Light fare: finger foods

Small gatherings of family and friends are especially welcome at this busy time of year. But all too often, the fare is laden with fat and you end the evening feeling overindulged and stuffed.

Instead, combine the best of both worlds this holiday season with a recipe for relaxation: a simple evening with close friends and a selection of delectable hors d’oeuvres. These smart-fat appetizers fit a variety of dietary regimes and offer a mix of flavours that won’t leave your taste buds bored.

Our recipes are designed to serve six and, best of all, can be prepared ahead of time. So build a crackling fire and be ready for a great evening with good friends and excellent food.

Smoked Trout and Apple Lettuce Rolls

The filling can also be spread on flour tortillas, rolled up and cut into pinwheels. But lettuce rolls offer a lighter option. The filling can be made earlier in the day, the rolls assembled a few hours ahead and refrigerated. This recipe is easily halved or doubled.

1/2 lb (250 g) boneless, skinless smoked trout, flaked
3 tbsp (45 ml) light mayonnaise
3 tbsp (45 ) light sour cream
4 tsp (20 ml) apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp (15 ml) prepared horseradish
2 tsp (10 ml) grainy mustard
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and diced
1/4 cup (50 ml) chopped red onion
Salt and freshly ground pepper
30  Boston or butter lettuce leaves

In medium sized bowl, stir together trout, mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, horseradish and mustard until well mixed. Stir in apple and onion. Season with salt and pepper.

Place a heaping tablespoon of the trout mixture on the bottom centre of a lettuce leaf. Tuck in sides and roll up to enclose filling. Place on platter. Repeat with remaining lettuce leaves. Refrigerate until ready to use. Makes about 30 rolls.

PER-ROLL NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION: calories: 25; protein: 2 g; fat: 1 g; saturated fat: less than 1 g; carbohydrate: 1 g; dietary fibre: less than 1 g; sodium: 220 mg.

Caramelized Onions and Goat Cheese Quesadillas

We just don’t eat enough onions — they’re so good for us and packed with flavour. If you like, make the filling a day ahead and refrigerate.

4 tsp (20 ml) extra virgin olive oil
2 large Spanish onions, thinly sliced
2 tsp (10 ml) granulated sugar
2 tbsp (25 ml) balsamic vinegar
4 oz (225 g) crumbled soft lower fat goat cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper
8 large flour tortillas, preferably whole wheat
Vegetable oil cooking spray

In heavy skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat; add onions and sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes or until onions are slightly browned. Add balsamic vinegar and stir to coat onions. Let cool. Stir in goat cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C). Spraying baking sheet with vegetable oil cooking spray. Set aside.

Spray 4 tortillas generously with cooking spray and place on prepared baking sheet, sprayed side down. Divide onion mixture equally among tortillas. Spray remaining 4 tortillas generously with cooking spray and place on top of onion mixture sprayed side up. Bake in oven for 12 to 14 minutes or until tortillas are golden brown. Let cool for several minutes before cutting each into 6 wedges. Serve warm. Makes 24 wedges.

PER-WEDGE NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION: calories: 115; protein: 4 g; fat: 4 g; saturated fat: 2 g; carbohydrate: 14 g; dietary fibre: 2 g; sodium: 198 mg.

Moroccan Chicken Phyllo Rolls

Even guests with less adventurous palates will love these pastries. Rather than the phyllo being slathered with butter, as is the case in many recipes, these are prepared with vegetable oil cooking spray and finished with egg whites — a much leaner approach. The rolls can be assembled and frozen in a single layer a few weeks ahead. At serving time, brush frozen rolls with egg whites, then bake, unthawed, in a preheated 350 F (180 C) oven for about 20 minutes.

Almond Sugar
3 tbsp (45 ml) almonds
2 tbsp (25 ml) granulated sugar
3/4 tsp (3 ml) cinnamon

1/4 tsp (1 ml) crumbled saffron threads
3 tbsp (45 ml) hot water
1 tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 cup (250 ml) chopped onions
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp (10 ml) grated fresh ginger
1 lb (500 g) boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut in one-inch strip 1/4 inch wide
1 cup (250 ml) packed fresh cilantro sprigs, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper

6 phyllo sheets
Vegetable oil cooking spray
1/4 cup (50 ml) egg whites (3 or 4 eggs)

Almond-sugar: In food process or blender, process almonds, sugar and cinnamon until almonds are finely chopped. Set aside.

Filling: In small bowl, add saffron to hot water; stir to mix and let stand for 10 minutes. Set aside.

In large non-stick skillet, heat oil over medium heat; add onions and sauté for five minutes or until soft. Add garlic and ginger; sauté for 2 minutes. Add chicken, increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until chicken is no longer translucent, taking care to separate chicken pieces as you stir. Reduce heat to medium-low; add saffron water and stir to coat chicken. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove lid; increase heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has almost evaporated, about 5 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. (Filling may be made ahead to this point; cover and refrigerate for up to a day.) Stir in cilantro and salt and pepper to taste.

Pastry: Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C). Spray baking sheet with vegetable oil cooking spray. Place one sheet of phyllo dough on work surface (cover remaining phyllo with damp towel to prevent drying). Spray phyllo sheet with cooking spray. Top with second sheet and spray again. With a knife, cut sheets into quarters, then cut each quarter lengthwise into three.

Sprinkle 4 tsp (20 ml) of the almond sugar mixture evenly over phyllo strips. Place about 1 tbsp (15 ml) of chicken mixture at the top of the each of the first six phyllo strips. Roll to form a cigar shape, taking care to tuck filling inside as you do so. (Rolls can be prepared ahead to this point and frozen.)

Brush each roll with egg white and place seam side down on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining six strips of phyllo. Repeat with remaining dough and chicken mixture. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden and crispy. Serve warm. Makes 36 appetizers.

PER-ROLL NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION: calories: 38; protein: 3 g; fat: 1 g; saturated fat: less than 1 g; carbohydrate: 3 g; dietary fibre: less than 1 g; sodium: 92 mg.

Lemon Herb Spinach Dip

Delicious with vegetable crudities or with pita triangles. Using strained yogurt will keep the dip from separating.  It’s best made the same day, but leftovers still taste great the next day.  But don’t refrigerate leftover dip that has been sitting out for hours. Instead, if you’re serving fewer people, simply serve half the dip and keep the leftovers in the fridge for yourselves to enjoy the next day.

1 cup (250 ml) low-fat yogurt
1 pkg (284 g) baby spinach
1 cup (250 ml) packed fresh parsley sprigs
1 cup (250 ml) packed fresh coriander sprigs
1/2 cup (125 ml) light mayonnaise
1/4 cup (50 ml)  fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp (45 ml) chopped shallots
1 tbsp (15 ml) grainy mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Spoon yogurt into cheesecloth-lined sieve set over a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.

In food processor, combine drained yogurt, spinach, parsley, coriander, mayonnaise, lemon juice, shallots and mustard. Blend well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes 6 servings.

PER-SERVING NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION: calories: 112; protein: 4 g; fat: 7 g; saturated fat: 1 g; carbohydrate: 9 g; dietary fibre: 2 g; sodium: 290 mg.

For more holiday recipes and entertaining ideas, visit our Holiday section.