Finger Foods

Tasty Nibbles that are Party-Ready

by Zel Allen

"Come to the potluck and bring a yummy dish!" What better opportunity to pull out all the stops and indulge the party-goers with platters of finger foods that look dazzling, taste decadent, and are surprisingly easy to make.

The savvy party planner knows the affair is successful when guests comment they enjoyed meeting new people and tasting unique foods. A well-seasoned party host encourages guests to mingle and places platters of finger foods on two or three tables in different locations, instead of crowding all on one table. This ice-breaker strategy starts conversations like, "These Teriyaki Tempeh Bites are delicious, but have you tasted the Pickled Vegetables?"

Welcome the holidays for their ability to inspire experienced cooks and neophytes alike to dabble in the kitchen and assemble some downright delicious nibbles just right for devouring. Consider these special occasions ideal for sharing little bites of food that require no utensils and can be eaten out of one's hand as guests meander through the crowd. Some people call these little morsels hors d'oeuvres, but really, they're just finger foods.

No matter how formal or informal the gathering, parties bring people together for merriment and munching. The anticipation of upcoming parties inspires people to try new recipes just for that school, office, or home soirée.

Finger foods have many advantages over runny dips and spreads. Several can be made in advance and eaten at room temperature. These little bites can be lavishly garnished to look amazing. They're usually consumed in one or two bites and rarely make a mess. Still, don't forget to provide a stack of cute little cocktail napkins and plates.

The holiday party at home has special warmth and begs for a creative menu of delectable finger foods, some that are room-temperature-ready and one or two that can be tucked into the oven and briefly warmed. Provide diverse flavors — some savory, some sweet — and perhaps one that's hot and spicy. Most of the following recipes can be prepared and plated up to two days ahead.

When arranging dishes on the table, use your artist's eye to intersperse the brighter, colorful ones with the others to create an enticing table that beckons the guests. Here's wishing you a festive and joyful holiday season with a delicious array of finger foods to nosh on!

Overstuffed Spuds

(Makes 40 stuffed potatoes)

These plump little appetizers spread joy with each lovable bite as sweet bursts of juicy pomegranate seeds join flavors with lightly spiced, curry-infused pea pâté. So easy to make and so delicious to devour!

  • 20 Dutch yellow or mini Yukon Gold potatoes, well scrubbed
  • 2 cups frozen peas, thawed
  • ½ cup shelled pistachios
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ teaspoon curry powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • ½ cup pomegranate seeds or ½-¾ cup Hoisin sauce
  • ¼ bunch parsley
  • 3 cherry tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the potatoes on a large rimmed baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until just fork tender.

While the potatoes are roasting, combine peas, pistachios, water, lemon juice, salt, curry powder, and cayenne in the food processor and process until smooth and creamy. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half. Using a melon baller, scoop out the centers and add the potato flesh to the pea mixture. Mash and mix well. Fill the potato cavities to heaping with the pea/potato mixture and carefully top each potato half with a cluster of 3 pomegranate seeds or a tiny dollop of Hoisin sauce.

To serve, arrange the parsley in the center of a serving platter and nestle the tomatoes in the center. Arrange the Overstuffed Spuds around the parsley cluster.

Calculated as 1 serving = ½ potato, stuffed (40 servings total for recipe)

Total calories per serving: 91 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 19 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 73 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Almond and Olive-Stuffed Brussels Sprouts

(Serves 8-10)

In recent years, Brussels sprouts have become the darling of the vegetable world and make perfect little vessels for stuffing. Filled with this nutty and tangy mixture, they'll quickly prove their mojo at party time.

  • 20 fresh Brussels sprouts (best not to use small ones)
  • ½ cup almonds, coarsely chopped
  • One 13-ounce can water-packed artichoke hearts, drained
  • 20 pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
  • 10 jumbo pimiento-stuffed green olives, chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ to ¾ cup vegan Parmesan cheese
  • 6 cherry tomatoes cut into quarters, for garnish

Fill a 4-quart saucepan two-thirds full with water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, trim the Brussels sprouts stems and discard any damaged leaves. Cut the sprouts in half lengthwise and plunge them into the boiling water in batches. Boil for 1 ½ minutes, or until they are just tender but still firm. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels and repeat the process until all the sprouts are tender.

