Genius Recipes

21 Very Easy, Very Genius Appetizers to Make All Summer

Starring: The simplest, swooshiest hummus we've ever whipped up at home.

May 11, 2021

With Genius Recipes correspondent Kristen off for a few months trying to raise a genius newborn, we’re revisiting the column’s Greatest Hits with brand-new videos—and hearing from a few special surprise guests. Wish her luck! (And keep sending those tips.)


Imagine you’re hosting a dinner party tonight—one you’ve been planning for weeks. You bought all the groceries ahead of time and meal-prepped like a champ. The guest list is confirmed (and not one person cancelled last minute!); the showstopping main is in the oven; the wine is chilling; a playlist of soothing folk indie is gently creating a mood in the background. Everything is low stress, under control, dare we say...perfect?

Until you survey the table you've lovingly set, and realize you’ve forgotten something: an all-important appetizer to start off the night, to satisfy your guests until it’s time to seat everyone for dinner. You throw open your fridge and pantry in a panic, finding only a box of crackers (somehow unopened!), some nubbins of cheese, and half a bottle of white wine.

Great news for you: These ingredients can become a fine start to your meal—a very Genius one, in fact—and will set you back almost no time and effort. Below, you'll find 11 more very simple, very smart secret weapons for all your entertaining needs (or for an uber-quick snacks-for-dinner sitch tonight).


1. Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi's Basic Hummus

If you've never made hummus at home (or if you've tried it and found the whole process—soaking, peeling, cooking, blitzing, chilling—more than a bit unwieldy), this is the recipe you should try. It takes half the time of your average homemade hummus recipe, with some "wait, really?" tricks that'll get you the fluffiest, swooshiest dip of your life.

2. Roberto Santibañez' Guacamole with Tequila & Apples

Sure, you know Roberto Santibañez' categorically life-changing classic guacamole. It's our little black dress of snacks—there's never a wrong time to take it for a spin. But have you met its flashier cousin, amped up with tequila and chopped sweet apples and toasty, buttery pecans? It's the, uh, tropical floral–printed kaftan you wear for a day at the beach that turns into a night of dancing.

3. Alex Raij's Radishes with Vanilla Butter & Salt, 2 Ways

If there's an easier snack possible, please tell me (and I probably won't believe you anyway). Spicy, crunchy radishes dipped in just-spreadable butter are always welcome in my book. Add complex, warming vanilla and a sprinkle of flaky salt to the whole thing? Truly staggering. This one scales up really well, so make a big batch of the vanilla butter and you'll be putting it on just about everything when the radishes run out.

4. Patricia Wells' Fake Frites

Pretty sure we've reached peak snack with these beauts: crunchy, salty, big-batchable, and even better with a conga line of fun dipping sauces. The best part? You won't fry a thing here; the recipe's two pounds of potatoes require just a couple tablespoons of olive oil (that's less than you would put on a salad)!

5. Heidi Swanson's Parmesan Cheese Spread

Ah, cheese dip, how I love you so. You're the solution to every kind of dinner-party goof (and the answer to many of life's questions). This one, from Heidi Swanson, is made with salty Parmesan; fruity olive oil; and dry white wine; and it really couldn't get more simple—there's not even a second of cooking involved.

6. Jennie Cook's Zucchini Butter

Requiring just three ingredients and about 20-ish minutes, this is an excellent way to use up the glut of summer squash you often find in your CSA box this time of year. Spread it over grilled flatbread, a crunchy cracker, your finger...

7. The Elegant Hors d'Oeuvre's Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts

This snack sounds all fancy but really couldn't be easier. Four ingredients, one of them bacon (!), and basically no recipe to remember? I'll take it. Make a whole bunch, because, according to Kristen, "there is always a fight over them, and never one left behind." A sure sign of success.

8. Ignacio Mattos’ Grilled Favas

Slightly sweet fresh favas take on a super-smoky, impossibly delicious flavor in this dish, as they first take a dip in a savory marinade and then get piled on the grill. Best news is, these stay in their shells while they char, alleviating a ton of time and making them the ideal on-the-fly summer party snack.

9. Virginia Willis' Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are always a hit at any gathering I host. And when I want to amp them up and make them even more special, I turn to a very Genius trick from Virginia Willis. Turns out, there's no need to double up on the mustard, or add a splash of pickle brine, or even sprinkle in an unexpected herb or spice. Just fold in—wait for it—room-temperature butter. Perfectly rich, creamy, delicate bites await.

10. Renee Erickson's Sautéed Dates

Step 1: Heat olive oil in a pan. Step 2: Add (unpitted) dates and fry for a few minutes, until warmed through. Step 3: Top with flaky sea salt and enjoy along with a bubbly drink, or next to a mound of ricotta, or atop thick and creamy Greek yogurt. It's crazy simple.

11. José Pizarro's Salt-Crusted Potatoes With Cilantro Mojo

Yielding potatoes that are crispy-crunchy on the outside, and unbelievably creamy within, José Pizarro's salt-crusted fingerlings will totally change your mind about what this humble little tuber can be. And the zippy, herby cilantro mojo for dipping and dunking is nothing to sniff at, either. (Pro tip: When you serve these, invite your guests to rub off as much salt from the potatoes as they wish before saucing.)

