Welcome to Ask Elazar, a column in which Eater staff writer Elazar Sontag answers your highly specific and pressing cooking questions.
I would love some ideas for pre-Thanksgiving snacks that feel fun and indulgent, but won’t make me too full for the actual meal. I always make spiced nuts and a cheese platter but I have no willpower and then am too full for the actual feast! What snacks should I make this year?
An upside of not having guests for the holidays this year — albeit a small one — is that snack selection can be tailored to our own tastes. For me, that means no super-rich dips, no fussily layered toasts, and definitely nothing involving puff pastry or muffin tins or toothpicks. Making some really simple, light(ish) snacks to munch throughout the day should be fun and relaxing, not another cooking project you have to tackle on your own.
Instead of those classic holiday starters, the ones that take hours to prepare and leave me wanting a long nap, I’m going to pull out a big jug of olive oil and some pretty glass jars, and make olive oil-marinated olives, rich with garlic, fresh rosemary, and zesty orange peel. The olives are great on their own, and you can dip bits of warm, crusty bread into the oil marinade. If the olives are gone before you’re finished cooking (it’s likely!) you can use that same flavorful oil to toss vegetables before roasting, or mix a couple tablespoons of it into mashed potatoes or gravy. While the olive oil is pouring freely, toast some raw marcona almonds in a generous glug, along with more rosemary. My favorite of the oil-marinated snacking foods is goat cheese, which takes well to pretty much any flavor combination, and slowly soaks up the aromatic garlic-herb oil as it sits. Drizzle the creamy, soft cheese with a bit of warm honey when you serve it, and eat it with that same crusty bread you’ve been snacking on since breakfast. At most, it’ll take you half an hour to get this spread on the table.
In the spirit of not-so-normal holidays, this might be the year you do away with prepared snacks altogether, if even the thought of marinating nuts and goat cheese exhausts you. Instead, you could just serve a really good bowl of fruit. Depending on where you are in the world, options may be more varied or limited at the farmers market or in the produce aisle. In California, I’ll set out a big plate with slices of persimmon, a handful of pineapple guavas if I can find them, and big chunks of pomegranate. I’ll also throw a few sticky-sweet medjool dates in the mix. If, wherever you are, produce options are a little more limited, a fruit “platter” could just be a handful of apple slices drizzled with honey and some nice flakey salt. Alongside the almonds, the olives and goat cheese, and my fruit platter-for-one, I’ll probably put out a little bowl of chestnuts, which feel festive and holiday-appropriate, even though I eat them year-round and buy them pre-baked and shelled in bulk at Costco — I highly recommend incorporating chestnuts into your snacking rotation, they rock.
All of these dishes are a good fit for the sorts of celebrations most of us will be having this year: They can easily be scaled down if you’re feeding fewer mouths, and unlike individually plated toasts or tiny savory pastries, these recipes can be made in advance and will be excellent in tomorrow’s salad, or jarred with a pretty label and a note to drop off to the family you couldn’t spend the holidays with. I can’t promise they’ll make you feel light and rejuvenated — truly, what could in 2020 — but they will be bright and delicious and seasonal, and won’t leave you with a kitchen counter covered in puff pastry, bacon grease, and a weird pumpkin-shaped cheese ball that no one wants to eat. That feels like a small victory, well worth celebrating.