Using a serrated grapefruit or paring knife, carefully scoop out the centers of the sprouts to create a cavity. Reserve the centers for another recipe.

To make the stuffing, put the almonds in a food processor. Process until they form a coarse meal. Transfer to a large bowl. Put the artichoke hearts in the food processor. Process until they are coarsely chopped and add them to the bowl with the almond meal. Put the olives, shallot, and garlic in the food processor. Process briefly, just until chunky, and add them to the bowl. Mix well. If the stuffing seems too dry, add 1-3 teaspoons of water to moisten.

Spoon a teaspoon of the stuffing into the cavity of each sprout half. Sprinkle each with Parmesan and garnish with a cherry tomato quarter. Serve at room temperature or cover with plastic and chill until ready to serve.

To serve warm, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a large-rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Put the sprouts on the pan. Bake for 6-8 minutes or just until heated through. Arrange on a serving platter and garnish.

Total calories per serving: 120 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 11 grams Protein: 6 grams
Sodium: 333 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Red Light Stuffed Mushrooms

(Makes 25-30 stuffed mushrooms)

An easy and bold-flavored appetizer for a crowd, these stuffed mushrooms can be made a day or two ahead for convenience. The mushrooms can be cooked or left raw. The filling can also be used to stuff celery or Belgian endive leaves.

  • 1 pound cremini or button mushrooms, washed, stems removed
  • One 15-ounce can cannellini or Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3-4 dates, pitted
  • 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon water
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon natural hickory seasoning (also called liquid smoke)
  • Pinch cayenne
  • ½ cup cooked black rice or short-grain brown rice
  • ½ bunch green onions, sliced
  • ⅔ cup fresh pomegranate seeds
  • ½ bunch parsley, finely minced

To cook the mushrooms, fill a large, deep skillet ⅔ full with water and bring to a boil. Plunge the mushrooms into the boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the mushrooms to a kitchen towel or paper towels. Turn them open-side down to drain and cool.

If using the mushrooms raw, skip the first step and prepare the filling by combining the beans, dates, water, lime juice, wine vinegar, salt, hickory seasoning, and cayenne in the food processor. Pulse and process until smooth and creamy. Adjust seasonings if needed.

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add the rice and green onions. Mix well to distribute them evenly. Spoon the filling into the mushroom caps until they are heaping. Use your fingers to form smooth tops and arrange the stuffed mushrooms on a large platter.

Top each mushroom with a pomegranate seed and sprinkle the exposed perimeter of the dish with the parsley. Serve immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Calculated as recipe yields 25 servings

Total calories per serving: 43 Fat: <1 gram
Carbohydrates: 9 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 73 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Spanish Tapenade Stuffed Tomatoes

(Makes 20-24 stuffed tomatoes)

This zesty-flavored and easy-to-make chunky relish becomes the filling for a delicious stuffed tomato appetizer. The tapenade also makes a delicious bruschetta spooned over little rounds of toasted baguettes.

10-12 Roma tomatoes, for stuffing

Spanish Tapenade

  • 1 pound Roma tomatoes
  • ¾ cup pimiento-stuffed green olives, well drained
  • ¾ cup pitted black olives, well drained
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley

Cut the tomatoes for stuffing in half, and carefully scoop out the insides using a grapefruit knife or serrated paring knife. Put the tomato insides into a container and set aside for a future recipe. Set the tomato halves aside.

To make the Spanish Tapenade, cut the tomatoes in half and seed them. Add the seeds and juice to the tomato insides and refrigerate for a future use. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and put them in the food processor. Add the green olives, black olives, green onions, pine nuts, olive oil, salt, and pepper and pulse-chop briefly until the mixture forms a coarsely chopped tapenade.

Spoon the tapenade into the tomato halves and sprinkle the tops with chopped parsley. Arrange on a serving platter. If not using the tapenade immediately, transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

Calculated as recipe yields 10 servings

Total calories per serving: 103 Fat: 9 grams
Carbohydrates: 7 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 288 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Teriyaki Tempeh Bites

(Serves 12)

Rich with savory aromas and served warm, these teriyaki tidbits will quickly draw the crowd around this platter of boldly-seasoned tempeh. These little bites can be prepared ahead and served at room temperature or quickly warmed just before serving.

