lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

Appetizer Recipes

I’ve shared a number of appetizer recipes here on my site and as many of you know, I like to have a lot of fun with them. This is a compilation of some of my favorite ones to date.  Some are a little more elegant than others, some are easy, and some involve a little more effort.  All of them are delicious. These are sure to be a hit at your New Year’s Eve party, or any party throughout the year. Enjoy!

  1. Asian-style Steak and Veggie Rolls
  2. Salmon and Cucumber Bites with Capers and Dill
  3. Meatballs with Panko and Feta Cheese (make these appetizer size so they’re finger-food friendly)
  4. Steamed Dumplings with Dipping Sauce
  5. Fire Roasted Baba Ganoush
  6. Chicken Liver Pate’ with Bourbon
  7. Bloody Mary Shrimp
  8. Mini Vegetable Spring Rolls with Tahini Dipping Sauce
  9. Spicy Honey Sesame Wings
  10. Roasted Red Pepper Dip Spread (perfect for crostini or bruschetta)
  11. Hot Cherry Peppers Stuffed with Proscuitto and Provolone

I know I said I’d give you ten recipes but my stuffed cherry peppers are legendary with friends and family, so I couldn’t leave them out. Here are the photos of the appetizer recipes above, in order:

lola_asian_steak_and_veggie_rolls_recipe_5

lola_rugula_salmon-cream-cheese-capers-cucumber-appetizers

lola rugula homemade meatballs recipe
meatballs with feta cheese

homemade steamed dumplings recipe

lola rugula chicken liver pate with bourbon recipe

lola rugula how to make bloody mary shrimp

lola rugula mini vegetable spring rolls with tahini dipping sauce

lola rugula spicy honey sesame chicken wings

lola rugula ajvar 2

lola-rugula-hot-cherry-peppers-stuffed-with-provolone-and-prosciutto-recipe

Also, if you’re looking for some creative drinks to make, my Fresh Garden Gazpacho Shooters are a perfect idea!

lola rugula gazpacho shooters

Appetizers can be fun and delicious! Don’t be afraid to mix things up and try something new.

Wishing you all a very happy and blessed New Year!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

Homemade Falafel

The first time I had falafel was over 20 years ago at Mamoun’s in New Haven, CT. Incredibly, I didn’t even really know what it was that first time I tried it, but friends insisted I would love it and I did.

Fried balls of ground chickpeas may not sound like much but when combined with garlic, onion, spices, and fresh herbs, they become tasty little fritters that you can serve as an appetizer or pile into a pita for a vegetarian sandwich.

I don’t eat very many fried foods but it’s the best way to go with falafel. I’ve tried baking them but they tend to dry out more in the oven and don’t get that beautiful mix of a crispy outside and tender inside.

Also, don’t make these with canned chickpeas – they have to be dried chickpeas to achieve the right texture. I soak mine for a full 24 hours, plus I refrigerate my uncooked falafel for a few hours so it does take a bit of planning ahead to make these.

lola rugula falafel and tahini sauce

Falafel RecipeI

This recipe makes about 65 falafel with a full pound of chickpeas. I can easily pile 10 into one sandwich, if that helps put the amount in persepective.

(Tahini sauce recipe follows, below)

