Ask someone what they consider “fun food,” and there are a few standard responses: popcorn and pizza, cotton candy and ice cream sundaes.
For me, having a variety of things to choose from, with a variety of flavors, textures and ingredients, makes me happy. Things like mezes—a selection of small dishes served as appetizers in parts of the Middle East, the Balkans, Greece, and North Africa—or tapas, the Spanish bar treats.
So, building on the concept of food “bars”—think tacos or pizza—I offer some variations on the theme of staging your own spread. This can be something you can do to feed yourself or a crowd.
Given the many options, pick a theme—Mediterranean, Mexican, French, Comfort, etc.—and build on that idea. Or just do what appeals and what you have time, energy, and money for! Here is the basic approach.
You want something relatively flat that doesn’t aspire to be a sandwich.
- Flat breads, tortillas, naan, pitas, flat crackers, or chips
- Baked potatoes—either white or sweet
- Roasted vegetables—potatoes, eggplant, squash, peppers, fennel
Look for the many offerings at your favorite grocery store. Trader Joe’s carries a wide selection of delicious premade options. And there are many spreads you can easily make if you have a food processor and the time.
- Tuna or salmon salads
- Tapenades—green or black olive
- Hummus (there are many to choose from) or other bean spreads: Edamame, lentil, black bean, white bean
- Cheese spreads—feta, pimento cheese (PCC makes a fabulous one), pub cheese, flavored cream cheese
- Guacamole, tzatziki, spinach artichoke spread
These are the things you add on top that provide texture and a hit of flavor: olives, pickles, red peppers, other condiments that seem like fun.
Wishing you fun!
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes in oil, heated with 1 clove crushed garlic in microwave for 30 seconds
2/3 cup green pitted olives with or without pimentos
1 cup (or one jar) marinated artichoke hearts
½ cup feta cheese, shredded or crumbled
Pulse all ingredients in processor until smooth. To serve, heat in microwave until hot and bubbly (2 minutes). Serve on sliced toasted baguettes or other good bread.
Makes 2 cups
Rebecca’s Famous Cilantro Salsa
This recipe has several lives. It starts out as a fresh topping or dip, transitions to a cooked sauce for fish or pasta, and transforms into the base for soup. In a way, it represents the approach cooks have always taken, often at the last minute, to use what’s left in the refrigerator.
1 bunch fresh cilantro, washed
1 bunch green onions or 1/2 red or sweet white onion
6-8 small or 3-4 medium tomatoes—or large handful of grape tomatoes
1/8 tsp. cayenne, a few drops tabasco or other hot sauce, 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes or ½ to 1 jalapeno or other fresh hot pepper—whatever you like that gives a peppery bite to things
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper
In processor, pulse onion and cilantro until coarsely chopped. Add tomatoes (quartered or cut into chunks), pepper, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Pulse until chopped and blended. Check for flavor. It should have a dominant cilantro taste with a good sour tang and slight hot kick at the end.
Phase 1 — Freshly made
Nachos. Serve with chips or over other nacho ingredients.
Quesadillas. Spread on a flour tortilla, add the protein of your choice (taco meat, cooked chicken, fresh crab, etc.), sprinkle with grated cheddar and jack, put another tortilla on top, heat it in the microwave or hot oven for one minute until cheese melts. Cut in wedges and serve as an appetizer.
Baked potatoes. Bake potatoes in oven or microwave. Cut open and fluff. Sprinkle some mixture of cheeses (cheddar and feta or jack) over it, heat in oven or microwave until the cheeses melt. Top generously with salsa.
Garlic potatoes and cheese. Cut yellow Finn or other waxy potatoes into chunks, and toss with whole garlic cloves and olive oil. Bake, tightly covered in microwave, until soft. Top with mixed grated cheeses. Heat until cheese melts. Serve with the salsa.
Phase 2 — One or two days later
Huevos rancheros. Heat the salsa in a non-stick frying pan. Gently drop several eggs into the pan, making slight depression for each one. Cook gently until they are “poached,” sprinkle with cheese, let the cheese melt, and serve over corn tortilla.
Baked fish. Pour salsa over fresh red snapper and cook in the microwave or broil.
Phase 3 – Up to four days later
Use the salsa as the base for tortilla soup. Heat defrosted frozen or canned chicken broth with the salsa, fresh crushed garlic, and fresh lime juice. After it has heated, top with chopped fresh cilantro and shredded fried tortillas or crumbled leftover tortilla chips. Sprinkle with grated cheese before serving.
In the beginning, there was food! Before Rebecca Crichton worked for Boeing, taught leadership development, or became executive director of the Northwest Center for Creative Aging, she was a caterer, recipe developer, and food journalist. She has taught cooking to seniors and others, and she can reel off food ideas and recipes for any part of a meal or event. She believes in easily prepared, healthy, and taste-filled food that delights and satisfies.