From finger foods to crowd-pleasing dips to elegant hors d'oeuvres, these easy appetizer recipes will get your Christmas dinner off to a shining start.
Picture this: Friends and family flood into the house on Christmas evening. Outside it's dark and chilly, but the house is warm and decorated with soft twinkly lights, glorious garlands and maybe even some mistletoe. The tree is up and the excitement still lingers from morning gift exchange. But with all the glee of Christmas tradition filling the room, a spread of gorgeous, bright-colored and delicious appetizers welcome everyone to what is about to be the best part of the day: Christmas dinner!
Every host and dish-toting guest are attracted to different types of appetizers, depending of course on taste, preference and the setting of the gathering. Is it a formal sit-down dinner that starts with hors d'oeuvres passed around on platters or set up on stationary tables around the room, followed by an individually served first-course like soup or salad? Or is it a big family-style meal with a menu full of Italian Christmas recipes, where crowd-pleasing dips and finger foods are strewn across the kitchen table for everyone to huddle around while cheerily chatting?
However your squad celebrates Christmas, this list of fabulous appetizers are here to make menu planning (and merrymaking) easy. Once you check the first course off your list, you can decide upon festive Christmas cocktail recipes to prepare alongside your irresistible spread. It's the perfect convergence of holiday flavor and fun for the best Christmas meal shared with loved ones.
Finger foods and passable hors d'oeuvres
These super sprouts are so cute, they're irresistible. The recipe can be a side dish or an appetizer, and it's a cinch to make — only three ingredients. The best way to get a picky eater to eat their vegetables? Wrap 'em in bacon!
Potato pancakes are a favorite holiday dish of Ina Garten's husband Jeffrey. Her secret for the crispiest and creamiest ones is to combine both grated and mashed potatoes.
These crab-stuffed mushrooms may look totally decadent, but they're actually light and airy, which means they're an ideal way to start a holiday celebration. And don't be shy about making a big batch — even if they're just for you and your loved ones.
These bite-sized, flavor-packed bites have the full experience of mouthwatering lasagna with some added crunch — plus, they're portable.
Baked clams are an impressive and delicious first course for Christmas. They're an elegant option that don't require too much work to make. Yet the result is a wonderful seafood dish that can be passed around or served at the dinner table.
Packed with a little sweetness and a lot of punch, these adorable, bite-sized meatballs are fun to serve as a finger food (though some festive toothpicks might help cut back on saucy fingers).
Flaky, crisp phyllo dough, tender asparagus with a cheesy, salty filling — this easy-to-make appetizer will definitely be a hit at any holiday dinner.
Who knew that the humble new potato could be turned into shell casing for a bullet of flavor? These little bombs of cheesy, buttery flavor are a great way to fuel up for the holiday season.
Big green Castelvetrano olives are delicious prepared this way, but any meaty olive will do well. The briny, salty flavor bursts when cooked alongside garlic cloves and lively citrus.
The flavors for this dish come from traditional Roman saltimbocca: veal cutlets with sage and prosciutto. The tender prawns balance the meatiness and crispiness of the bacon, and the sage, tempered by the lemon, makes it all very fresh-tasting.
Who doesn't love crispy fried food? This mix of fried seafood and vegetables is a classic Italian dish that's perfect for an Italian Christmas dinner, especially when entertaining.
Delicata squash rings are roasted, tempura-dredged, fried, then stuffed with a simple salad of raw pear, dried cherries, feta cheese and a few sprigs of arugula. The result is a sweet yet savory wonder, perfect for a starter or perhaps a decadent side dish on a holiday table.
"There's nothing like eating glazed nuts still warm from the oven, toasty and flavorful through and through. They're perfect served with a cocktail for an easy appetizer and will elevate any cheese-and-fruit plate to new heights," says Bobby Flay.
This is a great recipe for family snacks any time of year but is especially fun for the holidays to counter the abundance of sweet snacks. The cranberry mustard is also great served with roasted turkey or pork and added to leftover sandwiches.
Baked clams oreganata are a wonderful, fresh seafood to serve before a meal on Christmas night. Delicate, but also packed with flavor, these little jewels from the sea are great as a starter or a main attraction.
The potato is one of the humblest foods, but it has the ability to be a superstar — especially when you add cheese and broccoli. This dish is a winner for kids of all ages and is as welcome on a holiday table as it is for a quick, mid-week meal.
Shrimp cocktail and a martini so cold it hurts your fingers: It simply does not get much better than that.
These crabcakes don't have any breadcrumbs — which means more crabmeat, less filler! — and are baked like the little "cakes" they're meant to be.