  • 1 lb dried chickpeas
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seed
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seed
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 large onion, cut into thirds
  • 3 scallions, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • Canola, corn or other vegetable oil for frying
  1. Place chickpeas in a large bowl or pan and fill with cold water. Make sure they’ve covered by at least 4-5 inches of water.
  2. Let sit for 24 hours.
  3. Drain, rinse and drain again well in a colander.
  4. Place cumin seed and coriander seed in a small pan and toast over medium heat for about 5 minutes, tossing the seeds often.
  5. Put toasted seeds in food processor
  6. Add garlic, onion, scallions to the food processor
  7. Pulse until everything is finely chopped
  8. Add 1/2 of the chickpeas & blend well, stopping to scrape the sides and the bottom a few times. You want a nice fine meal but don’t want to puree it until everything’s liquified.
  9. Scrape everything out into a large bowl
  10. Add remaining whole chickpeas to food processor
  11. Add cilantro, parsley, salt, red pepper flakes, lemon zest and lemon juice to food processor
  12. Blend well, scraping sides and bottom a few times
  13. Transfer to the same large bowl with the other 1/2 of chickpea mixture
  14. Stir everything to combine it all very well
  15. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours
  16. Gently form golf ball size balls – try not to pack them too tightly, just tight enough to hold together well. Place finished balls on a large baking sheet or serving plate (I typically use 2 baking sheets) If you just cannot get the balls to hold together, add 2-3 tablespoons of flour to the mixture and mix well. I’ve never had to add flour to mine but a number of things could result in their lack of stickiness, such as old beans or not grinding your mixture enough.
  17. Fill a large skillet (my big cast iron works great for this) with about 2 inches of oil and heat over medium heat
  18. Pinch off a bit of a ball and put it in the oil to test the heat
  19. When the bit of batter sizzles, test one or two balls in the center of the pan
  20. When oil is ready, fry the balls for about 5-6 minutes in all,  turning about 3 minutes in, until nicely browned all the way around. I can typically fit about 10-12 into my large skillet and still be able to move them around easily.
  21. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, carefully remove cooked falafel and place on paper towels to drain.
  22. Repeat with remaining falafel

Tips:

  1. Don’t crowd the pan with too many at once
  2. Don’t try to turn them until they’ve been in the oil for a couple of minutes – this will assure that they hold together

Here’s a shot of some of my falafel pre-frying:

lola rugula how to make falafel

You can serve falafel a number of ways, such as an appetizer with a tahini sauce or hummus served alongside it. My favorite way (and the first way I ever had it) is piled into a pita with fresh veggies and tahini sauce.

Here’s how to make tahini sauce:

Tahini Sauce Recipe

  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 3/4 cup tahini – make sure it’s been stirred very, very well before using
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • Juice of 1 large lemon; about 2 tablespoons
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. In a food processor, blend garlic until finely minced
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until well blended, about 2-3 minutes
  3. If the sauce is still a little thick, add 1 tablespoon of water and blend well again
  4. Transfer to a bowl and set aside

When I make falafel sandwiches, I may not make them in the traditional way but this is the way I love them; piled with falafel, onion, tomato, thin cucumber slices and tahini sauce.  I cut my falafel in half before adding them because they are easier to eat this way, plus I can stuff more of them in. 🙂 I can typically fit 8-10 falafel into one pita half.

lola rugula falafel sandwich

Making falafel at the holidays serves double duty since one batch makes so many. I can serve half of them as an appetizer at holiday gatherings, and then make sandwiches for me and my husband when it’s just the two of us. Works out perfectly!

These are also really good with tzatziki sauce and, when making sandwiches, don’t be shy with your topping. Add what you love and make it your own.

I hope you’re all enjoying your holidays!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

Easy Honey Glazed Baked Salmon

I figured since I make this every few weeks that it was high time I posted the recipe. This is one of my easiest weeknight dinners and a delicious way to enjoy salmon. I love baking salmon because it’s easy and practically foolproof, and this marinade gives it a light, flavorful glaze.

lola rugula honey glazed salmon

Honey and Soy Glazed Baked Salmon Recipe

  • 1 lb. salmon fillet
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  1. Pat salmon dry and place on a foil-lined roasting pan or baking sheet
  2. Brush with soy sauce and sesame oil
  3. Let marinate about 20 minutes
  4. Brush salmon again with any marinade that’s run off
  5. Brush with honey
  6. Bake in preheated 400º oven for about 11 minutes (if you can remember to brush with the marinade that’s run off again about 1/2 way through the baking time, it helps add to the flavor. If not, not a big deal. :))
  7. Sprinkle with sliced scallions
  8. Bake about 4-5 minutes more or until thickest part of salmon easily flakes with a fork

Isn’t that crazy simple?

