For me, summer entertaining always meant two things: grilling and finger-food appetizers. A buffet of small appetizers entertains the guests as they arrive and move around. As the grilling draws to a close everyone settles down to enjoy their grub.
For finger-food appetizers I usually make something from the Latin kitchen because it’s spicy, easy to make and the ingredients are readily available. In my experience guests usually bring chips and salsa, so it’s a great idea to have alternative dips ready. I love ceviche – this lemony seafood salsa packs protein and is delicious by itself or with chips or quesadillas. Combine chopped tomatoes, onions, peppers and cilantro. Add in chopped raw scallops, shrimp, crab, or for a classic ceviche, red snapper. Pour in enough lemon/lime juice to cover – the acid in the juice denatures the protein just like heat would if you were cooking it. Stick it in the fridge for a couple hours before serving. Since you’re not actually cooking it, make sure you get fresh seafood.
Another favorite is jalapeno poppers. Wearing gloves, halve and seed some jalapeno peppers. Fill them with cream cheese (try mixing in some bacon bits or other cheeses!) and bread them by dipping them in milk (or milk and beaten eggs) and rolling them in breadcrumbs. You can fry them or bake them.
Italian food is also great for appetizers. Summer tomatoes taste delicious – grow your own or find some at the farmer’s market, slice ‘em up and combine with basil and mozzarella slices to make a delicious caprese salad. Season with salt, olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. Basil is really hearty and easy to grow – even indoors! To make bruschetta chop up some tomatoes and basil, mince some garlic and spoon the mixture onto slices of bread – try it on our Rosemary Olive Oil Artisan bread. Top with some chopped mozzarella and stick ‘em in the oven for a few minutes and you’ve got a delicious finger food for sharing!
We covered grilling extensively in the past so here are some additional tips. When grilling fish put it on a plank of cedar – it’ll give the food authentic smoke and flavor but also provides a solid surface for something delicate like fish. You can find them in cooking stores and home improvement stores. Soak them in water for an hour before firing up the grill and coat them in oil so food doesn’t stick. Put them under high-medium/high heat so they smoke, but it will still take a while to cook the fish with indirect heat.
A family tradition is to serve shashlik (the Russian version of shish kebab) when entertaining in the summer. The day before, my mom would chop up beef into 1.5″ cubes and marinate them overnight in red wine and vinegar. The next day we would thread them on skewers with onions, peppers and tomatoes. We’ve also had shashlik with lamb, pork and chicken. These are great for entertaining because your guests won’t need knives – just forks.