Ring in new flavors with year’s last appetizers

Food tends to play second fiddle to the drinks on New Year’s Eve, at least in many circles. After hosting a still-notorious gathering mentioned in a previous post, I vowed not to spend a day concocting appetizers to wow guests who have designated their last few hundred calories of the year for booze.

Yet I can’t throw in the towel completely by just filling bowls with chips and popping the tops on some premade dips. Even if no one else is too interested in eating, a few tasty nibbles always enhance my social experience.

Dips still have their place, of course. They can be made ahead and surpass the ordinary with a little forethought. While mass-produced hummus has almost become a staple of simple party menus, baba ghanoush is still relatively unfamiliar, making it the obvious choice for my Christmas party earlier this month.

Rather than contribute more of the same to my next gathering, I’ll be trying the following dip that also would be a good repository for a holiday gift of pistachios. Make it up to 2 days ahead, keep refrigerated before serving and serve it with slices of pita, hunks of focaccia or some rye crisps.

The filling for the second recipe also could be prepared in advance, just as I did several Thanksgivings ago to produce a sweet-potato spring roll for my guests. I conceived the idea as a lighter alternative to more cheesy, rich dishes. This one serves the same purpose for a festive spread and should be particularly welcome at the tail end of a month of indulging in dairy fat.

Some filling will be left over from the recipe; it can be stirred into a curry or spooned on top of a baked potato or warm naan. The baked samosas can be refrigerated up to 4 days in advance; reheat in a 300-degree oven until warmed through.

Pistachio and Feta Dip

Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey

3 1/2 ounces (scant 1 cup) roasted unsalted pistachios

Generous 1/4 cup olive oil

10 1/2 ounces good-quality feta cheese, broken into small chunks

1 handful fresh dill, coarsely chopped

2 handfuls cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

1 large garlic clove , peeled and crushed

1 fresh red Thai chili pepper (seeded if desired), coarsely chopped

Heaping 3 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt (regular or low-fat)

Finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon

Sea salt, to taste

In bowl of a food processor, combine the pistachios and oil; puree for 30 seconds, then add the feta, dill, cilantro, garlic, chili pepper, yogurt and lemon zest and juice. Puree for about 1 minute or until mixture has a nice, rustic texture. Any chunks of feta that are left should be no larger than a pea.

Taste and season with a small pinch of salt. Serve at a cool room temperature. Makes 11 or 12 servings (makes 2 3/4 cups).

Recipe adapted by the Washington Post from “Persiana: Recipes From the Middle East & Beyond,” by Sabrina Ghayour (Interlink, 2014).


Sweet Potato Samosas

2 tablespoons peanut oil

2 teaspoons mustard seed

3 teaspoons cumin seed, divided

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 tablespoon peeled, grated fresh ginger root

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces (about 2 1/2 cups)

2 small green chili peppers, seeded or unseeded (may substitute 1 medium jalapeño pepper)

2 cups frozen/defrosted green peas

2 teaspoons garam masala

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Kosher salt

16 sheets phyllo dough, preferably Athens brand (9-by-14-inch sheets)

About 8 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter), melted

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Once oil shimmers, add the mustard seed and 1 teaspoon of the cumin seed, stirring to coat. As soon as they start to pop and sizzle, stir in the onion, ginger and garlic; cook for about 5 minutes, stirring to avoid scorching.

Add the sweet potato, chili peppers and 3 tablespoons water, stirring to incorporate. Cook for about 4 minutes or until sweet potato starts to soften a bit. Remove from heat; stir in the peas, garam masala, cilantro and lemon juice. Season lightly with salt.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners, then grease paper/liners with cooking oil spray.

Lay 2 phyllo sheets atop each other on a cutting board, with 1 of short sides facing you. Use a very sharp knife (not serrated) to cut stack into 3 equal strips. Place a heaping tablespoon of sweet-potato mixture about 1 1/2 inches from end nearest you. Fold that end over filling (it won’t cover fully), then begin to fold a samosa by lifting/creating a right-angle triangle. Fold triangle up and away from you; alternating further folds to left, then up, then to right, and up, until you’re left with a bit of phyllo at top. Brush it with a little melted ghee and seal/press it to samosa.

Repeat with other two-layer phyllo strips; continue in this fashion — cutting strips, adding filling and folding — to create a total of 24 triangular samosas. Brush tops with melted ghee, then sprinkle with remaining cumin seed. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve warm or at room temperature; or cool completely before storing. Makes 8 to 12 servings (makes 24 pieces).

Recipe adapted by the Washington Post from “Alice’s Cookbook,” by Alice Hart (Lyons Press, 2011).

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