Here are some easy additions:

  • Add minced ginger and garlic before baking
  • Sprinkle with sesame seeds when you add the sliced scallions
  • For a darker glaze and a more intense roasted flavor, pop under the broiler for the last few minutes

With this easy baked salmon and a steamed vegetable alongside it, you’ve got a delicious and healthy meal in no time. I also love serving this with black or wild rice or black lentils.  If you haven’t tried my braised black lentils recipe, you should give it a try! It’s one of my husband’s favorite sides.

lola rugula baked salmon with honey soy glaze

Of course, if you’re not a fan of soy or sesame, you can customize this baked salmon however you’d like. Here are a few ways I’ve done my baked salmon:

  • Olive oil (or butter) and minced dill or basil
  • Olive oil with minced garlic and scallions
  • Butter, white wine, and chopped tarragon
  • Bake salmon and then top with finely chopped tomato, red onion, and cilantro

Salmon is a heart-healthy meal and hopefully, if you’ve not tried this easy baking method before, you now have a simple way to add it to your menu. This recipe is perfect proof that eating well doesn’t have to be complicated or involve a bunch of ingredients.

You can also just bake the salmon with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and then enjoy it as it or with some fresh greens. If you want to get really creative, shred the cooked salmon and make salmon cakes out of it! (another favorite in my house)

Enjoy!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

Mini Vegetable Spring Rolls with Tahini Dipping Sauce

I’m a huge fan of spring rolls. They offer a delicious way to stuff lots of veggies into a small package and they can be paired with a number of different dipping sauces. This recipe is basically just an appetizer-size of my previous recipe on spring rolls. What I do here is cut the rice wrappers in half after dipping them in water, making them more finger food friendly, while still packing huge flavor and a nutritional punch.

I also want to share my tahini dipping sauce recipe with you, not just because it’s delicious but because tahini, which is a paste made from sesame seeds, is full of nutrients that are good for you.

lola rugula mini veggie spring rolls with tahini dipping sauce

Miniature Vegetable Spring Rolls with Tahini Dipping Sauce

While it’s hard to say exactly the quantity of veggies and noodles you’ll need for rolling these, this is approximately what I used for 24 small spring rolls. A lot will depend on how much you stuff into each one of them. 🙂

Try and slice your veggies thin and uniformly, keeping them about 2-3 inches long when possible. Don’t make yourself crazy here – they’re all getting stuffed into rolls, for Pete’s sake.

I like to make my dipping sauce ahead of the rolls, so it’s ready to go.

Tahini Dipping Sauce Recipe

  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 3/4 cup tahini – make sure it’s been stirred very, very well before using
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • Juice of 1 large lemon; about 2 tablespoons
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. In a food processor, blend garlic until finely minced.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until well blended, about 2-3 minutes.
  3. If sauce is still a little thick, add a tablespoon of water and blend well again.
  4. Transfer to a small ramekin or serving bowl and set aside.

Miniature Vegetable and Rice Noodle Spring Rolls Recipe

  • 10 spring roll rice paper wrappers (I find these next to the tofu, sprouts and egg roll wrappers at my local store). These are typically refrigerated but if you bring them to room temperature about an hour before using them, you’ll find they’re less brittle and easier to work with.
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked rice noodles
  • 6 medium asparagus spears, thinly sliced
  • 10 snow peas, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced red cabbage
  • 1/2 medium sweet bell pepper, thinly sliced (I used an orange one here, but you can use yellow or red)
  • 3 scallions, trimmed to white and tender greens, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned
  • 1/2 cup julienned zucchini
  • 1/2 cup julienned cucumber that’s been peeled and seeds removed
  • 3/4 cup cilantro leaves

Directions:

  • Cook the rice noodles, run under cold water until cool. Drain very well and set aside. (I heat boiling water, add my noodles, cook about a minute and then set aside for 10 before draining and cooling)
  • In a small pan or microwave steamer, add asparagus and 1/4 of water, cover and steam about 2 minutes
  • Add sliced snow peas to asparagus and steam about 1 minute more.
  • Drain asparagus and snow peas, run under cold water and drain well. Set aside.
  • Fill a bowl or large plate (I’ve found that a large plate works best for this) with lukewarm water, for dipping your wrappers in.

Here’s where you need to have everything ready to go.

  • Have all of your veggies, noodles and cilantro ready to go
  • Have a large cutting board or serving platter ready, to place your finished rolls on
  • Have your plate of lukewarm water ready for dipping the spring roll wrappers
  • Have a sharp knife and cutting board ready to use solely for the spring rolls

Are you ready? Let make some spring rolls!

