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Five Appetizers Add Up to a Festive Meal

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Inspired by the Chinese concept of dim sum, these eclectic, do-ahead dishes make an appealing grazing menu

Although I was born in San Francisco and am Chinese, I grew up in the predominantly Italian neighborhood of North Beach. Every day as I walked to my Chinese school, I would pass the Italian bakeries with their yeasty breads and focaccias and the delis with their sausages and cured meats. I knew back then that my love for food wouldn’t be limited to the traditional Chinese meals we ate at home, but would somehow incorporate all that was wonderful and “exotic” about European food.

My cooking style today is neither Chinese nor European. I guess you could call it California eclectic. I really enjoy updating traditional ethnic dishes by changing an ingredient or technique to come up with something fresh and lively. You can’t do this randomly—the new combination has to make sense and taste good—but when you do find just the right tweak, it can make a dish sing.

As a caterer, I like to serve these dishes in bitesize servings so people can sample lots of them and sort of graze their way through a meal. The menu I’ve put together here is my version of a grazing party with a decidedly Asian twist. I had the Chinese concept of dim sum in mind when creating it.

Traditionally, dim sum (which means “from the heart”) are little shrimp dumplings, meat buns, or small portions of savory noshes that are served in Chinese tearooms during lunch. But rather than try to recreate these classic dim sum dishes at home— they can be quite labor intensive and call for many hard-to-find ingredients—I’m offering recipes that are more in tune with my own cooking style: crunchy chicken drumettes; my hot curry Thai version of Swedish meatballs; fresh spring rolls filled with shrimp and wild mushrooms; and a Japanese-style seared tuna served on fried wonton wrappers with a fresh tomato salsa. The only truly Chinese part of this menu is the Shanghai scallion pancakes.

These dishes are wonderful for cocktail parties, football games, or any informal gathering where delicious nibbles and finger food are appropriate. You could even break up the menu, picking just one or two dishes as an unusual appetizer or first course. The drumettes and spring rolls are also great for picnics.

 

Menu Timeline

Plan ahead for a smooth party. Cook and prepare everything that you can beforehand, and then put the components for each dish into a separate baking pan (I call these “kits”). Don’t forget to allow time for defrosting. The following schedule will help you plan the main cooking tasks for this menu.

Up to one month ahead:

  • Make the wasabi.
  • Make and refrigerate the peanut curry sauce.
  • Roll out and freeze the scallion pancake dough.
  • Form the chicken drumettes and freeze.
  • Shape and freeze the meatballs.

Up to one week ahead:

  • Fry the wonton tostados.

Up to two days ahead:

  • Make the drumette marinade.
  • Make the salsa.

One day ahead:

  • Make the dipping sauce.
  • Make and chill the spring rolls.
  • Marinate the chicken drumettes.

A few hours before the-party:

  • Fry the meatballs.
  • Sear the tuna.

An hour ahead:

  • Assemble the tuna tostados.
  • Heat the meatballs with the peanut curry sauce.

Just before the guests arrive:

  • Fry the drumettes.
  • Fry the scallion pancakes.

The Menu

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