Beat-the-heat appetizers

Five nibblies that won’t wilt, get soggy or end up with a bad case of the sweats

Looking for simple eats to nosh on the patio or bring to your next summer potluck? Associate food editor Jennifer Danter shares her top no-sweat appetizers – guaranteed to withstand heat and humidity.

Broiled or grilled, kebabs are great for a variety of reasons: they can be made ahead, cooked at home or at the party and dished up warm or cold. Washed down with a cold beer on a hot summer day, our flavourful Vietnamese beef skewers don’t stand a chance of hanging around.

What You Need:

Makes 30 skewers
1 lb (500 g) top sirloin steak, preferably 1 in (2.5 cm) thick
30 small wooden skewers
2 tbsp (30 mL) vegetable oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp (15 mL) finely grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp (15 mL) finely grated lemon peel
1 tsp (5 mL) each ground coriander and cinnamon
2 tbsp (30 mL) soy sauce
1/4 cup (50 mL) finely chopped fresh mint (optional)

What To Do:
For easy slicing, chill steak in the freezer for a few minutes beforehand. Line a baking sheet with foil. Soak skewers in warm water.

Stir oil with garlic, ginger, lemon peel, coriander and cinnamon. Mixture will form a paste. Slice steak across the grain into very thin strips. Toss with garlic mixture.

Place oven rack in top third of oven and preheat broiler. Tightly thread 1 strip of beef onto each skewer. If strips are small, thread 2 or 3 strips onto a skewer.

Place on baking sheet. It will be a tight fit. Brush with soy sauce. Broil until meat loses its pink colour, 5 to 7 minutes. You don’t need to turn skewers. You can also barbecue the skewers over medium-high heat, turning often, 3 to 5 min. Arrange on a platter and sprinkle with mint.

Tip: You can prepare the beef ahead of time and thread it onto skewers up to 2 days before broiling. Keep it in a covered container or seal it in a large plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Everyone’s summer standby is crudités – that big platter of sliced veggies, artfully arranged in a circle around a bowl of dip. And for good reason – veggie platters are colourful, crunchy, healthy, and very easy to make. Switch it up and think outside the crisper. Focus on just one kind of veggie and skip the dip. Pair it with cheese instead and make individual “bites” rather than a big help-yourself platter.

Celery can stay crunchy for hours – even outside. It’s super hardy, but very subtle in flavour. Pair it up with a strong cheese, such as Stilton. Our trick is to mix in a little cream cheese – it mellows out the flavour plus adds a creamy texture that won’t melt in the sun. Make the mixture a day or two ahead and fill celery sticks up to three hours before serving. If blue cheese isn’t on your flavour radar, try using sharp cheddar instead.

What You Need:

Makes 1-2/3 cups (400 mL) to fill 28 to 30 sticks
6 large celery stalks
8 oz (250 g) container spreadable cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup (250 mL) crumbled Stilton or blue cheese
1/3 cup (75 mL) coarsely chopped dried cherries, blueberries or cranberries
2 green onions, thinly sliced

What To Do:
Slice celery stalks into 2-in (5-cm) long pieces. Slice each piece in half lengthwise. Stir cream cheese with Stilton, dried berries and onions.

Fill celery sticks with cheese mixture. Arrange celery sticks on a serving tray. Serve immediately or refrigerate, covered, up to three hours.

Thick slices of tomato overlapped with creamy buffalo mozzarella and basil leaves drizzled with top-quality olive oil make a classic Italian Caprese salad. It’s the ultimate summer refresher that can easily transform into a hip hors d’oeuvre. Skewer grape tomatoes with mini balls of bocconcini. Skip using whole basil leaves in favour of a no-wilt pesto coating.

What You Need:

Makes 30 to 35 bites
2 bunches fresh basil, about 3 cups (750 mL) leaves
1/4 cup (50 mL) freshly grated Parmesan
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
Generous pinch of salt
¼ cup (50 mL) olive oil
8 mini bocconcini balls
30 to 35 toothpicks
1 pint small grape tomatoes

What To Do:
In a food processor, whirl basil with Parmesan, garlic and salt. Slowly drizzle in oil. Place half in a small bowl and half in a medium-size bowl.

To serve, slice mini bocconcini into quarters. Stir bocconcini into pesto in medium-size bowl. Poke a toothpick through a grape tomato, then through a pesto-coated bocconcini. Arrange on a large platter with the small bowl of pesto for dipping. If making ahead, cover and refrigerate up to two hours.

Sometimes you just want to impress friends with a culinary showpiece, but don’t really have the time or the right serving conditions. Our Roast beef & pepper rounds look like something a caterer would conjure up and they’ll keep for a lengthy period of time.

What You Need:

Makes about 20 rounds
½ (4.5-oz/140-g) log creamy goat cheese, at room temperature
2 tbsp (30 mL) coarsely chopped fresh basil or mint
1 tbsp (15 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 to 2 tsp (5 to 10 mL) creamed horseradish
¼ each red and green pepper
5 slices deli roast beef

What To Do:
Stir cheese with basil, lemon juice and horseradish. Thinly slice peppers into strips. Thinly spread cheese mixture over beef slices right to edge. Don’t worry if beef tears; it won’t show when rolled.

Lay 4 pepper strips on short edge of each slice. Tightly roll beef around peppers. Trim ends of peppers that are peeking out from rolls. Slice into rounds about 3/4 in (2 cm) long. Arrange on a platter. Rolls will keep well, covered and refrigerated, up to half a day.

You can buy high-quality store-bought stuff, so why bother making it yourself? Because while Mexican-style salsa is tasty, Asian-themed cooking is really hot this summer. Our Oriental tomato salsa is more flavourful than spicy, and very versatile. The sugar-vinegar dressing keeps the cucumber crunchy, even when it sits out for a while. Spoon over rice crackers topped with thin slices of smoked salmon or on toasted pita triangles.

What You Need:
Makes 4-1/2 cups (1.125 L)
3 large ripe tomatoes
½ English cucumber
1 small red onion
1 tbsp (15 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (50 mL) rice vinegar
1 tbsp (15 mL) dark sesame oil
3 tbsp (45 mL) freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup (50 mL) coarsely chopped fresh coriander
Pinches of salt

What To Do: Cut tomatoes in half. Squeeze out and discard seeds and juice. Slice unpeeled cucumber in half lengthwise. With a spoon, scoop out and discard seeds. Dice cucumber. Place in a bowl. Finely chop tomatoes and onion. Add both to bowl with cucumber. Add sugar, vinegar, oil and lime juice. Use right away or, if making ahead, leave at room temperature up to four hours or refrigerate overnight. Tomatoes will water out a little as the salsa sits. Stir, then drain excess liquid before serving. Stir in coriander and salt just before serving.

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