"One of my go-to tricks is to keep some dough for slice-and-bake crackers in the freezer that I can throw in the oven when people are coming for drinks," says Ina Garten. "The sharp Vermont cheddar and spicy chipotle chili powder with crunchy sea salt really wake up everyone's taste buds. My friends can't stop eating these!"
Bruschetta, crostini and flatbreads
This is a super speedy, perfect pizza using easy homemade flatbread. It's piled high with quick, Italian-inspired caponata and other glorious toppings.
"This dish was one of the first dishes I learned to make. It's fast, easy to make, cheap, super light, full of flavor and perfect for any time of day," says Sal Lamboglia.
The garlicky shrimp, creamy avocado and crispy crostini come together for a pretty much perfect bite. They're a guaranteed crowd-pleaser for any festive occasion.
Candied bacon, or “pig candy” as Elizabeth Heiskell calls it, is always a home run. She loves to keep the bacon strips whole, wrapped around crunchy breadsticks and stuffs them into a mint julep cup to make the perfect nibble for any cocktail.
Ready in 25 minutes, this is an easy and affordable appetizer that is also elegant and festive green. If making ahead of time, prepare the crostini and the topping separately and assemble at the last minute to ensure the crostini are served crisp.
Creamy avocado, flecks of tender salmon, quick-pickled onions and refreshing mint pack a world of multifaceted flavor onto individual toasts. Use four slices of regular country bread for aa larger serving or 12 to 16 slices of a baguette to serve bite-sized toasts to a crowd.
Giada De Laurentiis likes to whip up these crostini when guests stop by. "The poached pears are especially comforting as the weather gets cooler," she says. "They're easy to make and always delight a crowd."
These inventive bites turn a classic bloody mary cocktail into a delectable appetizer. They're a refreshing departure from the usual party fare, are so fun to dip and they're vegan, too!
Turn the taste of a flavor-packed steak sandwich into a gorgeous bruschetta appetizer. Featuring a strip steak that has the perfect balance of marbling, tenderness and big beef flavor, these pair beautifully with cheese, tomato, balsamic and toasted bread.
The opposing flavors and textures of the crispy, salty bacon and sweet, smooth pumpkin butter actually complement one another perfectly. The savory Brussels sprouts round out the autumnal flavor profile of this seasonal dish.
It is so easy to enhance a traditional Pate a Choux recipe by simply adding grated cheese and pepper to the dough. It's the perfect vehicle for an easy, elegant appetizer. Be sure to brush the tops of the puffs with egg wash before baking for a beautiful, glossy crust.
The layers of flavor from this caponata are simple but powerful, while the salty bacon, capers and sweet raisins provide a nice variety of textures.
"Jeffrey and I were having some friends for drinks, and he couldn't believe how quickly I put these appetizers together!" says Ina. "You put the fig spread on toast, then add some creamy cheese, sprinkle with microgreens and drizzle it all with syrupy balsamic vinegar. They taste like grown-up cream cheese and jelly sandwiches."
Whenever Ina has leftover baguette, she likes to slice it diagonally and keep it in the freezer. "This way I can make these cheesy toasts in minutes," she says. "Toast the bread slices, then add the garlic and goat cheese. They're perfect to serve with drinks or as a crouton to float on top of a bowl of soup."
Dips, platters and cheeseboards
Most greens work well in this addictive dip recipe: Spinach, mustard greens, Swiss chard, collards, beet greens, and turnip greens each contribute their distinctive flavor, all with slightly different results.
Chicken seasoning and queso fresco add extra savory flavor and rich texture to this comforting dip made simply with frozen artichoke hearts, steamed spinach and luscious Italian cheeses. It's best served bubbling hot in a cast-iron dish.
Martha Stewart's show-stopping, gooey baked brie is perfect for cocktail hour. "Your goal is to welcome guests with nibbles, not fill them up too much before the main event," she says. It's a perfect board to adorn with red-colored fruits and green herbs to make it as festive as you want.
Alex Guarnaschelli's crab dip is such a great option for gatherings and get-togethers because it is so versatile. "I really like to maximize an expensive ingredient like crab and dip is a smart and tasty way to do just that," she says. "Buy really great quality crabmeat so it is front and center in the dish. But, if you do not like crab, swap it for chicken! If spicy isn't your thing, omit the cayenne pepper and Tabasco."
"It works well as a center-of-the-table appetizer, served with grilled toast," says Bobby Flay. "The fontina and cream cheese help solidify the creaminess of the ricotta and the sun-dried tomato sauce gives the flavors a well-deserved contrast of sweet acidity."
Want to have the kids help out and eat a few shares of food? This is a great recipe to keep your kids busy as they help you with the holiday dinner. The result is a gorgeous wreath platter of cheesy bread and marinara dipping sauce!