  • 1 pound tempeh
  • ½ cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • ¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2-inch piece ginger root, peeled and minced
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
  • ¼ bunch cilantro, minced, for garnish
  • 2 Tablespoons minced red bell pepper, for garnish

Score both sides of the tempeh, making shallow cuts ¼-inch apart. Then cut it into ½-inch squares. Set aside.

Prepare the marinade by combining the soy sauce, maple syrup, lime juice, water, ginger, garlic, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and pepper in a large bowl. Add the prepared tempeh to the marinade and toss well to coat all the pieces completely. Marinate for 1-3 hours.

Transfer the tempeh and the marinade to a large deep skillet and cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, for 4 to 6 minutes, or until most of the marinade has been absorbed.

Poke a toothpick into each piece of tempeh and transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle the edges of the platter with the cilantro followed by the minced red pepper.

Total calories per serving: 117 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 13 grams Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 359 milligrams Fiber: <1 gram

Pickled Vegetables

(Yields 3-4 pounds of vegetables)

Not all pickles are prepared by fermenting, a lengthy process that can take several days. Many vegetables can be pickled quickly by briefly boiling them in well-seasoned brine that can be sweet, spicy, tangy, or salt-focused. Enhance the visual appeal by cutting the vegetables into various shapes — slices, wedges, or strips.

Pickling Ingredients

  • 4 cups water
  • 3 ½ cups distilled vinegar
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 3 Tablespoons organic sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons mustard seeds
  • 1 ½ teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns

Vegetable Suggestions

  • Carrots julienned about 2-2 ½ inches in length
  • Cauliflower and broccoli cut into florets
  • Turnips and beets cut into wedges or slices
  • Green beans cut into desired lengths
  • Cucumbers cut into slices or quartered lengthwise
  • Garlic cloves peeled and left whole
  • Onions cut into thick slices or thick wedges
  • Pearl onions peeled and left whole
  • Cabbage cut into wedges or thick slices
  • Brussels sprouts cut in half lengthwise or quartered

Cut the vegetables as desired and have them ready before assembling the pickling brine. To prepare the brine, combine all ingredients except the veggies in an 8 to 10-quart stockpot. Cover and bring to a boil.

Add the vegetables. When the water returns to boiling, reduce the heat to medium-high and boil for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, uncover, and allow the pickled vegetables to cool completely.

Arrange them on a serving platter in colorful clusters. If not serving immediately, transfer the vegetables and the brine to a covered container and chill.

Note: To make pickled beets and avoid turning all the vegetables pink, cook beets separately and use some of the brine to marinate them separately. When ready to serve the pickled vegetables, drain the beets well and arrange them on the serving platter with the other vegetables.

Calorie and nutrient content for the Pickled Vegetables recipe will vary depending on which vegetables you use.

Smoky Garlic-Stuffed Endive

(Makes 2 ½ cups filling for about 40 endive leaves)

This well-seasoned, smoke-flavored and bold garlicky mixture makes endive a delicious two-bite treat that can be prepared up to one day ahead. The filling is versatile enough to work as a stuffing for raw button mushrooms, celery, and hollowed tomatoes.

  • 6 heads endive
  • 1 pound extra-firm tofu
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 3 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 1 ¾ teaspoons natural hickory seasoning (liquid smoke)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried dill weed
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 green onion, minced
  • 2-3 roasted red peppers, julienned
  • ¾ cup frozen green peas, thawed
  • Paprika (optional)

Separate the endive leaves and set them aside on a dish. To make the filling, rinse the tofu and drain well. Break the tofu into several chunks and put them in the food processor. Add the garlic, lemon juice, water, hickory seasoning, dill weed, salt, and pepper and process until smooth and creamy. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add the green onion.

To assemble, fill each leaf with the smoky garlic mixture and garnish each with a strip of red pepper and 3 green peas. Sprinkle the tops with paprika, if desired.

Store leftover filling in the refrigerator where it will keep for up to 1 week.

Total calories per serving: 27 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 4 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 65 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Chili Nuts

(Makes 1 ½ cups)

Here's a nutty, spice-infused treat for those spice enthusiasts who never seem to get enough of the lively heat that chillies dish out. The medium spice level makes the nuts irresistibly delicious, even for the chili shy. For a large crowd, double or triple the recipe.

