Appetizers from Around the World (Cocktail Party Foods)

It’s cocktail party time again.  Here is an array of vegan munchies that you can make for your own holiday shindig, or take along to a potluck party.

The first recipe is my own adaptation of my favorite cocktail nibble, cheese straws.  Most Southern cheese straws are made with cheddar cheese.  Unfortunately, none of the vegan cheddars on the market have the proper fatty consistency to bake a crisp, flaky cheese straw.  I substituted vegan parmesan for the cheddar, and whole wheat pastry flour for the white flour.  Earth Balance non-hydrogenated margarine stands in for the butter.  They’re really great.  I think I like the Crispy Cocktail Cookie variation even better!

Southern Vegan “Cheese” Cocktail Cookies

Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett
Makes about 36
Preparation Time: 30 minutes

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup margarine Earth Balance
1/2 pound grated vegan Parmesan cheese (Soyco Vegan Parm)
24  pecan halves

In a mixer or food processor bowl, stir flour, salt, and cayenne pepper together.  Add softened Earth Balance and vegan parmesan.  Mix until dough begins to come together.  (If dough is still dry, add a bit more margarine.)  Shape dough into small balls (I use a #40 ice cream scoop, or a heaping teaspoon).  Flatten each ball between your palms, place it on the parchment-lined cookie sheet, and flatten it a bit more. Press a pecan half into each cookie.  Bake at 350 F for 10 – 12 minutes, or until golden brown.  Cool.  Pack carefully into an airtight tin or freeze until needed.  Serve as a nibble with cocktails.
Variation:  Crispy Cocktail Cookies:  Add 2 additional tablespoons of Earth Balance and then stir in 1/2 cup of brown rice crisp cereal (like Erewhon Original Crispy Brown Rice)by hand.  Shape dough into small balls and flatten.  Omit pecan halves.  Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.

Vegan Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pies)

Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett
Makes 48
Preparation Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

2 pounds spinach* washed, chopped
1/4 cup scallions chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley chopped
1/4 cup fresh dill chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup onions** chopped
1 pound firm tofu crumbled
2 tablespoons umeboshi plum vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 package filo dough sheet thawed

Shred spinach and mix with scallions, parsley, dill, and salt. Let stand 10 minutes. Squeeze out moisture by the handful. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and saute onions until transparent, about 5 minutes.

Crumble tofu into a bowl and sprinkle with umeboshi plum vinegar.  It will look pink now, but don’t worry – the color goes away in the dish.  The umeboshi vinegar is salty-sour and will make the tofu taste a lot like feta.

Stir spinach mixture and tofu in with onions. Remove from heat and cool, stirring occasionally, to room temperature.

Remove filo from package and cover carefully with a damp cloth.  Working quickly, remove one sheet from the package and recover the remaining sheets.

Brush surface of filo with olive oil, spreading it all the way to the outside edges, and lay another sheet of filo on top.  Cut these across the long side into four strips.  Place a heaping tablespoon of filling on the end of one strip, and then fold the filo into triangles up the length of the strip, like folding a flag or one of those paper footballs you probably made in elementary school.  Place the folded triangles on the baking sheet with the loose end tucked underneath.

(You can hold the spankopita at this point in the refrigerator, covered on their baking sheets or stacked carefully in a tupperware container, separated by plastic wrap or waxed paper for 1 day and bake them the day of the party.)

Brush the tops with a little olive oil. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp and delicately browned.  Serve hot or warm.
Notes: * or you can use frozen spinach.  I like the kind in the bag.  Thaw it in a colander, squeeze out the extra moisture, and then proceed with the recipe.

**or skip the onions and just add more chopped scallions.  Then there’s no pre-cooking needed!

Turkish Baked, Stuffed Mushrooms

Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett, adapted from 30 Minute Turkish Vegetarian, by Sarah Beattie
Makes about 16 – 24 (depending on size of ‘shrooms)
Preparation Time 20 minutes

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil divided
1/2 pound firm tofu crumbled
3 cloves garlic chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegan parmesan
3 cups mushrooms (12 oz package), stems removed
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 425 F.  Use 1/4 cup of olive oil to liberally oil one large or four individual baking dishes.

In a food processor, combine tofu, reserved olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and vegan parmesan, and process until this forms a smooth mixture.  The mixture will resemble cream cheese in consistency.

Remove the stems from the mushrooms (set aside for another use).  Clean the caps by rinsing them under water and rubbing the tops of the caps to remove any dirt.*

Fill the hollows of the mushrooms either by using a small spoon, or by piping the “cheese” filling into the mushrooms with a pastry bag.  Piping the filling in with a fancy tip makes them a lot prettier.

Cover the dish with foil, and bake the mushrooms at 425 F for 10 minutes.  Serve them hot with a sprinkling of parsley.

Variation:  add some chopped parsley, oregano, basil, thyme, or your favorite herb(s) to the “cheese” filling.
Notes: *Contrary to what you might have heard, washing mushrooms will not cause them to absorb water and turn the dish watery.  The only time it is unwise to wash mushrooms is if you will be serving them raw, as in a salad.  Washing them will cause the mushrooms to go dark.  If you are planning on serving them raw, just wipe the caps carefully with a damp cloth or paper towel.  Otherwise, give them a thorough washing.

Hiziki Caviar (Russia, by way of Japan)
Hiziki is a very strong-tasting seaweed, more assertive than arame.
Finely chopped and seasoned with soy and ginger, striking black
hiziki is truly the poor man’s caviar, especially when served over
soy sour cream on a blini. Or try try it on sesame seed crackers, as
an accompaniment to an Asian-style rice and vegetable dish, or with
any grain.

