This post was sponsored by Zehrs Markets. What does that mean? I was paid to develop three quick and simple appetizer recipes that come together in 20 minutes and are good to have in your repertoire when someone shows up unannounced over the holidays — or anytime really. The ideas, opinions and wording of this post are entirely my own. Sponsored posts help me to cover the costs of maintaining this website.
I really love cooking for other people.
But I have a serious mental block when it comes to serving appetizers at big dinners and dos that I host. It gets the least brainpower of anything — if I remember to devote any thought to it at all — because I’m so preoccupied with getting the timing of the big meal and all its moving parts right.
So, appetizers are often an afterthought or the source of an ‘Oh no’ moment when guests arrive, and I realize I have nothing to tide them over until dinner except scintillating conversation and I might be overstating the scintillating part.
The problem is, I can’t bring myself to pull a box of frozen whatever out of the freezer when I’ve been doing everything else from scratch — not that there’s anything wrong with that but I feel like I should be giving everything coming out of my kitchen the same attention. The other problem is I’m a bit of a procrastinator, so while I leave myself enough time to get everything done for dinner, I don’t schedule any wiggle room for last-minute appetizers.
Me shopping at Zehrs for ingredients.
It’s safe to say I’m not in the running for Miss Conviviality. But I’d like to think I would be after the latest Food Lovers Unite challenge to create three quick and simple appetizer recipes that come together in 20 minutes and are good to have in your repertoire when someone shows up unannounced over the holidays — or anytime really — or you’ve forgotten the appetizer entirely until guests are at the door.
Truth is, for as bad as I am at planning for appetizers, I do enjoy eating them. So, I decided to draw on a few of my favourite things for these, the ingredients for which I found at my local Zehrs store. Zehrs is my go-to for my holiday cooking needs, and everything I used in each recipe is available there.
Mini Kimchi Pancakes
First up are mini kimchi pancakes. I eat kimchi pancakes for breakfast, lunch or dinner. So why not as an appetizer?
Kimchi is the quintessential Korean food, served at every meal, and, depending on who you ask, it embodies the cultural identity of a nation. It’s ridiculously good for you because it’s a fermented food — think of it as Korean Sauerkraut — loaded with good bacteria for our guts and a healthy gut is an important line of defence during cold season.
Cooked up in a pancake, you lose some of those benefits that come from eating Kimchi raw, but it’s still loaded with vegetables and tastes incredible. Kimchi pancakes are salty, tangy, carb-loaded comfort, and lip-smacking when dipped into soy-vinegar sauce.
Next up are za’atar twists, a less involved spin on the cheese straw. These puff pastry bites are generously dusted with za’atar, a variety of wild thyme native to the Middle East, but a name often associated with a spice mixture from the region that includes tangy sumac and nutty sesame seeds. PC Black Label has a za’atar mix available in the spice aisle at my local Zehrs store and I always have a jar on hand to use in recipes like this one.
Keep napkins handy, though. The puff pastry vessel will leave a trail of crumbs wherever it’s eaten. These will also disappear quickly. I had to make four different batches for this challenge because my husband kept eating them before I could photograph them.
Grilled Halloumi and Carrot Top Pesto Baguettes
And finally, the last appetizer is a small bite that’s the full package of balanced flavours and textures. It’s Halloumi and carrot top pesto baguette bites. Briny, squeaky Halloumi is countered by a fresh hit of herbaceous carrot top pesto, brightened with lemons, made toothsome with walnuts, and complemented with a small handful of mint. Served on baguette — toasted or not — it’s a grab-and-go nibble that can be eaten while hovering over the hors d’oeuvre table or snatched up while passing by on the way to the bar cart or a comfy seat.
Whether you’re making or eating these appetizers at the last minute — or both — we’re all food lovers, and ’tis the season to celebrate that regardless of the planning involved.
Enjoy the season, whatever you’re eating and serving.
