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Appetizers from Around the World

It’s cocktail party time again. Here is an array of vegan munchies that you can make for your own holiday shindig, or take along to a potluck party.

The first recipe is my own adaptation of my favorite cocktail nibble, cheese straws. Most Southern cheese straws are made with cheddar cheese. Unfortunately, none of the vegan cheddars on the market have the proper fatty consistency to bake a crisp, flaky cheese straw. I substituted vegan parmesan for the cheddar, and whole wheat pastry flour for the white flour. Earth Balance non-hydrogenated margarine stands in for the butter. They’re really great. I think I like the Crispy Cocktail Cookie variation even better!  

Southern Vegan “Cheese” Cocktail Cookies
Recipe by Lisa T. Bennett
Makes about 36
Preparation Time: 30 minutes

  • 2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 c. margarine Earth Balance
  • 1/2 lb. grated vegan Parmesan cheese
  • 24 pecan halves

Directions: In a mixer or food processor bowl, stir flour, salt, and cayenne pepper together. Add softened Earth Balance and vegan parmesan. Mix until dough begins to come together. (If dough is still dry, add a bit more margarine.) Shape dough into small balls (I use a #40 ice cream scoop, or a heaping teaspoon.) Flatten each ball between your palms, place it on the parchment-lined cookie sheet, and flatten it a bit more. Press a pecan half into each cookie. Bake at 350ºF for 10–12 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool. Pack carefully into an airtight tin or freeze until needed. Serve as a nibble with cocktails.

Variation: Crispy Cocktail Cookies: Add 2 additional tablespoons of Earth Balance and then stir in 1/2 cup of brown rice crisp cereal (like Erewhon Original Crispy Brown Rice) by hand. Shape dough into small balls and flatten. Omit pecan halves. Bake at 350ºF for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.

Vegan Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pies)
Recipe by Lisa T. Bennett
Makes 48
Preparation Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

  • 2 lbs. spinach,* washed, chopped
  • 1/4 c. scallions, chopped
  • 1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 c. fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/2 c. onions,** chopped
  • 1 lb. firm tofu, crumbled
  • 2 Tbs. umeboshi plum vinegar
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 1 pkg. filo dough sheet, thawed

Directions: Shred spinach and mix with scallions, parsley, dill, and salt. Let stand 10 minutes. Squeeze out moisture by the handful. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and sauté onions until transparent, about 5 minutes.

Crumble tofu into a bowl and sprinkle with umeboshi plum vinegar. It will look pink now, but don’t worry-the color goes away in the dish. The umeboshi vinegar is salty-sour and will make the tofu taste a lot like feta.

Stir spinach mixture and tofu in with onions. Remove from heat and cool, stirring occasionally, to room temperature.

Remove filo from package and cover carefully with a damp cloth. Working quickly, remove one sheet from the package and recover the remaining sheets.

Brush surface of filo with olive oil, spreading it all the way to the outside edges, and lay another sheet of filo on top. Cut these across the long side into four strips. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling on the end of one strip, and then fold the filo into triangles up the length of the strip, like folding a flag or one of those paper footballs you probably made in elementary school. Place the folded triangles on the baking sheet with the loose end tucked underneath.

(You can hold the spankopita at this point in the refrigerator, covered on their baking sheets or stacked carefully in a Tupperware container, separated by plastic wrap or waxed paper for one day and bake them the day of the party.)

Brush the tops with a little olive oil. Bake at 350ºF for about 25 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp and delicately browned. Serve hot or warm.

Notes: *Or you can use frozen spinach. I like the kind in the bag. Thaw it in a colander, squeeze out the extra moisture, and then proceed with the recipe.

**Or skip the onions and just add more chopped scallions. Then there’s no pre-cooking needed!

Turkish Baked, Stuffed Mushrooms
Recipe by Lisa T. Bennett, adapted from 30 Minute Turkish Vegetarian, by Sarah Beattie
Makes about 16-24 (depending on size of ’shrooms)
Preparation Time: 20 minutes

  • 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 lb. firm tofu, crumbled
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbs. vegan parmesan
  • 3 c. mushrooms (12 oz package), stems removed
  • 1 Tbs. chopped parsley

Directions: Preheat oven to 425ºF. Use 1/4 cup of olive oil to oil liberally one large or four individual baking dishes. In a food processor, combine tofu, reserved olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and vegan parmesan, and process until this forms a smooth mixture. The mixture will resemble cream cheese in consistency. Remove the stems from the mushrooms (set aside for another use.) Clean the caps by rinsing them under water and rubbing the tops of the caps to remove any dirt.* Fill the hollows of the mushrooms either by using a small spoon, or by piping the “cheese” filling into the mushrooms with a pastry bag. Piping the filling in with a fancy tip makes them a lot prettier. Cover the dish with foil, and bake the mushrooms at 425ºF for 10 minutes. Serve them hot with a sprinkling of parsley.

Variation: add some chopped parsley, oregano, basil, thyme, or your favorite herb(s) to the “cheese” filling.

