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When choosing a vegetable appetizer, it’s best to consider personal time constraints, cooking abilities, and the tastes of friends and family who will be eating it. A cook who is pressed for time or has little cooking experience should stick to vegetable appetizers that are easy to prepare or purchase them already prepared. A wise cook will also consider special dietary needs, allergies, or preferences. Health-conscious eaters might not appreciate deep-fried mushrooms, while vegetarians and vegans will appreciate a vegetable appetizer made without animal products. As appetizers are eaten before the main meal and frequently while standing or conversing, they should be easy to eat with one hand and in one or two bites.
By definition, an appetizer is a prelude to the courses of a larger meal and is meant to stimulate the appetite, although it may help ease the wait for a meal that is taking a long time to prepare. A vegetable appetizer is an excellent way to achieve both these means and to boost the nutritional content of the meal. As these foods are lighter than those containing grains and protein, vegetables are a popular and versatile choice for an hors d’oeuvre.
Perhaps the simplest way to serve a vegetable appetizer is to offer a selection of uncooked vegetables cut into sticks and served with a dip. These crudités often consist of carrot sticks, celery sticks, and any other vegetable that can be cut into bite-sized pieces and be eaten raw. Frequently, they are served with a creamy dip, like salad dressing, or a bean dip, like hummus made from garbanzo beans.
Sometimes the vegetable appetizer may make up the dip itself. Guacamole, salsa, and baba ghanouj are all examples of dips based on pureed or chopped vegetables. Mexican guacamole is usually made from avocados and seasonings but may also be made from peas, asparagus, or other green vegetable puree.
Salsa can be made from tomatoes; onions; and other vegetables, fruits, and seasonings. Like guacamole, salsa can be served with tortilla chips for dipping. Baba ghanouj is a Middle Eastern vegetable appetizer made from pureed eggplant that tastes great with baked pita chips.
Some appetizer creations can bridge the gap between art and food for the more ambitious cook. Due to the rigid structure of many vegetables, they can be carved and hollowed out and used to serve richer fillings. A cucumber, with strips of peel removed, can be cut into 1-inch (2- or 3-cm) chunks, hollowed out, and filled with deviled egg filling or mayonnaise-based dip. Radishes can be cut into halves and carved into edible bowls for various fillings. Herb garnishes and curly vegetable peel shavings can add aesthetic appeal to these miniature works of art.
If a meal is going to be on the light side, a richer vegetable appetizer that contains ingredients like eggs or cheese is appropriate. Mini cheese and vegetable tarts and vegetable and egg frittatas baked in mini muffin pans can make a good vegetable appetizer for those who desire richer appetizers. Nearly any vegetable may be deep fried and served with a spicy or rich dip. Vegetable quesadillas, which are simply vegetables and melted cheese between two tortillas, can be cut into bite-sized pieces and served with a tomato salsa.
For a cook who is under time constraints, the best vegetable appetizer to make may be the one that requires the least preparation. Marinated olives and mushrooms can be bought at many grocery store salad bars and delis. The freezer section of the local grocery store contains a plethora of frozen vegetable appetizer choices that need only a few minutes in the oven to prepare.
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