Easy appetizers for summer entertaining — no recipe required

Tortilla Espanada bites

Does this sound like you? You’ve invited friends and family over for a summer dinner al fresco. Everything is going swimmingly, and then it seems the hands on the clock start spinning. Before you know it, your guests have arrived and you’re pouring a bag of veggie chips into a bowl and offering them a tub of sour cream as an appetizer while dinner finishes cooking.

Small bites, easy summer appetizers

What you need, dear friends, are a few platters of small bites, easy appetizers that take the stress out of summer entertaining.

Of course, in mid-summer the last thing you want is to spend time over the stove or recipes that have a dozen ingredients and are particularly fussy. We are of like mind. After spending hours with Google searching for easy, delicious, gasp-worthy hors d’oeuvres we narrowed the choices using these criteria.

  • There must be no, or minimal, cooking.
  • They should be intuitive, prepared with minimal instruction, and no recipe if possible.
  • Use of prepared foods was encouraged.
  • They must be able to be eaten with one hand, which preferably would not get dirty in the process.
  • Visual appeal was an imperative, as was a mix of colors, food groups, and textures.
  • They must be able to be made ahead of time. We really want to have that glass of wine and enjoy some time with our guests before putting the final touches on dinner.

Most of the appetizers we chose can be made with items you have in your pantry: eggs, cheese, yogurt, olives, roasted peppers, etc.

Bamboo toothpicks
Bamboo Knot Mini Cocktail Sticks

A blender whips up a chilled soup in no time at all. Other ingredients can be picked up at the deli. Toothpicks and skewers solve the finger-food problem—just make sure each little bite is, indeed, bite-sized. has a nice variety of decorative bamboo and wood picks, which will make your platters celebratory, but regular toothpicks will work in a pinch.

We made every one of the non-recipes here. The BLUE HARE Tasting GroupPanel gave them two thumbs up. All are flexible; you can make as many or few as you want.

Caprese Skewers with Balsamic Glaze

A plate of these can be assembled in minutes. What you will need:

  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Fresh mini mozzarella balls
  • Good extra virgin olive oil
  • Aged balsamic vinegar or prepared balsamic glaze

To prepare: Cut a thin slice from the top (stem end) of each tomato to provide a flat base for the stack. Use a toothpick or skewer to spear a mozzarella ball, then a basil leaf, folded if necessary, then the tomato. Repeat until you use all of your ingredients. Arrange on a platter. Salt, pepper, then drizzle with olive oil and a few drops of balsamic vinegar or glaze.

Chilled Zucchini Soup

Chilled zucchini soup

This does require some cooking, but preparation is minimal. What you will need for 4 to 6 servings:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • 4 medium zucchini, roughly chopped
  • 3 to 4 cups of vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 C. buttermilk

To prepare: Cook onions in olive oil in a medium pan. When onions are transparent add zucchini and broth. Cook over low heat until zucchini is soft. Let cool, then pour into blender or use hand-held blender stick. Purée until silky smooth. Add buttermilk—more or less to taste—and blend until well incorporated. Pour into small glasses or cups. Add a good grind of fresh black pepper to each glass. Place on a tray to serve.

Manchego Cheese with Quince Paste

Manchego cheese with quince marmalada

An outstanding flavor combination that requires very little work on your part. You will need:

  • A block of Manchego cheese; the amount depends on how many people you’re serving
  • A jar/package of Membrillo, or quince paste. Available at specialty markets and on com.

To prepare: Cut the cheese into triangles about ½” thick so the toothpick will hold. Cut slices of quince paste, then cut smaller pieces to fit onto the top of the cheese triangles. Place toothpick in center. Repeat.

Tortilla Espanola with Peppers and Olives

Tortialla Espanada bites

Tortilla Española is an egg and potato dish similar to a frittata. Served in Spain as a tapas plate, it can be made a day or two in advance. Spanish tortilla is traditionally made in a pan on the stovetop. We found a recipe for an oven-baked tortilla, which reduces both the work and the mess. What you need:

  • Spanish tortilla, chilled, or at room temperature
  • A jar of roasted red peppers
  • Pitted green olives

To prepare: Cut the tortilla into 1” squares. Clean peppers of any seeds and ribs, then cut into ribbons to fold on top of the tortilla cubes. Spear an olive with a toothpick or skewer, then attach pepper and tortilla. Repeat. One tortilla recipe should yield 20 appetizers.

Cucumber Bites with Labneh, Olives, and Herbs

Cucumbeer with labneh

Little slices of Persian cucumbers topped with labneh—a thick, strained yogurt—that is mixed with chopped olives, mint, and chives creates a refreshing interlude to richer fare. What you will need:

  • Several Persian cucumbers
  • 1 container of labneh
  • Pitted kalamata olives
  • Finely chopped mint
  • Minced chives

To prepare: Slice cucumbers into ¾” rounds. In a bowl mix together labneh, olives, and herbs to taste. Add a dollop of the labneh mixture into the center of each round. Place a toothpick in the center of each round and arrange them on a platter.

Hoisin Chicken Lettuce Cups

A batch of these can be whipped up in no time if you have a couple of ingredients on hand:

  • 1 package of Trader Joe’s Grilled Chicken Strips (found in the frozen food aisle). The chicken is pre-seasoned.
  • Jar of hoisin sauce
  • Bottle of soy sauce
  • Head or two of Bibb lettuce.

To prepare: Separate the lettuce leaves into individual cups, two or three per person. Wash, dry, and keep chilled. Defrost or heat a few chicken strips per lettuce cup. In a bowl soften hoisin sauce with a small amount of soy sauce; you want it to be spoonable but not runny. Place chicken in the middle of lettuce and drizzle sauce over top to taste. Arrange on a wicker or bamboo plate.

Mini Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Mini grilled sheese sandwiches

These little sandwiches were very popular with our tasting group. You will need:

  • Loaf of fine-crumbed white bread, like Pepperidge Farm sandwich bread
  • American, cheddar, or pimento cheese, or the cheese of your choice
  • Butter
  • Grape tomatoes for garnish

To prepare: Make grilled cheese sandwiches. Refrigerate for 15 minutes before cutting into squares to prevent the cheese from oozing out while you slice. If you like, place a slice of grape tomato on top of each mini sandwich. Use a toothpick or skewer to hold it together.

Chilled Strawberry-Beet Soup

Chilled strawberry-beet soup

With few ingredients, the pure flavors of the ingredients shine through in this refreshing cold soup. You will need:

  • One cup cooked beets; canned is fine
  • One cup strawberries, washed and hulled
  • One cup peeled and seeded cucumber
  • Buttermilk

To prepare: Cut the vegetables and fruit into large chunks, then add to a blender. If using canned beets add ¼ cup beet juice. Purée until the mixture is very smooth. Add water as needed to create a smooth consistency. Add up to a cup of buttermilk, to taste. Pour into small glasses or cups. Top with sea salt and pink peppercorns.

Watermelon Feta Bites

Watermelon feta skewers

Salty feta cheese complements sweet summer watermelon in these skewers. A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of fresh mint adds a sophisticated note. A crowd pleaser that can double as a dessert. You will need:

  • ¼ seedless watermelon
  • 1 block feta cheese in brine
  • Several sprigs fresh mint
  • Balsamic vinegar

To prepare: Cut the watermelon into ¾” slices, remove the rind and any stray seeds, then cut into cubes. Drain the feta, then cut into ½” cubes. Place one cube cheese on top of a cube of watermelon. Hold the stack together with a skewer or toothpick. Repeat. Arrange on a platter; drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Finely mince the mint and sprinkle on watermelon and around the plate.

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