe comes from my Vegan for the Holidays cookbook.

If you have children who love to participate in the kitchen, create the basic green pea recipe and form it into a tree shape. Then, chop up a pile of bright colored veggies and let the kids have at it. You might be surprised at the unbridled creativity, while it keeps their eager little hands occupied for quite some time.

Of course, you can always choose to be the tree decorator and give the kids another task. This tasty holiday appetizer puts yuletide spirit on a plate and unveils your hidden talent as a sculptor and artist. Using nothing more than a spoon, you’ll be able to turn this delicious dip into a dazzling sculpted Christmas tree or even a Christmas wreath that flaunts colorful ornaments you can eat. Make it mildly spiced or crank it up to muy picante with extra jalapeno chiles and a pinch of cayenne.

Bowl Pea DipNot feeling artistic? No problem. Make the pea dip mixture in the food processor, then, simply spoon it into an attractive serving bowl. Sprinkle the top with some of the chopped veggies  and serve with the crackers on the side.

Below are some students’ photos of the Jolly Green Christmas Tree taken at cooking classes I teach throughout Los Angeles.

JOLLY GREEN CHRISTMAS TREE

Yield: 8 to 10 servingsSimple Xmas Tree

Christmas Tree Dip

1 pound frozen peas, thawed

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini or Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves

2 tablespoons organic sugar

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1/2 to 1 jalapeno chile, seeded and coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powderMessy Xmas tree

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

Pinch cayenne (optional)

 

Ornaments

1/4 red bell pepper, finely diced

1 carrot, half sliced and half finely dicedCrazy Xmas tree

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

1 jalapeno pepper, sliced crosswise

1 green onion, white and green parts sliced

1 whole star anise, or 6 whole cloves

Fresh herbs (mint, cilantro, parsley)

  1. Put the dip ingredients in a food processor. Process until smooth and creamy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl.
  2. Spoon the mixture onto a large platter and use the back of a spoon to form the mixture into the shape of a large Christmas tree. Decorate the tree with wild abandon, using the bell pepper, carrot, green onion, etc. Place the star anise at the top or arrange the cloves into a radiating star, or use herbs at the top. Serve with baked tortilla chips, bean chips, toasted pita wedges, or your favorite crackers.