Vegetarian Christmas Starters
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Photo: Christopher Testani
Kick off a long night of holiday festivities with shareable, crowd-pleasing dishes that won't take away time from the other foods you'll be serving at your Christmas dinner. Between melty brie crostinis and light crunchy salads, we offer plenty of tasty, creative ways to start the feast sans meat. Say goodbye to greasy dips and fat-laden spreads, and go for these lighter, wholesome options that will have all the guests asking for the recipe.
Mini Cheese Balls
Save 108 calories, 7g sat fat, and 69mg sodium per serving over a traditional cheese ball. Almond milk cream cheese is delicately nutty, with a buttery-rich texture and zero grams of sat fat. Find it at Whole Foods stores nationwide. You can substitute 1⁄3-less-fat cream cheese, which adds 1.6g sat fat to each serving.
Pear, Brie, and Balsamic Bruschetta
This bruschetta is both sweet, with pear slices and honey, and savory because of the Brie cheese and balsamic drizzle. Perfect for entertaining, these adorable bruschetta bites are a light way to kick off a dinner, plus they come together quickly and easily.
Blood Orange and Radicchio Salad
This salad is a beautiful addition to any table spread with its vibrant orange and deep magenta hues. Hearty radicchio and fennel have real staying power—even after they've been tossed with dressing—which makes this ideal for times when you need a make-ahead salad for a buffet or to take to a potluck. We love the color of blood oranges, but you can use all naval or Cara Cara oranges.
• • Gluten-Free Tip: Although agave doesn't contain gluten, it's a highly-processed sugar alternative that's considerably sweeter than sugar. Sub with raw honey if this bothers you and check for potential gluten-containing additives.
Sesame-Soy Nut and Pretzel Mix
If any one dish is devoured quickly and constantly (usually by the fistful) throughout the holiday, it’s snack mix. Consisting of salty nuts, pretzels, and cereal doused with a Worcestershire and butter, this innocent munchie racks up sodium and calories quickly. Our healthier version gives you all the salt, crunch, and bold spices of the original with the addition of whole-grain popcorn, toasty whole-wheat cereal, and spicy wasabi peas. The peas inspired an Asian track with toasty sesame oil and reduced-sodium soy sauce, cashews, and pungent ground ginger.
Foolproof Cheese Fondue
Fondue is forever tied to the kitschy themed parties of the 1960s and 70s, but the dish is worth reviving: It's a casual, fun way to entertain. Nutritionally, fondue is a great way to stretch the calorie and saturated fat content of rich cheeses over several servings without losing any melty goodness. We add evaporated milk to make the base even creamier with fewer calories and less saturated fat. Guests will keep coming back for more. Any Gruyère works wonderfully here, but the aged kind has a bigger, nuttier flavor. While a double boiler is used in many recipes, you'll need a heavy saucepan and direct heat here to activate the cornstarch and thicken the fondue. Serve with tart, crisp apples and crusty whole-grain bread.
Kale and Pomegranate Salad
Photo: Christopher Testani
Balancing hearty bites of kale and sweet notes of pomegranate, this salad is a flavorful, seasonal way to kick off a holiday meal. Packed with vitamins, and nutrients, kale and pomegranates are both superfoods that make for a wholesome, healthy salad. This starter is colorful and crowd-approved, making it the obvious option for your next hosting gig.
Baked Brie with Golden Raisin Compote
Gold trophies might be the coveted prize at the award show, but this brie topped with golden raisin compote will be the prize at your viewing party. This hearty appetizer is best made ahead of time, before your guests arrive.
This homemade hummus is a great appetizer for holiday parties and casual dinner get-togethers alike. Healthy dippers include baby carrots, bell peppers, pita chips, radishes, jicama, and sugar snap peas.
Creamy Butternut-Leek Bisque
Whole-grain quinoa simmers in the soup and then gets blended into the mix—resulting in a thick, creamy, luscious texture. Don’t be afraid to let the blender go for a couple of minutes; that’s the path to super-smooth results. We call for precut-prepped butternut squash because it’s a real time-saver, slashing up to 20 minutes of prep time; you’ll find bags of the peeled, cubed squash in the produce section with the bags of broccoli florets and other prepared-prepped veggies. For the prettiest appearance, go with beige-colored quinoa and skip red or tricolored varieties. Greek yogurt goes into the soup to brighten the taste, and another dollop goes on top as a finishing touch along with crunchy almonds.
