Food & dining

A fresh look at favorite hors d’oeuvres

Eggplant bahn mi.
Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff. Styled by Sheryl Julian, Isabel Furie, and Valerie Ryan
Eggplant bahn mi.

For many years, a cocktail party wasn’t complete without a chafing dish filled with sweet and sour meatballs containing “exotic” ingredients like chili sauce, grape jelly, and pineapple. We became too sophisticated for those meatballs in recent years. But the little rounds, baked until golden, and served with a brown sugar and cider vinegar glaze, is a classy update of the retro favorite.

That kinder, gentler version of the dish comes from Steve LaCount, chef and owner of Chiara Bistro in Westwood. Often, what’s popular at restaurants — particularly the small plates and nibbles — are ideal hors d’oeuvres for the home cook. We gathered a handful of good ideas and great recipes from local chefs to update your party repertoire. And like the meatballs, they’re all a fresh look at some past favorites.

For a completely different tasty mouthful, chef Robert Grant of The Blue Room in Cambridge stuffs Peppadews with tuna salad. The bright, red peppers, pickled hot or mild, and sold in jars or by the pound, are deliciously spicy and sweet. As for the little flavor bomb, says the chef, “Just pop it in there, in one bite.”


Filled little pastry pockets are always fun at parties. Peter McCarthy, chef and co-owner of EVOO in Cambridge, says, “No matter what we put in them, people really like them.” Here, easy-to-make (and bake) empanadas, with creamy goat cheese and caramelized onions, are wrapped in flaky pastry. If you have a hankering for a nibble that’s delicate, less time-consuming, and a little pricey, Bistro du Midi chef and partner Robert Sisca suggests serving ceviche with local bay scallops. A citrus marinade “cooks” the sweet nuggets, a tart apple offers a nice balance, and jalapeno provides the heat.

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For something bolder, assemble flavor-packed Vietnamese banh mi. Tim Maslow, chef and co-owner of Strip T’s in Watertown, composes a vegetarian sandwich of meltingly tender braised eggplant, pan-fried tofu, and pickled grated carrots on crusty bread with mayonnaise and sriracha.

Another vegetable hor d’oeuvre can be made with sauteed broccoli rabe tossed with golden raisins and pine nuts, heaped onto toasted bread. Carla Pallotta, chef and co-owner of Nebo Ristorante/Enoteca in the North End, says the recipe is one of “many easy things you can do and not spend the whole day cooking.”

We think that’s a fine way to entertain.

Lisa Zwirn can be reached at