  1. Dip 1 spring roll wrapper in the plate or bowl of lukewarm water, swishing it around to make sure all of it’s moistened. Flip and do the same to the other side. Hold the wrapper above the plate for a couple of seconds, to let the excess water run off.
  2. Lay the dampened wrapper on a cutting board and, very carefully, using a very sharp knife, cut the wrapper in half.
  3. Add a few noodles and then a couple of each of the prepared veggies and a few cilantro leaves on top of the bottom third (towards you) of each of the 1/2 wrappers.
  4. Like you’re rolling a burrito, wrap one end around your fillings and use the end of the wrapper you’re holding to pull all of the fillings toward you tightly and then tighten your wrap around the filling. Roll once, fold up the round end and then continue rolling until complete.
  5. Place on serving platter and repeat with remaining rolls.

lola rugula mini vegetable spring rolls with tahini dipping sauce

Spring rolls are always best served fresh or at least within an hour or so. The wrappers tend to dry out and become crispy and weird again if left to sit too long. I’ve covered them with damp paper towels to extend their time and this works better than just leaving them to their own devices.

If you want to save yourself the trouble of wrapping these, turn them into a fun party appetizer by creating a spread and letting your friends roll their own. Maybe not so appropriate for a formal dinner but great for a casual get-together and definitely a conversation starter.

lola rugula spring rolls with tahini dipping sauce appetizer

Crunchy, antioxidant-packed, delicious and fun! If you’ve ever wondered how to make spring rolls, now you’re a pro. Don’t be discouraged if your first roll or two don’t turn out – this still happens to me sometimes and I make these pretty often. Just keep pushing on and you’ll get the hang of them in no time.

And of course, don’t be afraid to play with these – mix up your veggies and herbs for a new flavor every time you make them. The prep work in these is really most of the work, so it’s easy to have fun with changing them up.

Enjoy!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

ten easy homemade soup recipes

Soup is a wonderful, versatile thing. It’s warm and steamy when we’re cold, it’s comforting and nourishing when we don’t feel well, and it can be cool and crisp on a hot summer afternoon. It can be chunky and rustic or it can be smooth and rich. Soup is also often a great way to use leftovers and that’s one of the reasons I’m a huge fan. If you’ve been a follower of mine for a while, you know how much I love soup, so I decided to put together a collection of some of my favorite soup recipes to date. Here’s a list of my most popular soup recipes, links to each included. Enjoy!

Ten Easy Homemade Soup Recipes

  1. Easy Lamb Stew Recipe (okay, while technically a stew, this is so simple, easy and popular on my site that I had to include it.)
  2. Roasted Garlic and Leek Soup with Potatoes (my most recently-posted soup recipe and a staple in my house for a long, long time)
  3. Rattlesnake Bean and Vegetable Soup (great with any dried bean, so feel free to use your favorite)
  4. Navy Bean and Ham Soup Recipe (a great way to use that leftover ham and ham bone after your holiday get-together)
  5. Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup (so versatile and delicious as a hot soup or a chilled soup)
  6. Miso Soup with Shitake Mushrooms and Tofu (if you’re looking for a restorative soup recipe, this is the one)
  7. Tuscan Soup (another classic that is easy to make and packed full of flavor)
  8. Lobster Bisque (creamy, decadent and oh, so worth a little extra effort)
  9. Cream of Mushroom Soup (pictured below – made with a variety of mushrooms, you will never go back to canned soup)
  10. Classic Summer Garden Gazpacho (lets the flavors of your beautiful homegrown tomatoes shine through!)

wild mushroom soup recipe

There you go! A compilation of some of my best soup recipes. And most of my soup recipes are easily-customizable to fit your taste and use what you have on-hand.

Never, ever be afraid to play with your soup….or food. 🙂

Enjoy!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

i don’t think you’re ready for this hot pepper jelly recipe

Break out the cream cheese and crackers because I’ve got on an old-school classic for you that I just can’t resist sharing. This is an easy holiday appetizer recipe and guess what – it also makes a great gift! If you want to fancy it up a bit, you can swap out the cream cheese for goat or feta cheese but, no matter how you serve this, I promise that almost everyone will love it. Hot pepper jelly or jalapeno jelly is a silly-simple thing to make but it’s something I love and this is a perfect time of year for it.