This recipe is a way to provide everything bagel goodness in dip form. It comes together so easily and packs a serious punch of flavor. It also has a smooth, white base with festive red tomatoes, green capers and scallions.
This dip is downright addictive — you just cannot stop eating it! Heiskell calls it her holiday dip because it is the ultimate crowd pleaser whether you're hosting or attending a Christmas party.
Buy seasonally and avoid precut vegetables (which are more expensive and not as fresh) to achieve the perfect starter for a holiday party. Greek yogurt is amazing because it's so healthy, but it doesn't taste so healthy. It's satisfying and rich, full of great probiotics and it has a luscious mouthfeel. Fresh herbs, garlic and lemon make this dip come alive!
This dip is so versatile, light in feel and vibrant in color and taste! It's a a great make-ahead option for the holidays because it lasts up to a week in the fridge. It’s also one of Ayesha Nurdjaja's do-not-miss dips on the menu at her restaurant.
Soups and salads
This creamy winter soup contains nutty chestnuts with sweet celery root and apples. It'll set a smooth tone for the rest of the meal. Bonus: It can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen so it's ready when you are.
Paired with the earthy beans, fresh greens, whole grains and fragrant aromatics, the combination is much greater than the sum of its simple — and healthy — parts. Plus, the Parmesan rind adds a cheesy, umami kick.
This recipe is so full of flavor. Fresh garlic, onions and ginger build the foundation of this soup. The coconut milk brings richness, and the miso paste provides a well-rounded depth of flavor that can't be beat.
Tomato soup and grilled cheese is one of the best combinations in food. Toasting the pepper and garlic powder on the outside of the grilled cheese to create the croutons takes this classic combo to the next level.
All cultures are, at their foundation, frugal in the kitchen, and this recipe, bread and tomato soup, transforms a simple leftover into a bright, rustic dish ideal for a hearty Christmas dinner spread.
All the magic happens in just one pot for this recipe — allowing for minimal mess and super easy cleanup. The bright oniony flavors of the leeks and chives perk up the starchy potatoes. It can also be made ahead, frozen and reheated for Christmas.
In addition to being a gorgeous winter dish, this sweet, earthy carrot soup is really healthy and will boost your guests up with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients before a heavy meal.
Lidia Bastianich gives French onion soup an Italian makeover. Mushrooms add an extra layer of earthiness to the soup while slow-cooked caramelized onions add deep flavor. Toasty bread, melty fontina and nutty Grana Padano provide the perfect crunchy, cheesy topping.
This slow-cooker minestrone keeps things hearty with cubes of tender potatoes, snappy green beans and creamy cannelini beans, but you can cook up the odds and ends in your refrigerator's crisper for a rustic Italian Christmas dinner.
"Pickle soup is a big holiday tradition in my Polish family. My grandmother passed this recipe down to my mother who passed it down to me. Don't knock it till you try it," says Kristen Bell.
Sunny Anderson's Brussels sprout salad has the big flavors of the holidays — cranberries, pecans, rosemary, nutmeg — while still being fresh and light. It's a refreshing reprieve from all the heavy eating of the rest of the meal.
Nobody can resist ravioli. It is typical Italian tradition, especially in the North, to put little tortellini or ravioli into a beautiful broth or soup. This recipe is as heartwarming as it is pretty to look at.
Kale is a hearty green that does well even in cold temperatures. Prepared with crispy breadcrumbs, a little salty cheese and rubbed in oil until tender, this salad is a keeper.
This chopped antipasti salad has a twist that takes it to the next level: crunchy orzo! It is crispy, crunchy, refreshing and satisfying all at once.
"We are devoted to this salad. We eat it every day. We crave it, in fact, and it is at our dining table nightly," say Rita Sodi and Jody Williams. "The greens have been purposefully chosen for their different textures and flavors: Some sweet and crunchy, others peppery, bitter or soft."
This salad hits on all the textural and flavor elements you want in a great side dish. It has tender braised beets, crunchy quinoa, crumbly cheese and crunchy sunflower seeds. It's a little salty, slightly sweet and each bite keeps you coming back for more.
A nourishing yet light salad, this easy side or main dish has protein-rich nuts, nutritious squash and a piquant vinaigrette that gently coats the tender greens.
Forget the romaine and make this incredible salad with charred broccoli bits. This non-traditional dish borrows ideas from three different countries. The Caesar salad was invented in Mexico, the migas (toasted seasoned bread) hails from Spain and the dressing has a dollop of Japanese miso in it.
Hearty kale finely chopped, flecks of salty pancetta and sharp bites of Pecorino give this simple salad appetizer an inviting blast of savory flavors.