When I glanced at our holiday party guest list, our guests’ last names put a big smile on my face. The list screamed diversity!
God bless the country that brought us together from the four corners of the globe to pursue our dreams, build careers, embrace U.S. values, relish freedom, and contribute our unique ethnic identities to this richly complex mosaic of cultures.
Every year, we host a holiday party for our American expat co-workers. Spending Christmas overseas could get melancholic if you don’t find the right company, let alone the good food reminiscent of home! Therefore, I stretch my imagination to create a memorable event. Serving nostalgic food, with a twist, is usually what inspires my event planning!
My meal plan for similar special celebrations is fairly counterintuitive. My guests, given my Middle Eastern origins, tend to expect a table studded with stuffed grapes leaves, plethora of mezzeh, tabouleh, humus, basbousa (semolina cake), and baklava for desserts. Yet, I love to surprise them with a paradoxical table that both honors the diversity of our nation, and considers the dietary restrictions of my guests.
I make sure that vegan, vegetarian, and meat loving guests, some of whom follow a kosher or glutten free, will find something to enjoy eating and drinking. Graceful entertaining is all about making one’s guests feel special.
Both savory and sweet appetizers in this post could either be made from scratch, or cut short using semi-homemade and store bought ingredients. That said, I only listed here the shortcut version that saves the day and sanity of the host around the busiest time of the year.
I apologize for the average quality of the photos in this post. Yet, it was hard to be the host and the food photographer all at once!
Our drinks table this year had a face lift. I steered away from serving champagne and wine straight from a bottle. Instead, I fixed, for the first time, an easy and simple mulled wine recipe in the slow cooker. The spices aromas wafting out the simmering wine are an unmistakable harbinger of Christmas bliss.
For cold drinks, I figured an easy formula for three different types of Sangria-citrus, apple-pear and red fruits- that people enjoyed until the last drop.
For non alcoholic drink option, I fixed a cold rose water-hibiscus drink. It was fairly popular, although I had to warn my guests that it is brings blood pressure down😊
Everything on the drink table took me under one hour to prepare.
II. Finger Food and Dips
The number of savory appetizers I served this year was only outnumbered by the number of our guests😊 Pick what you want among these recipes and feel free to email me if you have specific questions.
- Meat Balls with Tahini Sauce
Meat balls are make-ahead finger food that are baked in the oven and served with a tahini dipping sauce. This one always disappears in a matter of minutes, right after the tray leaves the kitchen.
- Chicken Cubes with Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce
It is a great appetizer with a Asian hint. It is great for non-red meat eaters. I marinated and baked it. The exotic chili dipping sauce is omnipresent in grocery stores.
- Slices of Roasted Pork Tenderloin on Toasted Baguette
An easy, and make-ahead white meat appetizer. I marinated four pieces of pork tenderloin with a spices dry rub, and kept them in the fridge for a whole day. Roasted them in a preheated oven, thinly sliced them and arranged them on toasted slices of baguette. To garnish, I piped a flower of herbed zesty mayonnaise. Nothing remained which I take as a good sign! This dish is definitely a keeper.
- Strips of Green and Red Pepper Served with Za’atar- Sour Cream Dip
Other than slicing the pepper, mixing zaatar and olive oil into the sour cream, you don’t need to do a thing. You can prepare it few hours ahead of your party and keep it in the fridge.
- Puff Pastry Christmas Mini Trees Filled with Tapenade and Roasted Red Pepper Paste
Store-bought puff pastry, tapenade and pepper paste are all what you need to prepare these show stopping appetizers. With their vibrant green and red colors, they are aesthetically pleasant when arranged alternatively on the dish.
- Herbed Cheese Cups
I like to make my ricotta from scratch using lemon and whole milk. Yet, you can skip this step by buying ready made ricotta. In a food processor, mix together the cheese, a dallop of sour cream, a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, parsely and mint leaves. Blitz few times until you have a creamy cheese filling. Fill up the savory store bought cups with the cheese mix and garnish with mint leaves. These cheese-filled cups are loved by vegetarians and cheese lovers.
- Assortment of Pickles
Pickled red turnips are edible holiday ornament, this is how I see them. Find them in Middle Eastern store. It is an exotic and appetizing vegan amuse gueule.
- Canneli Beans, Babajanuj and Fava beans Trio Dip Served with Crunchy Pita Bread
Few days ahead of the party, I chop my pita bread into triangles, using kitchen sheers, mix them with salt, pepper, sumak, cumin, and coriander and bake them in a preheated oven. They can last for one week outside the fridge, if saved in ziplocks or air-tight containers. I use cans of fava beans, babajanui and canneli beans to make my trio dips, season it the way you want. No one can go wrong with these.
- Pecan-Date molasses bites
- Finikia Cups With Chocolate Pudding
Coming up soon on the blog.
- Mabrousha Bites
It is a levantine crumble square that calls for apricot jam as filling. Seedless raspberry or strawberry jam is a good substitution to serve at a holiday party. It is a make-ahead treat. I make one week before the party and keep it refrigerated.
- Christmas Cookies
Either I make, buy or receive them, I like to lay the cookies down on an elegant tray and serve them at end of the party. They make an excellent grand finale.
All the recipes above have been tested with different local ingredients in several cities overseas, where I lived. I can confidently attest that they are all easy, universal, popular and impressive. Most importantly, they are mostly make-ahead dishes that would spare me few hours to relax, rest and get ready to warmly receive my guests.
The most rewarding compliment is when my guests curiously ask: Who is your food caterer? 😉