Category Archives: Appetizers and Side Dishes

Dolmas (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

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Paleo dolmas stuffed grape leaves with lemon

As a young child, I was a picky eater, despising spinach and hiding carrots under my high chair. I would plead with my mom for pizza Lunchables and TV dinners with chicken nuggets. I was an adventurous eater when it came to anything sugary, but if it grew in the ground, no thank you! What a strange exception, then, that such a picky child loved a dish wrapped in tangy grape leaves.

Dolmas, or stuffed grape leaves, are seasoned lamb mixed with minced onions and lemon juice and wrapped up in a tangy grape leaf. Despite my normal aversion to green and leafy vegetables, I would lick lemony sauce off my fingers and beg for more any time we ate them.

I grew up eating dolmas under the watchful eyes of my mom and her best friend, a beautiful artist who taught summer camp in our backyard and always had freezer pops on hand. We would drive to her house in DC and the moms would settle on her shady patio surrounded by blooming trellises. My brother and I would go nuts vying for the attention of her three children (all older, and thus way cooler, than us), bouncing on the trampoline and lovingly hassling her dog. In between our energetic fits, we would return to the patio to make a plate of stuffed grape leaves disappear along with a platter of hummus and pita.

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Cucumber Avocado Tea Sandwich Bites

Before sharing this tasty spring recipe, I want to say thank you to everyone who read and commented on Eileen’s guest post, The Summer I Broke Up with Swimsuit Season. I was touched by her bodily reclamation–screw you, self-criticism!–when I first read it, and I had hoped that the post would resonate with Humble Foodie readers too. The wonderful comments it received are a testament both to the awesome community that reads this blog and to the need for more body positive messages in general. Let’s keep adding to the discussion–and let me know if you have an idea you’d like to share in the future.

In the meantime, it may not be quite warm enough to break out the swimsuits, but temperatures have finally passed 40 degrees here in Chicago. My picnic blanket made its seasonal debut today while I planted seeds in the garden: Georgia collards, Chantenay carrots, and an unnamed variety of lettuce.

My fingers and toes are crossed for more beautiful days to come. So far, I’ve celebrated spring by:

  • taking out the trash with no shoes on (not recommended, ouch)
  • unpacking summer dresses and debating whether or not I can wear them without turning into a popsicle
  • testing recipes for summer barbecues using the broiler instead of the grill
  • choosing recipes for a garden party!

Entertaining is much more fun in the spring than in the winter. Even the smallest bit of outdoor space–a balcony, a deck, or a patio–lends sunshine and charm to a spring gathering. Whether you have the space for a garden party or would rather just have tea, light appetizers are a must when it’s warm outside.

cucumber avocado tea sandwich bites

These open-faced tea sandwiches, adapted from a recipe on The PPK, feature fresh mint and dill blended with creamy avocado for a refreshing take on the cucumber sandwich. My version is paleo, gluten free, and vegan friendly, appealing to friends across the dietary spectrum.

When I took these to a potluck, I made the filling right before leaving my house and sealed it into a Ziploc bag. I put the already-sliced cucumbers into a Tupperware container and headed out. When I arrived, I quickly assembled the tea sandwiches for maximum green freshness–no icky brown avocado.

Cucumber Avocado Tea Sandwich Bites
Recipe Type: appetizer
Author: Alicia of
Prep time: 10 mins
Total time: 10 mins
Serves: 6
A refreshing bite of cucumber and creamy avocado
  • 2 ripe avocados, kept cold in the fridge
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup peeled and chopped cucumber (about 1/2 large cucumber)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • to serve: 1 1/2 large cucumbers peeled in strips and sliced
  1. Prepare the spread by pureeing avocado, lemon juice, and salt in the food processor until smooth. Add cucumber and pulse until finally chopped, then add mint and dill. Pulse again so they are just combined.
  2. Put the filling in a plastic bag, squeezing out all air. Let sit in the fridge while slicing cucumbers.
  3. Peel cucumbers, making sure to leave some of the peel on in stripes for decorative appeal. Cut off ends and cut into 1/4-1/2-inch slices.
  4. Cut one corner off the plastic bag and use it to pipe the spread onto the cucumber slices in spirals.
  5. Enjoy any extra spread as a dip with other fresh vegetables.