Recipe from The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, Peter Berley
Makes 1 cup
Preparation Time: 1 hour to soak hiziki, plus 15 minutes to cook

1 ounce hiziki seaweed (about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons light sesame oil or extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons naturally brewed soy sauce (tamari)
2 tablespoons mirin (a Japanese cooking wine)
1 2-inch piece of finely grated gingerroot, squeezed to yield 1 tbsp ginger juice
coarse sea salt

There are two different styles of hiziki available. One is gnarled,
thick, wiry, and up to 4 inches in length, while the other is thinner
and is sold in 1/2-inch pieces. Either will work in this recipe. When
a recipe calls for hiziki or other dried sea vegetables, such as
wakame or dulse, it is best measured by weight.

Combine the hiziki and warm water to cover by 3 inches in a bowl. Set
aside for 1 hour, or until the hiziki is swollen and tender. Drain
the hiziki in a strainer and rinse well under cold running water.
Transfer it to a cutting surface and finely chop.

In a saute pan over medium heat, warm the oil Add the hiziki and
saute for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the soy sauce, mirin, and ginger juice plus enough fresh water to
cover. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until dry. Add
salt to taste.

Lisa’s serving suggestion:  Mix one container of Tofutti Better than Cream Cheese and one container of Tofutti Sour Supreme.  Put in the center of a plate.  Top with “caviar” and finely chopped roasted red pepper (from a jar).  Serve with crackers.

Almond-Stuffed “Bacon”-Wrapped Dates (Spain)
This sweet and smoky/salty combination of flavors is a little bit of heaven.  Fortunately, they’re really quick and easy to make!

Recipe By: Lisa Bennett, adapted from
Serves 6
Preparation Time: 20 minutes

4 ounces blanched whole almonds
1 pound dates (pitted)
1/2 pound tempeh Fakin Bacon
olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.

Put an almond into each date.  Wrap a piece of Fakin Bacon around each date and secure it with a toothpick.  Brush Fakin Bacon with olive oil.  Place dates on cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until Fakin Bacon is lightly browned.  Don’t over-bake them, however.  The Fakin Bacon won’t get as crisp as regular bacon, even with the olive oil.

Serve warm.
Notes: I tried both Smart Bacon and Fakin’ Bacon brands in this recipe, and the Fakin’ Bacon won hands-down for both flavor and texture.

Lemony Garlicky Hummus (Middle Eastern)

Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett
Makes 2 cups
Preparation Time: 15 minutes

1 15 oz can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
2 cloves garlic chopped (up to 4)
2 tablespoons lemon juice (freshly squeezed or Santa Cruz Organic)
2 tablespoons tahini (sesame butter)
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
water to thin mixture
cayenne to taste, optional
extra virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients into food processor workbowl and process until smooth.  Add water as desired to smooth texture.  Spoon into a bowl – pour on a little olive oil and sprinkle with cayenne if desired.  You may also dress bowl with chopped parsley (fresh or dried) and a little paprika.

Serve hummus with pita bread, raw vegetables (baby carrots or carrot sticks, cucumber slices), or use as a sandwich spread, especially in wraps.

Notes: Hummus will thicken upon standing (tahini sucks up water like a sponge).  Taste leftovers and add lemon juice first if it needs any to perk up the flavor, then add a little water as necessary to get desired consistency.

Hummus Pinwheels

6 – 8 bite-sized sandwiches each.
Preparation Time: 5 minutes, plus several hours to chill before slicing

Take a Thin Thin wrap, a lavash, or a large whole wheat tortilla and spread with 1/2 cup hummus, then layer on 2-3 lettuce leaves, 1/4 cup shredded carrots, and about 2 tablespoons chopped black or green olives.  Roll tightly and wrap in plastic wrap.  Let set in the  fridge for several hours, then slice each wrap into 6 sandwich rounds  and place on a platter.  Make as many as you need for your crowd.

Variation:  Use roasted red pepper instead of carrot.

Not Your Mother’s Onion Dip (Mid-Century American)

Most commercial soup mixes use meat extracts as part of their “natural flavors”, so be sure to buy a “clean” brand like Fantastic Foods.

Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett
Make 1 1/2 cups
Preparation Time: 10 minutes

1 package firm or extra firm MoriNu silken tofu (12.3 oz)
1/3 cup canola or olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar (unbleached)
1 teaspoon salt
1 package Fantastic Foods dry onion soup mix

Puree tofu in food processor until smooth, creamy, and glossy, scraping down the sides of the container once or twice during processing.  Add other ingredients, process until thoroughly mixed, then chill.  Serve with potato chips and/or raw veggies.

Ginger Sparkle Cookies (American)

Recipe By Lisa T. Bennett
Makes 60
Preparation Time: 1 hour

1 1/2 teaspoons Ener-G egg replacer powder
2 tablespoons water
3/4 cup Earth Balance shortening (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses (not black strap)
2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
granulated sugar (preferably coarse) to roll cookies in

Mix Ener-G egg replacer powder and water with small whisk or fork until foamy.  Cream shortening, brown sugar, and molasses until blended – add Ener-G mixture.  Continue to cream until fluffy.

Sift together dry ingredients (except granulated sugar).  Stir into creamed mixture until mixture is homogenous.

Pour granulated sugar into a pie plate or other shallow dish.  Form dough into small balls (using a #40 scoop if available), then roll balls in sugar until coated.

Place on a greased or (preferably) parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake at 375 F for 10-12 minutes.  Cool thoroughly on racks before storing.
Notes:  Earth Balance Shortening Sticks are easy to use and non-hydrogenated.  They don’t get as hard when cold as Spectrum Shortening, so I find Earth Balance easier to use.

Hain makes an organic brown sugar, or you can use Sucanat with a small amount of maple syrup added.

You can add about 2 tablespoons of finely diced candied ginger to the cookies to give them a little extra ginger flavor and texture.