  • 1 cup mixed nuts (such as walnuts, pecans, and almonds)
  • ¼ cup organic sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder

Combine the nuts in a small bowl and set them aside.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a 10-inch nonstick skillet. Turn the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring constantly, until the spices are well incorporated and become liquid. Add the nuts and cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes, until they are well coated and the mixture sticks to them. Transfer to a clean dish to cool.

Separate the nuts when they are cool enough to handle. You can enjoy them while still quite warm, but the flavor will improve considerably when they have cooled completely.

Calculated as 1 serving = ¼ cup

Total calories per serving: 260 Fat: 17 grams
Carbohydrates: 25 grams Protein: 5 grams
Sodium: 155 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Tahini Peanut Confections

(Makes 45-50 confections)

With their distinct sesame flavor and date-sweetened goodness, these little tidbits make delightful sweet nibbles. These fruit, nut, and seed confections are so easy to make that you can whip them up any time and keep them on hand in the freezer for when a festive occasion comes along. Remember to give them about an hour to thaw.

  • 2 cups well-packed pitted dates, snipped in half
  • 1 cup roasted unsalted shelled peanuts
  • ½ cup tahini (sesame paste)
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • ¼ teaspoon caramel extract
  • 1 cup natural or toasted sesame seeds
  • Cluster of fresh mint leaves
  • 3 fresh strawberries cut in half

Combine the dates, peanuts, tahini, water, and caramel extract in a food processor and pulse and process until well blended. Longer processing will create a smoother confection. If you prefer a chunkier confection, you can control the texture by shorter processing and stopping the machine frequently to check the results.

Using about one teaspoon for each, roll, squeeze, and shape the mixture into balls with your fingers.

Put the sesame seeds in a small, deep bowl and roll each ball in the seeds to coat them completely.

When preparing ahead, put the confections in a covered container and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. To serve, arrange the confections on an attractive serving platter and garnish with sprigs of fresh mint and strawberry halves.

Note: Caramel extract may not be available in local grocery stores. Order it online from or J.R. Watkins at

Calculated as 1 serving = 1 confection

Total calories per serving: 75 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 8 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 4 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Choco Caramel Confections

(Makes about 25 one-inch confections)

These are sweet little bite-size treats. One day, when unexpected relatives dropped in for a visit, I reached into the freezer for these confections and arranged them on a dessert platter. Unwilling to wait for them to defrost, the cousins snapped them up and devoured them with gusto, revealing that these confections are enjoyable taken directly from the freezer or eaten at room temperature.

  • 1 ½ cups whole almonds
  • 1 ½ cups walnuts
  • 2 ½ cups (about 35) pitted dates, snipped in half
  • 5 Tablespoons raw unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 Tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon caramel extract
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 8-10 Tablespoons water

Outer Coating Choices

  • ½ to 1 cup finely-grated dried coconut
  • ½ to 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ to 1 cup raw cacao powder
  • ½ to 1 cup almond meal
  • ½ to 1 cup natural sesame seeds
  • ½ to 1 cup finely-crushed nuts

Put the almonds and walnuts in the food processor and process until they are finely ground but still retain their crunchy texture. Add the dates, cocoa powder, maple syrup, vanilla and caramel extracts, and cinnamon and pulse and process until all the ingredients are well incorporated. Continue processing, adding the water a little at a time until the mixture is moist enough to hold together when lightly pinched. Stop the processor frequently to redistribute the ingredients.

Put one or more of the coatings into separate small bowls. Using your hands, roll the nut mixture into 1-inch balls; then, roll them in the coating you choose.

If serving within a day or two, store the confections in a covered container in the refrigerator. For longer storage, put the container in the freezer. To serve, remove the confections from the freezer and arrange them on a serving platter or bowl about one hour before serving.

Notes: When preparing this recipe, be sure to snip the dates in half with kitchen scissors to avoid date pits that might damage the food processor. Also, because this is a large recipe for some food processors to handle with ease, it may be helpful to divide the ingredients in half and process in two batches.

Calculated as 1 serving = 1 confection

Total calories per serving: 174 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 29 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 4 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Zel Allen is a frequent Vegetarian Journal contributor. She lives in California. She is the author of Vegan for the Holidays and The Nut Gourmet. Both books can be purchased at