Appetizers that elevate the season’s entertaining

Personally, I think appetizers are just better than entrées. It’s a simple, irrefutable fact, like breakfast is better than dinner.

To test my theory, I made four appetizers that span the spectrum from hors d’oeuvre to first course. And I was right. They are better than entrées.

Grapes Rolled in Goat Cheese appetizers, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)


4 oz. goat cheese, room temperature

24 red or green seedless grapes, rinsed and patted dry

1/3 c. finely chopped toasted walnuts

1/4 c. minced chives

Note: These may be prepared up to 6 hours in advance.

Divide the goat cheese into 24 equal-sized balls. With your fingers, mold the cheese around each grape until the fruit is completely covered. Keep cold.

Mix the walnuts and chives together in a small mixing bowl. Roll each coated grape, one at a time, in the walnut mixture until covered. Place in a single layer in a low, flat dish, and refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes 8 servings.

(Recipe from “The Berghoff Family Cookbook” by Carlyn Berghoff and Jan Berghoff with Nancy Ross Ryan.)

Marinated Mushrooms appetizers, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)


1 T. coriander seeds

5 T. olive oil, divided

2 T. minced shallots

1 t. minced garlic

3 sprigs fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

1/2 t. ground black pepper

1 lb. small white button mushrooms, washed and trimmed

Salt, to taste

2 c. dry white wine

1 heaping T. tomato paste

2 T. lemon juice

1 T. chopped fresh cilantro

Place the coriander seeds in a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Cook a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the seeds are fragrant.

Remove to a plate to cool. Grind to a powder in a spice grinder, with a mortar and pestle or by carefully crushing with a cast-iron skillet.

In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook until soft but not browned, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat if they begin to color. Add the thyme, coriander, bay leaf and pepper. Cook for 1 minute.

Stir in the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt. Add the wine and tomato paste, and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook until soft, about 10 minutes more. Cool the mushrooms in the cooking liquid.

To serve, spoon the mushrooms and some of the cooking liquid into a bowl, drizzle with the lemon juice and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro. Makes 6 servings.

(Adapted from “Bistro Laurent Tourondel” by Laurent Tourondel and Michele Scicolone.)

Black and White Bean Salsa appetizers, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)


3 T. corn oil, divided

1 1/4 c. fresh corn kernels or frozen, thawed

1 (15- or 16-oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 (15- or 16-oz.) can Great Northern beans, drained

1 c. chopped red bell pepper

3/4 c. chopped red onion

2 T. fresh lime juice

3 garlic cloves, minced, pressed or mashed

1 large jalapeño, seeded and minced

1 T. minced fresh oregano (or 1 t. dried)

1 T. chili powder

1 1/2 t. ground cumin

Note: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a heavy, large skillet over high heat. Add corn and sauté until light brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to skillet along with both beans, pepper, onion, lime juice, garlic, jalapeño, oregano, chili powder and cumin. Cook just until spices no longer taste raw, about 2 minutes.

Add to bowl with corn. Season generously with salt and pepper. Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 175 calories; 6 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 7 g protein; 25 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 360 mg sodium; 58 mg calcium


1/2 red onion, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch slices

1 T. vegetable oil

8 (8-inch) flour tortillas

1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch strips

8 oz. low-fat mozzarella cheese, grated

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2 T. chopped fresh marjoram or 1 t. dried

2 T. chopped fresh oregano or 1 t.dried

Pinch of ground black pepper

Preheat a grill or broiler. Brush the onion slices with 1 tablespoon of the oil and grill or broil 6 inches from the heat for 4 minutes on each side. Separate the rings and set aside.

Heat a skillet over high heat. Soften the tortillas by grilling 30 seconds on each side.

Mix the onion, red pepper strips, mozzarella, garlic, marjoram, oregano and pepper. Divide evenly between 4 tortillas and top with the remaining 4 tortillas, pressing them down gently.

Heat a skillet at least 8 inches wide over medium-high heat. Place a quesadilla on the hot skillet and cook until bottom is lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook until other side is lightly browned and cheese has melted, another 2 to 3 minutes. Cut into quarters and repeat with the remaining quesadillas. Makes 16 servings.

(Adapted from “The Gourmet Gazelle Cookbook” by Ellen Brown.)

— Tribune News Service

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