Though the main course is the centerpiece of a meal, appetizers are arguably the most important. As the first thing your guests devour, they set the tone for the rest of the meal. In other words, if you want to make a good first impression on your dinner guests, don't forget to focus some of your energy on those starters. That said, we know most of the effort is going toward that giant turkey, honey-baked ham, or whatever it is you've decided will anchor the holiday meal this year.
So to make things a little easier, we've found eight delicious, simple, surprisingly healthy appetizer recipes to whip up during the holiday season (and beyond).
Crispy Vegan Polenta Bites
The Hero Ingredient: Polenta gives these eggplant bites and an addictive crunch.
Pro Tip: You can try stirring nutritional yeast into the polenta, and then dipping the bites in warm marinara sauce.
Why We Love It: These crispy vegan polenta bites from The First Mess are a serious crowd-pleaser. And considering how delicious they are, they're also surprisingly light and vegan-friendly. The best part is that they're very simple to throw together: All you need is a few ingredients and an oven to bake them in.
Roasted Pepper and Eggplant Dip
The Recipe: Roasted Pepper and Eggplant Spread
The Hero Ingredient: Charred red bell peppers add lots of flavor.
Pro Tip: The bell peppers and eggplant can be baked or grilled.
Why We Love It: Spreads are the easiest thing to serve at a party when you're trying to accommodate a wide array of eaters. You can set out some indulgent crostinis, healthy-ish crackers, or light raw veggies to dip into the spread, so everyone can pick depending on their own dietary preferences. This recipe from Salt & Wind has a festive color that makes it perfect for the holiday season.
The Recipe: Antipasto Skewers With Kale Pesto
The Hero Ingredient: Melon balls create that perfect sweet and savory combo.
Pro Tip: Whip up some pesto to dip your skewers in so they're not too dry.
Why We Love It: These skewers from Half Baked Harvest are the perfect thing to make when you want something filling but not to the extent that it'll ruin everyone's appetite. Plus, they're the perfect finger food since they're premade.
Roasted Carrot and Chickpea Harissa Dip
The Recipe: Roasted Carrot and Harissa Chickpea Dip
The Hero Ingredient: Pomegranate seeds offer the perfect burst of flavor on top of dips.
Pro Tip: It's all about what you top your dips with. This spread has pomegranate seeds, parsley, pine nuts, and roasted brussels sprout leaves.
Why We Love It: A healthy snack that's magazine-worthy and drool-worthy? This roasted carrot and chickpea harissa dip from The First Mess. And as if the vivid orange hue weren't pretty enough, the parsley and pomegranate seed toppings make it look like a work of art (and add a nice crunch to each bite).
The Hero Ingredient: Speck (aka the German word for fat) offers this appetizer the combination of salty and sweet.
Pro Tip: If you can't find speck, prosciutto works just as well.
Why We Love It: That's bite-size bliss right there. When you're looking for an appetizer recipe that's almost too delicious and easy to be true, opt for this speck-wrapped persimmon appetizer from Salt & Wind. Not only are they light and simple, but they're also seasonally on point during the holidays.
The Hero Ingredient: Dipping these in a ginger-peanut sauce is super addictive.
Pro Tip: You can use peaches instead of mangos if you'd like.
Why We Love It: Who doesn't love a good salad roll? This recipe from Wu Haus is full of fresh, crunchy veggies. The crisp, light nature of the rolls is perfect with the rich sauce, and the mango slices add an unexpected fruity twist to every bite.
The Recipe: Melon Caprese Salad
The Hero Ingredient: Burrata (a mozzarella shell with soft cream inside) makes the perfect base for this spoonable appetizer.
Pro Tip: You can make this ahead of time. It stores well in the fridge.
Why We Love It: How cute are these personal caprese bowls? Brought to us by Half Baked Harvest, they bring a delightful twist to the classic salad. They're complete with honeydew, watermelon, cantaloupe, burrata, basil, and a light lemon vinaigrette. It doesn't get easier than this!
