When it comes to holiday appetizers, it’s always a challenge to balance deliciousness with healthfulness. A thoughtful host will serve a big basket of fresh-cut vegetables that offer those watching their calories a good alternative.
When I want to do something a bit more special I serve crisp Belgian endive spears bejeweled with a dollop of herbed cream cheese and smoked salmon. For lighter version try spooning a dollop of fresh salsa and bay shrimp on the tip of each stalk.
Belgian endive, a slightly bitter, light green vegetable, is wonderful in salads, chopped or shredded, and is delicious grilled or roasted. California-grown endive is now available across the nation and can be found in both a creamy pearl color and a ruby-red variety.
When buying Belgian endive, look for large stalks that are creamy white, shading to pale yellow at the tips. Red stalks are almost a burgundy-red. Endive is grown from roots that are “forced” like a flower to bud in dark growing rooms, so they never touch dirt and therefore do not need to be washed. You can wipe the leaves with a damp paper towel if you like.
These pale green scoopers are beautiful to look at and incredibly versatile. Use any favorite spread like seafood or cheese instead of the herbed cheese for a change. Assemble these colorful spears at the last minute as light causes the leaves to change color. For a festive touch serve glasses of sparkling wine alongside.
Belgian Endive Spears with Herbed Cream Cheese and Smoked Salmon
1 small red tomato, seeded and finely diced
1 small yellow tomato, seeded and finely diced
3 scallions, white and light green parts, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill weed
2 large heads Belgian endive
1 1/2 ounces smoked salmon, finely chopped
Parsley sprigs for garnish
1. Combine tomatoes, scallions and salt and pepper in a small bowl and mix well. Taste for seasoning. Drain off excess liquid, cover and set aside.
2. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine cream cheese and dill, and blend until cream cheese is whipped slightly and dill is evenly blended.
3. Separate the endive spears (as you get closer to the center, you may have to trim the bottom to free the spears).
4. Spoon the cream cheese mixture into a large plastic bag, pushing it down to one corner. Cut off about 1/4-inch from the bottom corner tip or just wide enough to push the cream cheese through. Pipe some herbed cream cheese onto the end of each Belgian endive spear. (Alternatively, you can use a teaspoon to spread the cream cheese onto the endive). Place some of the chopped salmon on top. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of salsa onto salmon.
5. To serve, arrange spears on a serving platter and garnish with sprigs of parsley.
Advance Preparation: Can be made up to 1 day ahead through step 2, covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.
Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks (click here), including “Seriously Simple Holidays: Recipes and Ideas to Celebrate the Season,” and also a James Beard award-winning radio show host.