Easily-made appetizers appeal at holiday time

December 24, 1997|By William Rice | William Rice,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

The season for expected and unexpected guests has arrived, and with it, the season when hosts and hostesses are especially grateful for recipes that provide easy-to-prepare nibbles.

So I collected recipes from my mother-in-law, sister-in-law and wife. To do my share, I've added one of my own.

One of the most reliable snack presentations in our family is that old standby, the crudites platter. Cooked cauliflower and broccoli never have the charm of these vegetables served raw and crisp with a tangy dip. Bell pepper strips of various colors; slices of carrot, celery, zucchini; and, for variety, perhaps fresh fennel, cucumber and radishes appeal to almost everyone.

Try these preparations separately or on the same occasion.

Eggplant Relish

Makes about 3 cups

1 eggplant (about 1 pound)

1 small onion (about 4 ounces), chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium green bell pepper, chopped

1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped

3/4 teaspoon red chili powder

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

chopped cilantro or parsley as desired, for garnish

Heat oven to 500 degrees. Place whole eggplant on a baking sheet and bake in the oven until soft, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

When cool enough to handle, peel the eggplant and chop the pulp. Set aside.

Cook the onion in olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat until the onions are soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the bell pepper and cook until the pepper is very soft, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato and cook an additional 5 minutes.

Add reserved eggplant, chili powder, garlic, ginger and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Off the heat, add cilantro to taste. Allow to cool to room temperature and serve with pita bread triangles or pita chips.

Note: This relish may be served, warm or at room temperature, as a condiment with grilled or roast lamb.

Irma's Easy Salsa Dip

Makes about 1 1/4 cups

3 tablespoons small-curd cottage cheese

1 cup chunky-style mild salsa, drained of excess juice before measuring

Mix cottage cheese and salsa in a bowl. Add more salsa to taste.

Transfer to a serving bowl and serve with white-corn tortilla chips.

Note: This dip makes an excellent topping for baked potatoes.

Pam's Cheesy Quesadilla Wedges

Makes 16

4 flour tortillas (9 inches in diameter)

1/2 cup salsa, hot or mild

8 ounces shredded colby-jack cheese

chopped cilantro, as desired, for garnish

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place one tortilla onto a baking sheet. Moisten fingertips with water and rub over tortilla surface.

Spread a thin layer of salsa (about 1/4 cup) over the tortilla. Top evenly with half the shredded cheese and sprinkle with a little cilantro. Cover with a second tortilla. Press down lightly and push edges together.

Wet fingers again and moisten the top of the second tortilla with water. Cover loosely with foil. Repeat with remaining tortillas, salsa, cheese and cilantro.

Bake until hot and cheese has melted, about 15 minutes. Remove foil and cut each tortilla into 8 wedges with a pizza cutter or a knife. Serve warm.

Note: Depending on the number of guests, prepare tortillas together or one at a time.

Danish Mussels

Makes 45-50 pieces

1 medium onion, chopped

1 bunch fresh dill, chopped

2 bay leaves

5 or 6 red pepper flakes, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cups dry white wine

2 pounds live mussels

1 teaspoon salt

L 2 tablespoons aquavit (Scandinavian caraway-flavored liquor)

1/3 cup mayonnaise

sandwich bread as needed, toasted and crusts removed (optional)

In a large, noncorrosive pan, combine onion, 3/4 of the dill, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, pepper, wine and 3 cups water. Bring liquid to a boil, lower heat and simmer 10 minutes. Strain into a clean pan. (If desired, recipe may be done ahead to this point. Refrigerate broth and mussels.)

Rinse (do not soak) mussels and remove wirelike beards if visible. Add salt and aquavit to the broth and bring to a boil. Add the mussels, cover and cook over medium-high heat until shells have opened, 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and discard mussels whose shells remain closed. Remove remaining mussels from their shells and discard shells.

Mix mayonnaise with most of remaining dill (reserving some for garnish) and, if desired, aquavit to taste. Place mayonnaise in a small bowl (or spread on toasted bread). Place bowl on a plate and surround with the mussels, each one (or, depending on size, a pair) speared with a toothpick; or cut each slice of toast into 6 pieces and top each with a mussel. Transfer to a platter, garnish with remaining dill and serve.

Pub Date: 12/24/97

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