Photo: Christopher Testani
Unlike classic pesto, there's no oil in this filling. Once everything is minced in the food processor, though, it develops a paste-like consistency. Thaw the pastry in the fridge overnight, or leave out at room temperature for an hour or two.
Butternut Squash Queso Fundido
Butternut squash adds distinct flavor (and color) to this satisfyingly cheesy dip. To make it vegetarian, sub vegetable stock for the chicken stock. If you prefer, you can roast a halved, seeded butternut squash at 350° for 45 minutes or until soft. Scoop 10 ounces of flesh, and use in place of the puree.
It’s hard to believe there’s anything you can do to make a creamy French cheese any better than it already is, but we found a new way to take it to a new level. As the summer beats on, you can still keep this party starter on the roster—just exchange the cherries for the most seasonal fruit: nectarines, plums, peaches, and blueberries all make a delicious pairings.
Veggie-centric meals highlight the best of the season's flavors. This vegetarian menu is no exception, with everything from sweet potato casserole to stuffed butternut squashes. Even the most dedicated of meat eaters will enjoy these plant-based dishes.
These Spinach-Artichoke Bites save 167 calories, 3.6g sat fat, and 393mg sodium per serving over traditional spinach-artichoke dip. Frozen artichoke hearts contain no added salt, unlike the canned variety, which may contain more than 300mg per half cup.
Tricolored Beet Tart
Start your holiday meal with a simple yet gorgeous beet tart, topped off with tangy goat cheese, crunchy hazelnuts, and flaky sea salt. Par-bake the crust to get a lovely raised edge (what forms the shell of your tart) and ensure that the bottom will be cooked through. If you or your guests are not beet fans, substitute sweet potatoes: Wrap 4 (4-ounce) sweet potatoes in parchment paper, and microwave at HIGH 3 minutes. Then cool, peel, and slice. You can also sub feta for goat cheese and pecans or walnuts for hazelnuts.
We use the tart-shell method from the master recipe for a fuss-free version of the classic Greek spinach-and-cheese-pastry. A little pimiento, brightened with vinegar, adds pop; you could also sub chopped olives. Make sure to drain the spinach mixture well; extra liquid could make the crust soggy. Let the spinach drain while the crust bakes. Build and finish baking the tart shortly before guests arrive.
Marinated Feta Skewers
Photo: Christopher Testani
If you can find a container of multicolored tomatoes, use those for the prettiest presentation.
Vegetarian Starters Recipe
Vegetarian starters are perfect for a dinner party, whether you're vegetarian, cooking for vegetarians or want to try something light and fresh ahead of a meaty main course.
Our pick of vegetarian starter recipes includes easy vegetarian soups like carrot and coriander, to impressive starters like stuffed artichokes or open ravioli (which are a lot easier to make that they look). Whatever you prefer, you're sure to find a vegetarian starter recipe for your dinner party.
Of course, you don't have to be vegetarian to serve up a vegetarian starter at a dinner party. They're so easy to make that they take the hassle out of cooking and you can get on with the main course. There are so many different recipes for you to try that you'll find yourself coming back for a different one each time you host for friends and family.
For a sophisticated vegetarian starter, give these stuffed artichokes a go. Don't be put off if you've never prepared an artichoke before, it's surprisingly easy and really tasty, so it's worth the effort - and our video shows you how to prepare them quickly and easily, with no waste.
QUICK TIP: Not all cheese are vegetarian, so it's best to check the pacakging if you're unsure. In many cases, you can find substitues - for example, Parmesan cheese is not suitable for vegetarians, biut you can find vegetarian Italian hard cheese at most supermarkets.
Try something new this weekend and give one of our vegetarian starters a go. They'll be a guaranteed hit with guests and you'll find yourself making them time and time again.
Click through for more vegetarian starters.
6 vegetarian Christmas starters to inspire you
Zingy salads, delicious dips and oozy burrata, these vegetarian Christmas starter recipes show that there are many ways you can avoid the standard smoked salmon, terrines and meat patés. Our favourite cooks, from Nigella to Ottolenghi, share their best starters for a special festive spread.
This bright festive salad combines crunchy winter radicchio and chicory, sweet red peppers, pops of pomegranate and a zingy clementine dressing. Elegant perfection!