London Broil and Roasted Broccoflower

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind. Great things are keeping me busy: I’m researching a path for July when my second AmeriCorps service year ends, some cool blog opportunities have come my way, and I’ve been helping with recruitment events for two wonderful programs. Trying to stay on my toes 24/7 and make all the exciting things happen at once is thrilling, but it can also be tiring.

I’m trying to build a life that can welcome such abundance without leaving me running ragged.

What does this mean? I need to prioritize. I’m learning to say no sometimes. My time shouldn’t be free for the taking; I should dedicate it to the people and causes I care about. And finally, I need to remember to take care of myself.

What does that look like? I know I’m a broken record, but it starts with food*. My idea of the perfect comfort foods meal starts with beef and comes with a side of mashed (sweet) potatoes and gravy. You might think that a classic meal like this takes a long time to make, but it absolutely doesn’t have to. Let’s talk about comfort food on a time crunch.

london broil roasted broccoflower

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Roasted Citrus

citrus before roasting

Grapefruit took its time winning me over, but I’m pretty sure it’s here to stay. Who knows why it took 23 years…I just never particularly liked grapefruit. Its tartness was off-putting to my sweet tooth. So it only made sense to try this ruby red fruit again after 18 days of no added sugar on the Whole30. Not a drop of honey, maple syrup, or refined sugar has passed my lips for 18 days, and my taste buds have noticed. Carrots have a new sweetness combined with their earthy crunch, and sweet potatoes are the most decadent, creamy treat I could imagine. And, surprise! Grapefruit has joined the ranks, especially roasted with flaky sea salt and a light herb blend.

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Lemony Roasted Brussels Sprouts

lemony roasted brussels sprouts

I don’t remember ever eating brussels sprouts at home as a kid. Though I had my share of fits over being forced to eat spinach and broccoli, these little green sprouts were a mystery. So when I tried “sprouts” at a salad bar and later announced to my grandmother  that I love-love-loved sprouts and they were so good and I really wanted some…she was surprised. Turns out, I’d been crunching away on bean sprouts, and I thought brussels sprouts were pretty disgusting. Luckily my tastes have changed over the years, and now I can barely consider something a meal if it doesn’t have at least one serving of green vegetables.

brussels sprouts stalk

Truth: a love like this knows no bounds/dietary restrictions. #noshame

Brussels sprouts are now a beloved part of my winter meals (evidence: see above). Lemon and good quality sea salt bring out the surprisingly light flavor of this cruciferous vegetable. Stray leaves that fall off while you’re preparing the sprouts will crisp up in the oven and give this dish a delicious crunch. Read on for this simple recipe.

Lemony Roasted Brussels SproutsServes 4
Prep time: 4 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

16 ounces (1 lb.) brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon melted coconut oil
juice of one lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with foil.

Trim the stems of the brussels sprouts and slice in half. In a large bowl, toss sprouts with liquid coconut oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Distribute evenly on baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, pausing midway through to gently shake the pan so the sprouts will redistribute and cook evenly.


Najma’s Blackberry Kale Salad

One of the coolest things about 2013 is that I have been blessed with awesome coworkers. Of course everyone has all the virtues of a good coworker-friendly, punctual, and hardworking- but another perk is that we have a ton in common. Our lengthy discussions range from contemporary fiction to social justice to thrifting, and they always inspire me to think about things in a new light.

blackberry kale salad

One of the best things we have in common is a love of food. Though our diets are very different, from vegan to Paleo to standard fare, we all enjoy cooking and sharing plates heaped with delicious culinary experiments. We have planned a few staff potlucks this year, and I’m always excited to see what everyone will bring. This salad is my coworker Najma’s creation–she is known for elaborate kale salads, and this one does not disappoint. The sweetness of juicy blackberries contrasts with crisp kale, highlighted by tart lemon juice, for a simple salad that will satisfy a wide range of palates.

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Curried Butternut Squash Risotto

Can you blame me for being in a fall food frenzy this month? With Thanksgiving around the corner, there are endless options for holiday recipes with flavors of cranberry, squash, and maybe a sprinkle of sage. This butternut squash risotto contains two of my favorites: butternut squash and curry!
gluten free dairy free butternut squash risotto

My friend Emily introduced me to risotto, an incredibly creamy dish of slowly cooked Arborio rice, stock, and dreamy mix-ins (yes, butternut squash is dreamy). This gluten-free recipe can easily be made vegan by using an appropriate vegetable stock in place of chicken. I had to throw a little chard in there too, because it’s not a meal if there isn’t something green on my plate, but you can easily leave this out. While risotto does take some time to make, one big pot will last as a side dish for several meals–and trust me, you’ll want to have enough for seconds and thirds!

