For us, travel must include sampling the local foods, getting a taste of the region so to speak. Once we’ve found something we like, it’s time to dissect and analyze. Is this tasty morsel something we can recreate ourselves? For this weekend’s inspiration we’re sharing five appetizers from around the world that we’ve discovered in our travels that have become staples for dinner parties, pot-luck gatherings, or just a quiet weekend afternoon, spent on the terrace with some wine and a few close friends.
- Eggplant Walnut Rolls
- Flaky Baked Brie with Fig Compote
- Spicy Feta Hotpot
- Acili Ezme
- Sangria (Bonus!)
Most of these appetizers from around the world are linked with one secret ingredient – roasted garlic. It is a simple thing to do and guaranteed to drive you and everyone else in the house crazy as the tantalizing aromas fill the air.
- Trim the base of one whole garlic bulb (the larger the better) so it sits flat. Then slice the top off of the bulb to expose the tops of the cloves.
- Place the garlic bulb into a small oven proof bowl (pyrex prep bowls work good for this) and drizzle with good quality olive oil.
- Salt and pepper the bulb and fill the bowl with water to about halfway up the side of the bulb.
- Cover the bowl with aluminum foil and bake in a 350 f (180 c) oven for about one hour.
Eggplant Walnut Rolls
On our road trip through Georgia, we just couldn’t get enough of these beautiful little Georgian gems. Luckily we discovered them very early on in the trip and were keen to try them whenever and wherever they showed up on the menu.
4 Asian Eggplants (long and slender)
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 cup walnuts
2 cloves, roasted garlic
1/3 cup hot water
1/2 tsp dried coriander
1/2 tsp khmeli suneli (Georgian spice)*
1 tsp sherry vinegar
- Cut the eggplants lengthwise into thin slices. Sweat them to remove bitterness. Layout a sheet of paper towel sprinkled with salt, lay the eggplant slices on the salt and then salt the tops, repeat layers as necessary. Let sit for about 20-30 minutes, discard the paper towels and quickly rinse the eggplants under cold running water.
- While the eggplant is sweating, roast the walnuts in a thin layer on a cookie sheet in a 350 f (180 c) oven for about 7 minutes. Be careful not to let them burn. Remove and let cool.
- Combine the walnuts, garlic, water, coriander, khmeli suneli, and vinegar in a food processor and pulse until a slightly chunky paste is formed. Set aside.
- Dry off the eggplant and fry in a large skillet with the olive oil until lightly golden but still soft. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to cool.
- Once the eggplant slices have cooled, begin the filling and rolling. Place a heaping teaspoon of the nut mixture on the end of a slice and gently roll it up.
- Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds over the tops of the eggplant rolls and serve .
*khmeli suneli is a blend of equal parts dried fenugreek, thyme, coriander, basil, dill, bay leaf, celery, mint, parsley, oregano, and chili pepper. Combine 1/2 tsp of each (or whichever ones you have in the spice drawer) or it can purchased at Amazon.
This well known Greek meze is a cool and refreshing dip that tastes just as good on a carrot as it does on a torn off chunk of crusty baguette. It is on most Greek menus and is surprisingly easy to make and very portable. Perfect for a quick picnic while exploring the some ancient Greek ruins.
2 cups plain whole fat yogurt (the higher the fat content the better)
1 small cucumber
1 clove, roasted garlic
1 tsp lemon juice
1 pinch salt
1 Tbsp fresh Dill (or 1 tsp dried dill)
1 Tbsp olive oil
- For an extra thick and creamy tzatziki, strain the yogurt overnight in a yogurt strainer. If you don’t have a strainer, you can place the yogurt in cheesecloth and hang it over a bowl in the refrigerator. Or you can cheat and buy a thick Greek yogurt.
- Peel and seed the cucumber then grate it and press out as much of the liquid as possible. I use a potato ricer but you can also just grab a handful and squeeze it over the sink.
- Mix the yogurt, cucumber, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and most of the dill together in a medium sized bowl until combined. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to chill.
- Drizzle the olive oil over the top and sprinkle with the remaining dill and serve.
Flaky Baked Brie with Fig Compote
We love baked cheese so much that there are two variations on this list. To be honest, I could’ve compiled a list of my favorite cheese appetizers from around the world! We first tried our hand at this delicious pairing of goat’s cheese and figs in our little stone cottage in the Loire Valley.
1 large round of Brie Cheese (12-16 oz), preferably made from goat’s milk
1/2 cup walnut pieces
3 Tbsp butter
5 sheets, phyllo dough
1 cup fig compote (recipe below)
- Melt the butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Add the walnuts and saute until lightly golden.
- Lightly spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Place one sheet of the phyllo down on the cookie sheet and brush lightly with the melted butter. Repeat the process laying out and brushing the remaining sheets of phyllo, one on top of the other. Remove the paper from the brie (but leave the rind on) and set in the middle of the phyllo sheets.
- Spoon the compote and the walnuts on top of the brie and pull the sides of the phyllo up around the center. Twist and pinch the center and brush any remaining butter around the outside.
- Bake in a 400 f (200 c) oven until golden, about 20 minutes. Serve while still hot with remaining compote.
8 fresh figs
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp honey
1 stick, cinnamon
- Remove the stems and slice the figs into quarters. Place figs, juices and zest of the lemon, sugar, honey, and cinnamon in a small saucepan.
- Cover and bring contents to a boil over medium heat, stirring to occasionally to combine ingredients, about two minutes.
- Remove cover and continue on medium heat until the mixture starts to thicken, about 20 minutes.
- Remove from heat, discard cinnamon stick and let cool.
Hint: Any extra is delicious spread on a breakfast biscuit as well.
Spicy Feta Hotpot
Driving around Armenia we were won over by the shepherds and their flocks of sheep. We just knew that where there are sheep, there is sheep’s cheese. And we were right, Armenian feta is absolutely delicious and pairs so well with some spicy peppers, garlic, tomato, and onion.
1 large slice feta cheese (8-12 oz)
2 small green or red spicy peppers, seeded and sliced in thin rings
2 cloves, roasted garlic, crushed
6 cherry tomatoes, cut in halves
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced in rings
1 Tbsp olive oil
- Preheat oven to 400 f(200 c). Place feta in a metal or earthenware bowl. Top with remaining ingredients and place in oven for 10 -15 minutes until golden brown.
- Remove, let cool slightly, and serve while still hot.
The most popular Turkish appetizer by far. You will find it on every mezze tray in the land. It’s best when tomatoes are truly in season and picked ripe on the vine. Ezme is surprisingly similar to one of our Mexican favorites, fresh salsa.
4 tomatoes, seeded and cut into quarters
2 cloves, roasted garlic
2 long spicy red peppers, seeded and loosely chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 Tbsp red chili paste
1 tsp dried mint
1 tsp dried red pepper
1/4 cup fresh broad leaf parsley leaves
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sumac
- Add all ingredients to food processor, pulse until combined and still slightly chunky.
- Chill, and sprinkle with sumac before serving.
Bonus Recipe! Sangria
1 liter Lambrusco red wine, chilled
1 cup sugar
- Pour the chilled red wine into a large pitcher.
- Add the juice of 3 oranges and 2 limes, and the sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until sugar is dissolved.
- Thinly slice the remaining oranges and limes, add to the pitcher, reserving a few slices for serving in the wine glasses.
- Serve in glasses with one slice orange and lime and ice if desired.
What are some of your favorite appetizers from around the world?
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