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 21 more very simple, very smart secret weapons for all your entertaining needs (or for an uber-quick snacks-for-dinner sitch tonight).
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
From our new podcast network, The Genius Recipe Tapes is lifelong Genius hunter Kristen Miglore’s 10-year-strong column in audio form, featuring all the uncut gems from the weekly column and video series. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss out.Listen & Subscribe