Creamy, oozy burrata is a fresh cheese made from mozzarella and cream, and pairs well with acidic fruit, such as tomatoes, pink grapefruit, clementine or blood oranges. Ottolenghi pairs burrata with striking blood oranges here, but if you can't get hold of them, swap in another fruit instead.
"It’s amazing how incredibly elegant, silky and delicate beetroots can be", says Jamie Oliver. The trick here is to invest in a mandolin or make sure you have a super-sharp knife to cut the beets into extra-thin slices. Marinated in balsamic and olive oil, and served with rocket, this is a beautiful starter for Christmas Day.
The beets and leeks can be cooked the day before which will help you to get ahead of the Christmas rush. Paired with rocket, pomegranate seeds and a walnut dressing, this is a lovely, light salad to kick off dinner.
Crunchy and golden on the outside, and molten, oozy cheese on the inside, these crisp Camembert slices are pure heaven. Paired here with the sweet sourness of a Morello cherry dressing, this is a delicious veggie starter.
Making your own hummus is so simple, blitzed up here with jarred chickpeas and sweet, roasted garlic. Nigella recommends serving up this vegetarian nibble or starter with grissini, toasted pitta torn into bits, or crudités.
For Rachel Khoo, there is one recipe above all others in her My Little French Kitchen book that whisks her straight back to her childhood, and reminds her just how much her cooking is influenced by her mother.
This fabulous dinner party menu from Rachel Khoo is oozing with festive style. Inspired by her love of simple yet elegant French food, this equisite menu is perfect for entertaining guests over the festive period.
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Vegetarian starter recipes
Whether you are catering for a party of vegetarians, a mixed group, or simply looking to have a little less meat on the menu, vegetarian cooking has come a long, long way since stuffed peppers and lentils. To banish that stigma once and for all, we have collected a wealth of meat-free starter recipes to delight - and, in some cases, surprise - your guests.
If you don’t want to stray too far from tradition, try Marcus Wareing’s plum tomato bruschetta with poached eggs for an innovative twist on a dinner party staple, which offers a gorgeous combination of textures and flavours.
Beetroot is one of the heroes of this collection, providing a burst of colour and flavour to several dishes. Adam Gray combines three different varieties in his roasted baby beetroots with blue cheese, or for a visually stunning opening dish Josh Eggleton’s pickled beetroot and sheep’s cheese salad is guaranteed to impress.
Vegetarian Tofu Gnocchi
Traditional gnocchi is made with potatoes and is usually a starch course. Turn it into a protein-packed main course by making vegetarian tofu gnocchi. Then choose the gourmet sauce to use with it, such as vegan pistou sauce, vegan mushroom cream sauce, or vegan artichoke and walnut pesto.
Vegetarian starter recipes
Opting for a vegetarian starter opens up a whole new world of fantastic, colourful and by no means less satisfying dishes to impress your guests. Many classic Italian starters – think risotto, pasta and gnocchi – work beautifully without meat or fish, offering a tasty and indulgent start to a meal. If you are catering for vegetarians it would be worth finding out in advance their attitude to cheese – some Italian cheeses, such as Parmesan, pecorino and Gorgonzola, are made with animal rennet and your guests might feel more comfortable with a vegetarian alternative.
Test your plating skills with Fabrizio Marino's beautiful Butterfly salad, or try his vegetable tempura recipe – which also happens to be gluten-free – served with a sweet and sour dip. The Costardi Brothers' Chilli and garlic risotto recipe makes an easy and filling starter dish, while Alessandro Gavagna's Barbecued potato salad is the perfect start to an al fresco feast.
Here's what you'll need.
- 500g butternut squash, peeled and cut into small cubes
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 200g feta cheese, cut into small cubes
- 200g hummus (shop-bought or homemade)
- 200g blanched almonds
- 100g shelled pistachios
- 50g dried cranberries
- 24 sheets phyllo (filo) pastry
- Olive oil to brush the pastry, as needed
- Salt and pepper to season
- A little ground cinnamon to dust (optional)
- Kitchen string to tie the crackers (optional)
The filling can be made a day in advance but don’t fill the crackers until you’re ready to bake them otherwise the pastry may become soggy. Any leftovers can be reheated in the oven.
Wondering what to serve your vegan holiday guests this season? Put your mind at ease, because I have created a recipe for a decadent Holiday Vegetarian Roast that fits the…
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