Meyer Lemon Crab Bites
The Recipe: Meyer Lemon Chive Crab Bites
The Hero Ingredient: Sweet crab meat stars here.
Pro Tip: Opt for a high-quality mayonnaise.
Why We Love It: Though the pretty bright hues and fancy presentation make this dish from Salt & Wind look like it takes a ton of time to create, it actually only requires five minutes of your time. Seriously. If you want to cook your own crab meat, it may take a little longer, but otherwise you just have to assemble these Meyer lemon bites with the radishes and add a few garnishes.
Vegan Snack Board
The Recipe: The Ultimate Vegan Snack Board
The Hero Ingredient: All three dips are noteworthy in their own right—how could we pick just one?
Pro Tip: When it comes to the balsamic mushroom and olive pâté, you can switch out the crimini mushrooms for shiitakes if you want.
Why We Love It: This vegan snack board from The First Mess hits the holiday appetizer jackpot. It's beautifully colorful, simple to put together, and it has a nice mix of flavors and textures. There's a velvety roasted garlic and butternut squash dip with sesame, a balsamic olive and mushroom pâté, and a soft cashew "cheese" spread. We want it all…
Baked Goat Cheese
The Recipe: Baked Goat Cheese
The Hero Ingredient: The goat cheese is key here.
Pro Tip: You can broil the dish to give the goat cheese a golden crust.
Why We Love It: This dip by A Couple Cooks offers a dollop of goat cheese melted on top of a garlicky roasted tomato sauce. Pair it with baguette slices to serve and it'll be gone in the blink of an eye.
Oven Roasted Artichokes
The Recipe: Oven Roasted Artichokes
The Hero Ingredient: Butter brings out the best in these artichokes.
Pro Tip: Use kitchen scissors to properly prep your artichokes.
Why We Love It: While never the easiest to prepare, your guests will appreciate the effort you put in these nutty, oven-roasted artichokes by Add 1 Tbsp. "There is something primitively satisfying about using your teeth to scrape butter-drenched leaf flesh from those petals," blogger Evan Kalman assures.
Baked Coconut Shrimp
The Recipe: Baked Coconut Shrimp
The Hero Ingredient: Shredding coconut ensures that savory-sweet combination.
Pro Tip: Use almond flour instead of regular to make this shrimp gluten and nearly carb-free.
Why We Love It: This healthier take on coconut shrimp by The Modern Proper is just as enjoyable. Be sure to provide a chili paste and honey dipping sauce and these shrimp will fly off the plate.
The Recipe: Mushroom Toast
The Hero Ingredient: A creative mix of mushrooms, from porcini to oyster, king trumpet, and hen of the woods, sets this toast recipe apart.
Pro Tip: Make your own crème fraîche rather than opting for the store-bought kind.
Why We Love It: Mushrooms are cooked in dry white wine in this Add 1 Tbsp recipe for maximum flavor. Then, crème fraîche is mixed in and the combination is spooned on top of toasted bread.
Mediterranean-Style Zucchini Fritters
The Hero Ingredient: Zucchini stars here.
Pro Tip: Dehydrate your zucchini and onions by tossing them in salt and squeezing out the liquid. This will keep your fritters from falling apart.
Why We Love It: These zucchini fritters with parmesan cheese from The Modern Proper seriously hit the spot. Make your own tzatziki dipping sauce for a perfect pairing.
Baked Brie Fondue
The Recipe: Baked Brie Fondue with Roasted Figs and Honey
The Hero Ingredient: Roasted figs add a sweet counterpart to the salty brie cheese.
Pro Tip: After baking the brie, slice around the edges of the rind so that cheese can flow out in a fondue fashion.
Why We Love It: We're salivating just looking at the photo of this baked brie by The Butter Half. It's topped with figs, rosemary, olive oil, and honey and can be dipped into with crackers or bread.