This is an unprocessed hot pepper jelly recipe, as most of them you’ll find involve water-bathing or steam canning and honestly, as much as I enjoy canning, this stays just long enough to enjoy a batch without the extra work. I hot pack my jelly, so the jars seal and that, along with the vinegar in this, will be enough for a lot of people to tell you that you can put it up and preserve it without any refrigeration. Though I clean and dry my canning jars for this, I don’t sterilize them, so I refrigerate mine after processing. I have no problem keeping this batch for a month or more in the fridge and again, that’s thanks to the vinegar and hot packing process.

lola rugula canned hot pepper jelly

hot pepper jelly (aka jalapeno jelly) recipe

  • 2 large bell peppers – I typically use red, yellow or orange for the color. Remove stems and seeds and discard.
  • 4-8 jalapeno peppers or other hot peppers. Remove stems and discard. Remove the seeds if you want to tone down the heat.
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 1.75 oz. package less or no-sugar needed Sure Jell

For me, this makes 5  of the 1/2 pint canning jars. Wash and dry your jars and lids and set aside.

Cut the bell peppers into quarters and the jalapenos in half and place in food processor. Pulse a couple of times and then scrape the sides of the bowl. Pulse again a couple of times until all of the peppers are minced. Be careful not to liquify the peppers – you just want to chop them until they’re minced. There may be a tiny bit of liquid in the bottom of the bowl, but that should be all.

Here’s what they should look like:

lola rugula peppers for jelly

  1. Scrape the minced peppers out into a large saucepan.
  2. Add vinegar and sugar to the pan and stir well.
  3. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 7 minutes.
  4. Add package of pectin, stir well with a fork or whisk and bring back to a boil.
  5. Make sure all of the pectin is fully incorporated and there aren’t any lumps.
  6. Boil 1 more minute.
  7. Be careful here to not let the mixture boil up and over the pan.
  8. You should actually start to see or feel with a spoon the mixture start to thicken and gel a bit.
  9. Quickly and carefully pack the hot mixture into clean canning jars, leaving about 1/4 inch of headspace, wipe the rims of the jars clean, and seal with lids and bands.
  10. Let cool at room temperature. Typically, my lids will seal in about 35-45 minutes.
  11. When completely cool, refrigerate.

Tada! You’ve achieved simple no-canning-required hot pepper jelly. Easy, right?

The heat of this totally depends on you and the peppers you want to use. Want to make ghost chili or Carolina Reaper hot pepper jelly? You can, but you probably should only use one of them and not six, as my recipe calls for. You’ll need to taste your peppers first, to gauge the heat, although peppers often get hotter when cooked so only let this be your guide.

Serve with softened cream cheese (or goat or feta) and some crackers. People are going to love you for this, I promise. 🙂

lola rugula hot pepper jelly and cream cheese

As I mentioned earlier, this can also make a really nice little gift by simply putting a jar of it into a gift basket or bag, along with a brick of cream cheese or tub of feta, and some nice crackers.

I’ve read where people add food coloring to their hot pepper jelly and I just don’t think it’s necessary. I mean, look at the beautiful colors in this:

lola rugula hot pepper jelly preserves recipe

I also consider this a low-sugar hot pepper jelly recipe, as a lot of recipes call for twice the amount of sugar that I do. I think the sugar in this is more than sufficient and provides just enough sweet foil to the heat of the hot peppers.

The real beauty of this is that if you make some now and have some cream cheese and crackers on hand, you can whip up an easy appetizer in no time at all. I can’t tell you how nice this is when you’ve got people dropping by unexpectedly, not only at the holidays but all year round.

lola rugula hot pepper jelly photo

This is so much fun to serve to guests – most just aren’t’ expecting the heat but enjoy it, once they’ve tasted it. And you know if there’s anyone who loves an easy holiday appetizer recipe, it’s this girl. I’ve got enough things to do this time of year, so this just makes life a little bit easier.

I hope you try this and love it. Enjoy!