12. Whipped Hummus With Roasted Carrots & Za’atar Oil From Hetty McKinnon

I know we already talked about hummus, but you need to know about this one too. Because sometimes, the best-tasting snacks come from a big “oops!” So goes the story behind cookbook author Hetty McKinnon’s incredibly creamy, fluffy-as-a-cloud hummus: “I basically opened a can of chickpeas and I thought I had drained them,” McKinnon writes. “I hadn’t and I just tipped the whole thing into my Vitamix blender and then I thought: Oh no, what have I done?” What she had done, was stumble upon a Genius swap when it comes to the liquid in hummus. Using aquafaba (aka chickpea-liquid) instead of water or olive oil to emulsify the mixture in a high-power blender encourages hummus to whip up like a dream.

13. Green Chile & Cherry Tomato Pickle From Priya & Ritu Krishna

“Let’s put it this way, I really can’t think of a savory dish that this wouldn’t go well alongside,” journalist Priya Krishna says of her this chile and cherry tomato pickle recipe she developed with her mom Ritu for their cookbook Indian-ish. It’s spicy, juicy, tangy, and bright—just as welcome as a crunchy salad on its own as it is used as a condiment for rice or dal (for a prepared appetizer, try it spooned over toasts spread with something creamy like ricotta or yogurt). Plus, it comes together in minutes, so there’s really no excuse not to try it.

14. Sweet Corn Butter From Whitney Wright

Why use regular butter when you can make “butter” from corn, one of summer’s sweetest offerings? Editor and former line cook at Pe Se Whitney Wright figured out how to transform the “milk” pressed from fresh corn into a butter-like substance that simply must be on your table this summer. Lay it out with radishes, crusty bread, and flaky salt, or, as Wright suggests, “mix it with shredded cheese, a little sour cream, and a jar of drained jalapeños, bake and serve as a LIFE-ALTERING dip for tortilla chips.”

15. Ranch Fun Dip From Sohla El-Waylly

You know Sohla, you love Sohla: if you haven’t already tried her ranch “fun dip,” please remedy that immediately. This oniony, nutty, umami-packed spice blend will make you eat vegetables like they’re potato chips—and it’s easily packed in a jar for any last-minute picnics or contributions to summer barbecues.

16. Asparagus With Lemon-Pepper Marinade From Bryant Terry

Cookbook author Bryant Terry’s ridiculously creamy, yet 100 percent vegan, lemon-pepper dressing—thank you, silken tofu, we don’t deserve you!—is just waiting to be drizzled all over whatever produce you have lying around, just waiting to be transformed into a summery appetizer. Too hot to cook vegetables? Just use this marinade-slash-sauce as a dip for crudités.

17. Shishito-Style Green Peppers From Michele Humes

Bell peppers get a bad rap when it comes to summer appetizers—they’re often left raw, near the hummus. Ho-hum. But I dare you to make them like recipe developer Michele Humes, who writes about treating the peppers like shishitos in The Noodle Soup Oracle: “The key is a screaming-hot, well-oiled wok and just enough time in it that the skin blackens and blisters.”


We all know that when it comes to pre-meal snacking, sometimes there’s nothing better than an heirloom tomato showered with fresh herbs and flaky salt, maybe a bowl of tortilla chips nearby, but here are a few more (not Genius-approved, but certainly ingenious!) summer appetizers you’ve got to try.

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Top Comment:
“can't wait to try it. Loved the presentation. she is so relaxed it makes me want to cook in her kitchen ”
— judy G.
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18. Grandma’s Canned Tomatoes

“Canning can be a little labor-intensive and requires some practice and specialized equipment, like a wire jar rack for the water bath, but the result is well worth it,” notes recipe developer Kelsey Banfield, whose father and grandmother have been canning for decades. This is the best possible way to (literally) preserve summer tomatoes, so you can enjoy their sweetness all year long.

19. Fresh Corn Salad With Brown Butter, Chives & Chiles

You’ve probably had million ears of corn on the cob, but what about giving fresh corn a chance? “While many recipes cook this ingredient—boil, roast, pan-sear, grill, etc—one of my favorite preparations is leaving it raw, when it is sweet and succulent, like just-picked blueberries,” says food editor Emma Laperruque, who tosses her fresh corn salad with nutty brown butter and spicy fresnos.

20. Grilled Bread With Goat Cheese & Green Olives

“This is a really easy dish, but it's also really impressive-looking,” says recipe developer Julia Turshen of this simple goat cheese-spread, Castelvetrano olive-topped toasts. “It's also wine's best friend—it goes great with a drink, preferably a glass of sparkling wine.” Turshen is totally speaking our language.

21. Heirloom Tomato & Lemon Mascarpone Tart

If you haven’t already, please meet the winner of our recipe contest for the best use of heirloom tomatoes, featuring a simple crumbly crust, a garlicky-mascarpone filling brightened with just a bit of lemon juice. Slicing up this pie before breaking into a larger meal sounds great to me, but you could divide the tart dough into mini muffin tins and use small tomatoes for a one-bite appetizer.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it Kristen's way (and tell her what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
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Brinda is the Director of Content at Food52, where she oversees all site content across Food52 and Home52. She likes chewy Neapolitan pizza, stinky cheese of all sorts, and tahini-flavored anything. Brinda lives in Brooklyn with 18 plants and at least one foster pup (sometimes more). Find her at @brindayesterday on Twitter and Instagram.

3 Comments

judy G. June 3, 2019
can't wait to try it. Loved the presentation. she is so relaxed it makes me want to cook in her kitchen
 
Allison K. June 2, 2019
Okay is she calm, cool and totally connected or what ... totally adorable!!!! Looks so yummy - going to try it today, plus I am going to practice her sweet attitude about hiccups along the way ;-)
 
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Brinda A. June 2, 2019
Kristen's the best!! Just be sure to start soaking your dried chickpeas now so you can have hummus for a late afternoon snack :)