Appetizers? Before Thanksgiving dinner?
Yes. Yes. And yes (in answer to your next question: “But will I have time to make them?”).
The main event might be the big golden bird, but a thoughtful appetizer or two goes a long way toward making dinner special -- to say nothing of keeping your hungry guests occupied while you’re putting the finishing touches on the real food.
With so much of the Thanksgiving menu scripted in stone, this is your opportunity to put something on the table that’s unexpected: wedges of Fuyu persimmon wrapped in prosciutto; servings of avocado mousse topped with crème fraîche, caviar and a little pistachio oil; or olives warmed with crushed red pepper, fennel seeds, lemon peel and garlic.
Here are 25 easy-to-make appetizers, most of which you can prepare in the time it takes to mash potatoes. They require little or no oven time. The only special equipment you might need is a blender or food processor. A couple -- the quick-pickled radishes and shishito peppers -- need a day’s marinating; that calls for no extra work from you, just a modicum of forethought.
Cold seafood platter: Marinate cooked shrimp in orange juice and a little red chile. Arrange the shrimp around the outside of the platter and heap cold cracked Dungeness crab in the center.
Avocado mousse with caviar: Purée avocado with a little milk or cream until it’s the consistency of pudding and season with salt and lemon juice. Place a couple of spoonfuls in a martini glass or small bowl, top with crème fraîche, caviar and a drizzle of pistachio oil.
Shaved fennel with slivered Parmesan: Slice the fennel as finely as you can, then toss it in a bowl with very good olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Use a vegetable peeler to shave sheets of Parmesan over top.
Roasted pepper bruschetta: Roast and peel red bell peppers (or use good-quality bottled ones). Dress them with olive oil and arrange them on toasted bread, then strew minced preserved lemon over top.
Fried sage leaves: Rinse whole sage leaves and pat them dry with a paper towel. Dust with flour and fry in 2 inches of hot olive oil.
Fingerlings with anchovies: Steam fingerling potatoes. When cool, slice them in half lengthwise and top them with salted anchovy fillets that have been rinsed and patted dry. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and freshly ground black pepper.
Jicama salad: Cut jicama in matchsticks. Purée fresh cilantro, lime juice and vegetable oil in a blender. Dress several handfuls of baby greens with some of the dressing. Arrange the jicama over top and drizzle with a little of the remaining dressing.
Quick-pickled radishes: Salt a couple bunches of trimmed radishes and soak them in ice water to crisp. Make a pickling liquid by simmering three-fourths cup rice vinegar, one-half cup water, 1 tablespoon sugar and some whole black peppercorns and mustard seed. Place the drained radishes in a sealable container and pour the hot liquid over. Pickle for 1 day before serving.
Spiced almonds: Sauté raw almonds in a hot skillet with one-half teaspoon olive oil until they are fragrant. Remove from the heat and season with coarse salt and a dash of smoked paprika or minced fresh herbs.
Home-cured olives: Season black or green brined olives with olive oil, lemon juice, crushed red pepper, fennel seeds, lemon peel and sliced garlic. Warm them briefly in the oven or on top of the stove and serve.
Stuffed piquillo peppers: Drain the peppers and pat dry. Spoon a little fresh goat cheese inside and arrange on a platter with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of minced garlic and parsley.
Orange, red onion and radish salad: Peel oranges and slice crosswise. Sliver red onions and thinly slice radishes. Combine in a bowl with pitted olives and dress with good olive oil.
Spiced breadsticks: Roll prepared pizza dough and run it through a fettuccine cutter on a pasta machine or cut it by hand as thinly as you can. Brush lightly with beaten egg white and sprinkle with a mixture of coarse salt, freshly ground black pepper and allspice. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown.
Lavash crackers and muhammara: Purée until smooth three large roasted red bell peppers with a garlic clove, a little toasted cumin, lemon juice and a spoonful of pomegranate molasses. Grind in 1 1/2 cups toasted walnuts and 1/3 cup breadcrumbs until chunky. Season with salt and ground red pepper and pulse in olive oil to make a chunky paste. Serve in a bowl with lavash crackers alongside.
Charcuterie plate: Slice a thin dried sausage fairly coarsely, and a fatter dried sausage as thinly as you can and arrange them on a platter with prosciutto or Serrano ham.
Croustade with tapenade: Toast bread rounds, spread them with prepared tapenade and top with a dot of fresh goat cheese.
Bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese: Slice dates open and remove the pits. Stuff with a chunk of good blue cheese. Wrap with a quarter strip of bacon and bake at 350 degrees until the bacon is crisp and the cheese is melted.
Quick-pickled peppers: Cut a slit in each of three-quarters pound of shishito peppers and blanch them briefly in boiling water. Simmer 2 1/2 cups rice vinegar with 2 cups water, some sliced garlic and onions, a couple of teaspoons salt, a tablespoon sugar and whatever whole spices you like. Place the blanched peppers in a sealable container and pour the hot liquid over. Pickle for 1 day before serving.
Cranberry bean salad: Dress cold cooked cranberry beans with lemon juice, olive oil and a fresh herb such as basil.
Smoked trout mousse: Purée smoked trout in a food processor with just enough softened butter to make a silky smooth consistency. Spread on crackers and dot with capers.
Candied walnuts: Stir walnuts in a bowl with just enough corn syrup to lightly coat, a little sugar and some salt and black pepper. Spread on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees until toasted and fragrant.
Prosciutto and Fuyu persimmon: Quarter the persimmons and remove the core if it’s woody. Thinly slice and wrap with thinly sliced prosciutto or Serrano ham. Spear with a toothpick to hold in place and make serving easier.
Herbed puff pastry sticks: Thaw frozen puff pastry, butter one side and top with chopped fresh herbs. Use a pizza cutter to slice into thin strips, twist them, then bake at 375 degrees until puffed and golden.
Onion sandwiches: Slice red onions as thinly as possible, rinse under hot running water and pat dry. Generously butter thin slices of high-quality white bread and strew with the onions. Top with more generously buttered white bread and cut into serving pieces. This can also be done with radishes.
Date sweetmeats: Slice dates open and remove the pits. Roll a chunk of marzipan or almond paste mixed with a little orange zest into a ball and place it in the date cavity. Press firmly to seal.