The No-Cook Holiday Appetizer I’m Bringing to Every Party
The winter holidays are all about giving people what they want: cookies, cheese, butter-glazed nuts and an endless array of rich, braise-y meat and potato-based meals. But you know what’s better than giving people what they think they want? Giving them what they didn’t know they needed, which is why I’m bringing a thoughtfully-prepared, beautifully arranged vegetable platter to every holiday party this year.
Stop picturing those baby carrot, celery, and ranch-laden black plastic platters that seem to arrive, unbidden, on every grandmother’s counter at a holiday party. How old are those carrots? Are they left over from last year? Is a baby carrot even a carrot? I don’t know, because I’m bringing a colorful array of crunchy, fresh, appetite-renewing items with MULTIPLE DIPS to please every dietary restriction and weird food aversion in the land.
I like a two-dip crudité plate–something rich, and something herbaceous. On the rich end, go for this Smoked Salmon Dip or this Creamy Feta-Spinach Dip. On the herbaceous side, look for something that kind of reminds you of Ranch (or serve Ranch, I won’t judge). This Green Goodness Dip is a great option, as is this Spicy Ranch Dipping sauce.
More Crudité Dips Worth Checking Out:
If you have access to a farmers’ market at this time of the year, go there and see what you can find. If you don’t, don’t worry about it. You’ll find everything you need at plain old grocery store and you’ll still be very happy.
Look for a bunch of small carrots with the leaves still attached. Bonus points for multi-colored bunches, which look especially beautiful when cut in half. When you get them home, trim the greens so only about an inch remains on each carrot, wash well and peel. Cut them in half or into quarters, depending on their width, so they’re appropriate dipping size. Whatever you do, please don’t buy baby carrots (they taste like nothing and create a ton of waste as they scraped down to size.)
I’m not going to tell you to eat raw potatoes, don’t worry. Instead, I’m recommending boiling them in HEAVILY salted water until they are tender enough that a fork goes right through. Drain and cool them (that’s a do-ahead!), then slice them in half and serve cold or at room temperature.
Save the fronds (those wispy top parts) to chop and stir into your dip, and cut the fennel through the root end into quarters or eighths. Some people may find fennel’s anise-like flavor divisive, but I always include it because its texture is so delightfully crunchy.
I know that squash is an unexpected choice for crudité, but I like it for its creamy richness and textural contrast. There are a lot of types of winter squash, but luckily, they’re all delicious roasted and dipped into something creamy. I lean toward delicate, acorn or honeynut squash for my crudités because I despise peeling. Simply cut the squash into evenly sized pieces, toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast at 450°F until thoroughly tender and crispy.
You may only know garden radishes, those red-pink crispy vegetables that are often seen on salad bars, super thinly sliced to reveal their bright white insides. But there’s a world of other types of radishes, including watermelon radishes which are known for their striking, pink and purple-stained insides, and French breakfast radishes, which are longer and thinner, perfect for dipping. Whatever kind you find, make sure to wash them thoroughly (they are a root vegetable, after all) and slice them, if necessary, from top to bottom so they’re narrow enough to bite into, but still hefty enough to carry a dip!
Endive is the Tostitos scoop of the vegetable world. It’s a crunchy, easy-to-hold vehicle for all the delicious dips you’re going to put on your platter. It also has a pleasant, not overwhelming bitterness and a high water-content that clears your palate and gets you ready for all the rich food you’re inevitably going to be eating.
If you’ve only been eating slicing cucumbers until now, it’s time to upgrade to Persian cucumbers, which are smaller, crisper, and less seedy with a thinner skin. This means their texture is overall much more pleasant than the sad salad bar cucumbers most people are used to. Cut them into quarters lengthwise and sprinkle them with salt for the best presentation.
Feel free to prep your vegetables a day in advance, wrapping them gently in a damp paper towel to keep them moist and crisp and storing in a plastic bag or other sealed container. To serve, I like to arrange the vegetables in colorful strips on a big platter (bonus points if you chill it ahead of time, with my dips in low bowls nestled in between. Don’t be too precious, though–you want guests to actually eat what you’re serving. One last tip: Leftovers, if there are any, make a delicious lunch for the next day.