Butternut Squash Risotto – Serves 4 as a main dish; 8 as a side
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 60-80 minutes

2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1 small yellow onion, chopped
finely ground sea salt
black pepper
1 cup Arborio rice
4-5 cups chicken or vegetable stock, divided
1/2 teaspoon hot curry powder, adjust to taste
a pinch of cayenne pepper
optional: one bunch chard, stems removed and leaves chopped

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. While this warms up, get all your peeling and chopping done. Add butternut squash and onion to the pot with a bit of salt and pepper. Cook for about ten minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion and squash have softened and started to brown.

Lower the heat to medium and add rice, stirring frequently and cooking for one minute or until the rice begins to appear translucent. Add half a cup of stock and cook, stirring, until it has been absorbed completely. Season with curry powder and cayenne.

Continue adding stock, half a cup at a time, while stirring frequently. Risotto takes awhile, so be patient and let the stock evaporate almost completely with each half cup. Adjust seasonings to your taste as you go.

The finished rice should be al dente (slightly firm), yet creamy and tender. When the rice is almost there and you have added all the stock needed, add the chopped chard to the pot, stir, and cover for 1-2 minutes. Uncover, serve, and savor!

fall vegetable squash collage

(L) a drawing of me holding beloved chard and squash, courtesy of Emily; (M) Jazz and I holding my ridiculous stash of squash; (R) But why is the pumpkin pie spice gone?!

Bacon-Wrapped Sweet Potatoes

I’m sure it surprises no one that I’m a bacon fiend. From waking up to the smell of bacon on childhood Sunday mornings to curing my own earlier this year, I can’t get enough. Speaking of which, have you seen this bacon alarm clock? Dear Family: HINT, Christmas is coming soon!

While this post could easily turn into an ode to crispy pork belly and a roundup of all the amazing bacon-related recipes and gadgets I’ve found on the internet (just one favorite: bacon-wrapped avocado), I’m holding back for the greater good. The most important thing I have to share with you today is this:

bacon wrapped sweet potatoes

Yes, bacon-wrapped sweet potatoes are just as good as they look, and yes, they are incredibly easy to make for a special breakfast, potluck or party hors d’oeuvres, or-I have to be honest- for dinner, though you may pretend you’re making them as a snack or classy appetizer and then realize that you’ve eaten eight and you aren’t hungry anymore…once you have one, you’ll understand what I mean!

This delectable recipe comes from Food Renegade with a few tweaks. I often wrap just a couple in bacon to save the precious commodity for other treats and then eat most of the sweet potatoes spiced but unwrapped. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Bacon-Wrapped Sweet PotatoesServes 6-8 as an appetizer
Prep time: 12 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes

2 medium-small sweet potatoes
1 pound (16 slices) bacon
2 tablespoons melted butter or ghee (use coconut oil for dairy-free)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon finely ground sea salt
optional: a pinch of cayenne pepper for extra heat
optional: the original recipe suggests 4 tablespoons of maple syrup for drizzling- up to you if you’d like some extra sweetness!

Preheat the oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with foil for easy clean-up. Place an oven-safe metal rack on top. Peel sweet potatoes and quarter lengthwise, then cut each quarter in half twice for 32 pieces total. Put in a large mixing bowl.

Combine melted butter, chili powder, salt, and cayenne if using. Pour over the sweet potatoes and toss until evenly coated.

Halve bacon slices width-wise so you have 32 pieces. Wrap each sweet potato with a slice. You can use a toothpick to hold the bacon in place or skewer multiple pieces on a longer skewer. I place them “just so” right on the baking rack so the bacon will stay in place without a skewer if I’m not serving them as appetizers.

Bake for 45 minutes or until a fork slides easily into the sweet potatoes and the bacon is nice and crispy. Remove from heat, drizzle with maple syrup if desired, and allow to cool before serving.

The original recipe with links to choosing the best ingredients can be found at Food Renegade: Bacon Wrapped Sweet Potato Bites.