For the pancakes
- 2 cups of kimchi, drained, squeezed and chopped (reserving the kimchi juice)
- 2 scallions finely chopped + 1 scallion thinly sliced for garnish
- 1/2 cup kimchi juice
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup canola oil, divided
For the soy-vinegar dipping sauce
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon gochujaru (Korean chilli powder) or cayenne
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
Drain kimchi over a medium-sized bowl and squeeze out excess liquid, reserving 1/2 cup of kimchi juice.
Chop drained kimchi and set aside.
Add water and flour to the kimchi juice, stirring until smooth. Add the kimchi and the scallions, stirring until everything is well-combined.
In a large skillet (12-inches), heat half the canola oil over medium heat. Scoop 1/4-cupfuls of batter into the hot pan and flatten the batter with the bottom of your 1/4-measuring cup. You should be able to fit at least three, possibly four pancakes per batch. Pancakes will be about 3 to 4 inches in diameter.
Cook pancakes until they start to turn golden-brown on one side, about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until they get crisp and golden brown on the other, about 2 to 3 more minutes.
Remove pancakes and place on a cooling rack over top of a sheet pan to catch any excess oil or drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
Repeat with the remaining batter, adding remaining canola oil for cooking as necessary.
While pancakes are cooking, make the dipping sauce. Combine the ingredients in a small bowl, whisking until the sugar is dissolved.
Transfer the pancakes to a large plate or platter, garnish with remaining scallion and serve alongside the dipping sauce.
- 4-5 tablespoons za’atar, divided
- 2 generous pinches of salt (three-finger pinches)
- 1 large roll of puff pastry (about 16 inches long), cut in half vertically
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tablespoon of water
Preheat oven to 400°F (204°C).
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a ramekin, combine za’atar and salt and set aside.
Beat egg and water in a small bowl and set aside.
Unroll puff pastry onto a floured work surface. Roll pastry lightly with a rolling pin to work out any creases, then cut the pastry in half vertically. You’ll be left with two rectangles. Turn them 90 degrees so a long edge is parallel to you.
Brush the first rectangle entirely with the egg wash. Evenly spread half the za’atar and salt mixture onto the puff pastry ensuring the entire surface is covered.
Layer the second piece of puff pastry on top of the first, ensuring edges line up, and press down gently with your hands.
Brush the surface of the second layer of puff pastry with the egg wash. Then spread the remaining spice mixture, covering the entire surface.
Gently roll a rolling pin over the spice mixture to help it stick. Cut the rectangle in half again, this time lengthwise. Trim any uneven edges of the puff pastry and discard.
Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the rectangle vertically into quarter-inch strips. Taking one strip at a time, twist both ends in the opposite direction several times and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with each strip of pastry, placing them about 1 inch apart.
Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown, switching the baking sheet on the top rack with that on the lower rack after about six minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Serve alone or added to a cheeseboard.
- 1 small baguette, sliced in quarter-inch pieces
- 1 250-gram block of Halloumi (roughly half a pound), sliced eighth-inch slices
- 2 scant teaspoons of canola oil
For the Carrot Top Pesto
- 1 small bunch carrot tops, woody stems removed
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
- 1/2 cup raw walnuts
- 1 clove of garlic, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt to taste
Slice the baguette and set aside or, if toasting, spread out on a sheet pan and toast in the oven at 400°F for 5-8 minutes, flipping halfway through. (You only want a light toast.)
For the Grilled Halloumi
Heat canola oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet.
Spread Halloumi slices in skillet and fry, two minutes per side or until the Halloumi turns golden brown.
For the Carrot Top Pesto
As the Halloumi cooks, place all the pesto ingredients except the olive oil and salt in a food processor and blitz until everything is finely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the food processor.
Add the olive oil and blitz again until the pesto reaches desired consistency. Ideally, it will be a chunky paste rather than a thin pesto.
Add salt to taste and give one last blitz to combine.
Remove Halloumi from skillet and set aside.
Place one slice of Halloumi on each piece of baguette and top with a spoonful of carrot pesto. Serve immediately.
Store any leftover pesto in the fridge in an airtight container for up to three days or freeze in an ice cube tray and use within six months.