Founding editor Niki Bezzant shares easy but impressive dishes to take along to festive gatherings.
It’s a common scenario over the holiday season to attend group gatherings where everyone brings a dish. Whether you’re the host or an attendee, the aim is to make a cohesive feast that everyone will enjoy and also feels like a celebration. Here are five ideas for easy, impressive plates that don’t take too much work and will leave guests replete and happy.
1. Starter platter
If you’ve been asked to bring the first course, start everyone off with something light but appetite-enhancing. Try a Mediterranean-style veggie platter with a mix of items you’ve cooked yourself or done some judicious shopping for:
- Slices of eggplant, chargrilled and cooled, and rolled around a mix of ricotta, parmesan and lemon zest
- Stuffed baby red peppers (buy these from the deli or supermarket) and olives
- Cherry tomatoes, cubes of fresh mozzarella and basil leaves on small skewers
- Mini zucchini fritters (try this recipe)
Make a salmon platter with a side of hot-smoked salmon at the centre, beetroot chutney, crème fraiche and mini blinis or crackers on the side.
2. Celebration salads
There’s always rich food at celebration meals. But sometimes it’s a contrast that really appeals. Try making a warm salad featuring beautiful steamed green vegetables, which can be served either warm or at room temperature: Steam green beans, broccolini, snow peas, strips of zucchini and baby peas until just cooked but still lovely and green. Toss together and dress with either a creamy dressing such as Green Goddess or a simple lemony vinaigrette. Shave over some parmesan and season well with black pepper for a stunning side.
Or go for:
A luxurious and tasty red slaw could be another option that works well with rich meats. Shred red cabbage, carrot and red capsicum and toss well – add shredded beetroot at the last minute so the colours don’t run together. Add toasted pumpkin seeds and/or almonds, dried cranberries and a sweet-tart dressing of olive oil, balsamic, mustard and a dash of pomegranate molasses.
3. Mixed roast veggies
A big platter of mixed, golden-crispy roast root vegetables works, whatever the time of year. Choose any combination of floury potatoes, sweet potato, carrots, parsnips, pumpkin. Add red capsicums, eggplant and other summer vegetables if you like. Cover well with oil and roast in a hot oven for a bit longer than you think they need – until they’re golden and collapsing. Season well and pep them up with a drizzle of flavoured olive oil – try lemon or basil.
4. A different centrepiece
There’s unlikely to be complaints if you do the traditional glazed ham, turkey, roast lamb or other meats. But if you want to try something different, or you have different dietary preferences to cater for, there are festive meat-free ideas to try, too. What about a whole, spice-roasted cauliflower with pomegranate? Or a tasty vegetarian meatloaf?
If it’s a pescatarian group, go all out with a seafood platter – try a whole baked fish as a centrepiece and add smoked, freshly-cooked and raw seafood such as salmon, prawns, scallops and squid. A fresh tomato salsa and a creamy seafood mayo for dipping will finish it off well.
5. Dessert sampler
Keep the platter theme going – and keep everyone happy – with a sampling platter for dessert. Include something chocolate like these chocolate jaffa balls or small squares of brownie; something spicy like spiced Christmas biscuits; something lemony like small lemon tarts and something a bit special, like mini pavlovas drizzled with passionfruit and berries. Finish it off with an array of beautiful fresh fruit, and enjoy a very merry Christmas.