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Festive favorites: 5 healthy, simple, and ultra-delicious holiday appetizers

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Ah the holidays! A time for family and friends, feasts and, well, stress. But, creating a festive table for your next gathering doesn't have to be something to dread. These five appetizers are my go-to, low-stress, full of flavor, absolute favorite little bites of heaven. Some are family favorites from my childhood; some are new and improved healthier versions; and some are just, well, good, but all of them pair well together and with wine! So, sit back, relax, and enjoy your party!

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On the menu for this party is:

  • Prosciutto-Wrapped Stuffed Figs with Citrus Vinaigrette
  • Cucumber and Pomegranate Crunch
  • Mom’s Sweet and Spicy Meatballs
  • The Ultimate Fruit and Cheese Platter
  • Mom’s Bourbon-Rum Balls

Wine pairings: All of the recipes below pair well with Champagne and sparkling wine, as well as dry or off-dry whites. Since there are a lot of fruits in these recipes, try for ones that have a little acidity to them. My favorites are Brander Sauvignon Blanc ($12), Frexinet Cava ($12), Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial ($30-40), Chandon ($15), and J Pinot Gris ($20).

Prosciutto-Wrapped Stuffed Figs with Citrus Vinaigrette
These little bites are perfect to make ahead of any gathering and easy to adjust the quantity for the size of the party. Make as little or as much as you want, but be careful! They will go fast!

Ingredients
Container of fresh or dried figs
1 log fresh Chevre or other herbed goat cheese
1 package all natural prosciutto
1 pear, cored and thinly sliced

  1. Slice the prosciutto into four quarters (or in half depending on the size).
  2. Thinly slice the pear.
  3. Slice each fig in half.
  4. Spread about 1 teaspoon of the cheese onto the fig.
  5. Dip a pear slice into the vinaigrette (recipe below) and place the fig (cheese side down) onto the fruit.
  6. Wrap a slice of prosciutto around the pear-fig ensemble. Repeat for however many guests will be attending. Estimate about two to three of these little morsels per guest.

For the Vinaigrette
½ ruby red grapefruit
½ lime
1 tablespoon honey
1 to 2 tablespoons white vinegar
½ teaspoon fresh or dried thyme
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Juice the lime and grapefruit into a bowl.
  2. Add the honey, white vinegar, and thyme.
  3. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add more honey, vinegar, or olive oil to your taste. The vinegar should be slightly sweet, slightly tangy, but well-balanced.

Cucumber and Pomegranate Crunch
These are not only cool, crisp, and creamy; they are also healthy for you too! Using an herbed cheese spread adds complexity and flavor as well. These can be assembled ahead of time and keep chilled until time to serve. These are also great for weekday snacks!

Ingredients
1 hot house cucumber
1 package fresh pomegranate seeds
1 package herbed cheese spread, such as Boursin Garlic and Herbs

  1. Bring the package of cheese to room temperature. This will aid in spreading it onto the cucumber slices.
  2. Slice the cucumber into ¼ inch rounds. Line on a serving platter. Note: Rather than just putting them in a straight line, arrange them in a shape, wreath, or other creative pattern.
  3. Spread about a ½ teaspoon to a teaspoon of the cheese onto each slice.
  4. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds (about five or six) and press them slightly into the cheese. Chill until serving.

Mom’s Sweet and Spicy Meatballs
Every Christmas, my mom would make these amazing meatballs. Sweet, sticky, and spicy they were seriously addicting. I have adapted her meatball recipe to include hidden vegetables. This is a great way to sneak some extra veggies into kids’ diets and, by adding a blunt toothpick, they magically turn into “lollipops!” If you are pressed for time though, you can always substitute high-quality frozen meatballs as well. Serve them warm on their own or with some crunchy crostini.

Ingredients
¼ cup minced red bell pepper
¼ cup minced onion
¼ cup minced carrot
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ teaspoon Italian seasoning (salt free)
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, minced
1 egg, beaten
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground beef sirloin
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 bottle Chili Sauce (such as Heinz chili sauce)
1 jar grape jelly (10 ounces)
Splash of Siracha sauce for extra heat.

  1. In a large bowl, combine the first eight ingredients. Add the egg and mix well.
  2. Add the pork and beef and mix until the ingredients are all equally distributed. Do not over mix!
  3. Using a large melon-baller (or your best judgment), shape the mixture into ½ to ¾ inch meatballs. These tend to be the perfect size for a single bite, but you could make them larger or smaller depending on your preference (and crowd size).
  4. Heat oil in a large skillet. Brown the meatballs in small batches, turning frequently. Set aside.
  5. In a small saucepan, heat the chili sauce and jelly until combined. Add the meatballs and sauce to a slow cooker or Dutch oven.
  6. Cook on high for about an hour or until the meatballs are cooked through. Turn the heat to low and keep in the slow cooker on low until ready to serve. Serve warm.

The Ultimate Fruit and Cheese Platter
For just about every party or get together, I always make a fruit and cheese platter. It’s a great way to try new cheeses and to experiment with flavors. And, by using the sliced fruit instead of crackers, you can make this a low-carb appetizer too! Perfect for heading into the new year with a healthy new you! I love the combinations of the fruits and cheeses below (as well as how they pair with the rest of this menu), but mix and match to whatever suits your tastes. Sliced cucumbers or radishes would also add a nice twist to the platter.

Options for the Platter
1 wedge Blue Stilton
1 wedge Triple-Crème Camembert
1 wedge Gruyere
1 to 2 bunches of red grapes, cut into small bunches
1 Anjou Pear, cored and thinly sliced
1 Fuji or Gala Apple, cored and thinly sliced
Handful of fresh or dried figs, thinly sliced
Handful of fresh pomegranate seeds
Box of a variety of wheat and water crackers

To assemble:
There really is not any one way to assemble a platter. Use the photo in the slide show as a guide. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Place the three cheese wedges far enough apart so that your guests can easily slice into them.
  • Make a few slices of each cheese ahead of time and place on the platter with the wedge. Keep the cheese knife used near the corresponding cheese. You don’t want the taste of blue cheese on your Gruyere!
  • If there’s room on the platter, fan out two or three different varieties of crackers. Otherwise, place on a separate plate nearby.
  • Fan out the pears, then the apples, and then the figs along one corner or side of the platter. Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds around and place in small mounds with a small serving spoon nearby.
  • Finally, place the clumps of grapes around the platter to fill in any gaps and add color. Enjoy!

Mom’s Bourbon-Rum Balls
Who knew something so little could be so dangerous? Mom did! Every year, mom always made her famous rum balls for the holidays. They are simple, easy, sweet, and, well, have quite the kick to them! The trick is to not keep tasting as you’re rolling, otherwise, it’ll be a long night and an even longer morning. Quick note: If you add too much of the liquid, the rum balls won’t fully form. If needed, add some more pecans and graham crackers to get the right consistency. A food processor, or mini food processor, makes the job of crushing the crackers and pecans a breeze!

Ingredients
1 cup crushed graham crackers
1 cup crushed pecans
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons light corn or agave syrup
1 jigger bourbon
1 jigger light rum
More powdered sugar for rolling

  1. Combine the first six ingredients in a bowl. Mix well.
  2. Roll into small 1 inch balls and place on parchment paper. Chill for two hours.
  3. Add additional powdered sugar into a bowl. Roll each ball into the powdered sugar to cover. Place in serving bowl. Store leftovers (if there are any) in a plastic container for up to a week.

Note: For a non-alcoholic version, add water and a little more syrup to the mixture until you get the right consistency to roll into a ball. Follow the rest of the recipe as usual.

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