Do you know anyone who includes a traditional appetizer course as part of an average weeknight dinner?  I don’t. Who has the time to fuss with that?

Yet, if you broaden the definition of “appetizer,” to mean anything you eat before the main course, lots of people do. Including my husband and me. In fact, it’s become a running joke in our household. Sometime around 5 pm, my husband plants himself at the kitchen island, typically when I’ve started to prep dinner. I turn from my cutting board and ask him, “What would you like as an appetizer?”

I open the refrigerator and run down the options, which rarely vary. Hummus. Black olives. Tofu croutons. Vegan salami, we love so much we became investors. Then I move to the pantry. Tortilla chips. Crackers. Corn nuts.

Corn nuts as an appetizer?  Yes. In my book, “appetizer” is little more than a classy word for nibble or nosh.

And yet. Sometimes, an occasion calls for something classier than corn nuts or chips. With Thanksgiving and the winter  holidays around the corner, I’ve got you covered with simple, plant-based appetizers and side dishes curated and taste-tested by yours truly.


Plant-Based Appetizer Ideas

Lite Bites, Perfect for Wine Pairing or Cocktail Hour

Dips and spreads are the perfect 21st-Century-everyone-has-a-food-restriction pre-dinner snack. They’re easy to pack full of flavor, simple to make, and won’t ruin anyone’s appetite. Most importantly, it’s easy to offer three types of “carriers” – a thinly sliced baguette, and both regular and gluten-free crackers.

  • The Best Hummus Ever is made with Soom tahini. Watch your guests take a bite, pause, and say, “This is the best hummus ever. What did you do?” Just say Soom.
  • Hummus with Pumpkin: Nothing says Happy Holidays like pumpkin. Mixed with warming spices like cumin and sweet paprika, Aunt Mildred will feel so cozy she’ll take off her cardigan.
  • Roasted Beet Hummus: A single roasted beet turns a yummy hummus into a show-stopping festive dip.
  • If you happen to be near a Panera, pick up one of those small bread bowls they hollow out and fill with (salty) soup. Instead of soup, fill it with this Outrageously Good Spinach Artichoke Dip. Don’t live near a Panera? Worried about your gluten-free guests? Serve the dip in a non-edible bowl.

My friend Diana, who created this delectable Sweet and Spicy Nuts recipe, claims, “you could give this recipe to a 5-year old and they could get the job done.” (If you take Diana’s challenge, don’t forget to tell the 5-year old to wash his hands before cooking).

Impressive Appetizers for Bold Homecooks

  • This Chickpea Shawarma Dip is a work of art. It involves a couple of steps, none too complicated. Save time by buying hummus and supermarket naan. Don’t be put off by “coconut sugar.” Any sugar works. The beauty (and taste) of the layering is sure to impress.
  • The key to this Bloody Mary Bruschetta is finding excellent cherry tomatoes. Store-bought fresh focaccia or ciabatta makes assembling this nosh a cinch.

Save-Worthy Side Dishes

I have a love-hate relationship with salads. I love eating them, yet hate making them — for myself. Inexplicably, I love making them for others, as a potluck offering, or for dinner party guests. It probably has something to do with my desire to highlight just how delicious naked ‘ole veggies can be. These are my favorite there-will-be-no-leftovers crowd-pleasers.

Next Level Salads

    • Chickpea Quinoa Arugula Salad can be prepped ahead of time, is full of texture, and can be dressed at the last minute.
    • Cashew Thai Quinoa Salad is light enough to eat as a side with a main course, yet substantial enough for the vegan at your table to enjoy for dinner (while others are eating food they wouldn’t touch). Make extra, because the non-vegans are going to want some, too.
    • Roasted Carrot Salad with Tahini Sauce is a simple, yet versatile salad to serve as a side or vegan main course. The secret’s in the sauce.
    • Broccoli Salad: Tangy, sweet and creamy, with just the right amount of crunch. I love broccoli, and I adore this salad.
    • Mexican Kale Salad with Maple Lime Vinaigrette: Adding maple syrup to just about anything is a good idea. Mixing it with lime juice to dress a kale salad is downright genius.

Casseroles,  Childhood  and Carbs

    • Cornbread Stuffing with Cranberries: Okay, okay, this one takes a bit of effort. But the savory tenderness of the cornbread, mixed with roast cranberries, makes it all worthwhile. I promise.
    • Green Bean Casserole with Cashew Cream: Creamy cashew sauce gives this old favorite a new, plant-based twist.
    • Boston Baked Beans: I loved baked beans as a kid, but somewhere into adulthood they disappeared from my life. This recipe brought them back. Ginger, cloves and molasses … each bite reminds me of childhood. And my grandmother.
    • Sweet Potato Casserole with Maple Pecan Topping: Don’t be fooled; this seemingly decadent casserole is light, and half the calories of its dairy-laden cousins.
    • Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Ginger Dressing: My garden produced way too many potatoes this year; I have bags of them stored in the basement. This is definitely going to be on my Thanksgiving menu. (Yes, there will be a sweet potato dish, too. You only live once!).