Notes: *Contrary to what you might have heard, washing mushrooms will not cause them to absorb water and turn the dish watery. The only time it is unwise to wash mushrooms is if you will be serving them raw, as in a salad. Washing them will cause the mushrooms to go dark. If you are planning on serving them raw, just wipe the caps carefully with a damp cloth or paper towel. Otherwise, give them a thorough washing.

Almond-Stuffed “Bacon”-Wrapped Dates (Spain)
This sweet and smoky/salty combination of flavors is a little bit of heaven. Fortunately, they’re really quick and easy to make!
Recipe by Lisa Bennett, adapted from
Serves 6
Preparation Time: 20 minutes

  • 4 oz. blanched whole almonds
  • 1 lb. dates (pitted)
  • 1/2 lb. tempeh Lightlife Fakin Bacon
  • olive oil

Directions: Pre-heat oven to 400ºF. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Put an almond into each date. Wrap a piece of Fakin Bacon around each date and secure it with a toothpick. Brush Fakin Bacon with olive oil. Place dates on cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until Fakin Bacon is lightly browned. Don’t over-bake them, however. The Fakin Bacon won’t get as crisp as regular bacon, even with the olive oil. Serve warm.

Notes: I tried both Smart Bacon and Fakin’ Bacon brands in this recipe, and the Fakin’ Bacon won hands-down for both flavor and texture.

Lemony Garlicky Hummus (Middle Eastern)
Recipe by Lisa T. Bennett
Makes 2 cups
Preparation time: 15 minutes

  • 1 15 oz can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped (ot up to 4)
  • 2 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs. tahini (sesame butter)
  • 2 tsp. salt or to taste
  • water to thin mixture
  • cayenne to taste, optional
  • extra virgin olive oil

Directions: Place all ingredients into food processor workbowl and process until smooth. Add water as desired to smooth texture. Spoon into a bowl—pour on a little olive oil and sprinkle with cayenne if desired. You may also dress bowl with chopped parsley (fresh or dried) and a little paprika. Serve hummus with pita bread, raw vegetables (baby carrots or carrot sticks, cucumber slices), or use as a sandwich spread, especially in wraps.

Notes: Hummus will thicken upon standing (tahini sucks up water like a sponge.) Taste leftovers and add lemon juice first if it needs any to perk up the flavor, then add a little water as necessary to get desired consistency.

Hummus Pinwheels
6–8 bite-sized sandwiches each.

Preparation time: 5 minutes, plus several hours to chill before slicing

Directions: Take a wrap, a lavash, or a large whole wheat tortilla and spread with 1/2 c. hummus, then layer on 2-3 lettuce leaves, 1/4 c. shredded carrots, and about 2 Tbs. chopped black or green olives. Roll tightly and wrap in plastic wrap. Let set in the fridge for several hours, then slice each wrap into six sandwich rounds and place on a platter. Make as many as you need for your crowd.
Variation: Use roasted red pepper instead of carrot.

Not Your Mother’s Onion Dip (Mid-Century American)
Most commercial soup mixes use meat extracts as part of their “natural flavors,” so be sure to buy a “clean” brand like Fantastic Foods.
Recipe by Lisa T. Bennett
Make 1 1/2 cups
Preparation Time: 10 minutes

  • 1 pkg. firm or extra firm silken tofu
  • 1/3 c. canola or olive oil
  • 2 c. cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp. sugar (unbleached)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 pkg. dry onion soup mix

Directions: Puree tofu in food processor until smooth, creamy, and glossy, scraping down the sides of the container once or twice during processing. Add other ingredients, process until thoroughly mixed, then chill. Serve with potato chips and/or raw veggies.

Ginger Sparkle Cookies (American)
Recipe by Lisa T. Bennett
Makes 60
Preparation time: 1 hour

  • 1 1/2 tsp. Ener-G egg replacer powder
  • 2 Tbs. water
  • 3/4 c. Earth Balance shortening (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. molasses (not black strap)
  • 2 1/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour, sifted
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • granulated sugar (preferably coarse) to roll cookies in

Directions: Mix Ener-G egg replacer powder and water with small whisk or fork until foamy. Cream shortening, brown sugar, and molasses until blended; add Ener-G mixture. Continue to cream. Sift together dry ingredients (except granulated sugar.) Stir into creamed mixture until mixture is homogenous. Pour granulated sugar into a pie plate or other shallow dish. Form dough into small balls (using a #40 scoop if available), then roll balls in sugar until coated. Place on a greased or (preferably) parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 375ºF for 10-12 minutes. Cool thoroughly on racks before storing.

Notes: Earth Balance Shortening Sticks are easy to use and non-hydrogenated. They don’t get as hard when cold as Spectrum Shortening, so I find Earth Balance easier to use.
Hain makes an organic brown sugar, or you can use Sucanat with a small amount of maple syrup added.

You can add about 2 tablespoons of finely diced candied ginger to the cookies to give them a little extra ginger flavor and texture.

Lisa T. Bennett is the owner/chef of “The Organic Goddess Vegan Bakery and Catering” in Atlanta, GA.