Not that we want to come over all bah humbug, but the Christmas season and all the feasting that accompanies it can be tough on the would-be healthy eater or those following a specific diet, whether through choice or for medical reasons.
While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with some enthusiastic seasonal eating (hello, warm mince pie number two), many of us would like to navigate our way to New Year’s Day without feeling stuffed to festive excess. If in the next couple of weeks you’re hosting a canape party, heading to one or just planning on sampling a few little morsels pre-dinner, it’s worth being selective about those nibbles. A canape done well is a very good thing indeed – tasty, flavourful, leaving you wanting more – but a lacklustre offering, all soggy pastry and sorry cheese, heavy on the carbs and calories, is simply not worth it.
With that in mind, if you want to introduce a little health into your festive eating, we’ve come up with a few ideas that are full of colour and crunch, light citrus notes and careful spicing and, most importantly, take different dietary requirements into account as well.
Super-speedy, healthy party bites
These dishes take very little time to put together, and as well as tasting great, they will do you good too.
Labneh and dukkah dip with crudités
Mix two tablespoons of your best extra virgin olive oil with one tablespoon dukkah. Beat together 150 grams of labneh and 150g of natural yoghurt, decant into a serving bowl and stir in finely grated lemon zest and plenty of black pepper. Drizzle with the dukkah oil and surround with crudités: think baby carrots, courgettes and sweetcorn, cherry tomatoes, cucumber batons, mini peppers, English breakfast radishes and mangetout.
Edamame and mint rice crackers bites
Cook 250g soya beans according to pack instructions. Drain and leave to cool. Tip all but a handful of the soy beans into a blender with 60ml thick Greek yoghurt, the leaves from ½ bunch of mint and the juice of a lemon. Season and blitz well. Chill in the fridge until needed. When you are ready to serve, arrange mini rice cakes or wholegrain crackers on a platter and spread with the edamame and mint dip. Top with the reserved cooked beans, mint leaves and lemon zest.
Tricolore salad skewers
Mix together a crushed garlic clove, ¼ bunch finely chopped basil leaves and three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a large bowl. Season the mix with some black pepper and then add in 250g mini mozzarella balls. Shake the bowl around properly to ensure the mozzarella balls are well-coated by the oil. Thread sun-blushed tomatoes on to small wooden skewers, follow with a pitted Kalamata olive, basil leaf and a mini mozzarella ball in the end. Once the skewers are all assembled, drizzle over the oil that is left over in the bottom of the bowl.
Vegan canape ideas
If you’ve taken meat, dairy and eggs (and their associated products) out of the equation, there are still plenty of canape options that will appeal to both vegans and non-vegans alike. Try roasting strips of aubergine, red peppers and courgettes with thyme and olive oil until softened, then pile on to a crostini; or seek out nutritional yeast (which provides a fantastic, slightly cheesy, umami flavour whack) and sprinkle it over freshly made popcorn, along with black pepper and smoked paprika.
You can also make a chilled tomato, melon or cucumber soup and serve in small glasses or espresso cups; and cook squares of tofu in a maple and soy glaze, then thread on to skewers with crunchy broccoli. Alternatively, turn silken tofu into a creamy dip by blitzing it with a little lemon juice and presenting with crudités, or try the courgette rosti recipe below.
Courgette rosti with vegan cream cheese and mint
Prepare: 15 minutes plus draining
Cook: 20 minutes
2 courgettes, grated
¼ bunch mint, leaves picked
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tbsp plain flour
Zest of 1 lemon, plus lemon slices to serve
4 spring onions, finely chopped
Oil, for cooking
4 tbsp vegan cream cheese
¼ cucumber, finely diced
Put the grated courgette in a sieve suspended over a bowl. Sprinkle lightly with salt and leave to drain for 10 minutes. Squeeze the excess water from the courgettes and discard the liquid. Finely chop half the mint leaves. Put the grated courgette in a clean bowl and mix with the garlic, plain flour, lemon zest and spring onions. Season generously. Set a non-stick frying pan with a little oil over a medium-high heat. Once hot, add teaspoonfuls of the courgette mix, pressing down lightly with the back of a spoon to flatten. Cook for three minutes on each side until lightly golden. Transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper and cook the remaining mix. The fritters can be made and cooked in advance, ready to be warmed through in a low oven when needed. To serve, arrange the fritters on a plate. Mix together the vegan cream cheese and remaining chopped mint, spread over the fritters and top with the diced cucumber.
Gluten-free canape ideas
The classic canape, with its bread or pastry base, is obviously off-limits when planning for a gluten-free menu. The key when dreaming up suggestions for suitable canapes, then, is to find a tasty replacement that can still act as a vehicle for an array of different toppings.
Turning a gluten-free loaf into crostini is the obvious first choice and a good one, but for something a bit more unusual, serve chunky cubes of roasted butternut squash topped with feta cheese and chilli flakes, or offer little rounds of crispy sweet potato spread with hummus and scattered with coriander leaves and pomegranate seeds.
Mini skewers can also work really well: think tiger prawns with a zippy dipping sauce or squares of warm cheddar and caramelised onion frittata. For one of the quickest and healthiest gluten-free canapes around, though, you can opt for cucumber and cream cheese topped with smoked salmon slices.
Smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber slices
Prepare: 5 minutes
Cook: No Cook
3 UAE cucumbers
100g low-fat cream cheese
1 tbsp horseradish sauce
Zest of ½ lemon, plus extra to garnish
100g smoked salmon
Trim the ends from the cucumbers and cut into 1cm-thick slices. Mix together the cream cheese, horseradish sauce and lemon zest, then season with a generous sprinkle of black pepper. Slice the salmon into thin slivers. Dot the cucumber rounds with a small spoonful of the horseradish cream cheese and top with a piece of smoked salmon. Scatter some lemon zest and black pepper on top and serve.
Dairy-free canape ideas
If you’re following a dairy-free diet but missing the richness that comes from cheese and cream, nut cheeses are a great alternative and work particularly well in canapes. To make almond nut cheese, tip 50g slivered almonds into a blender, add 50ml olive oil and 100ml water and blitz until thick, smooth and creamy. Use as the base of a dip or combine with flaked smoked mackerel, lemon juice and diced spring onions to make dairy-free mackerel pate.
For further dairy-free inspiration, try homemade mini falafel with mango salsa, polenta chips with avocado sauce or have a go at the steak, onion and slow-roast tomato cups in the recipe below, which is not only free from dairy but low carb and rather indulgent too.
Steak, caramelised onion and slow-roast tomato lettuce cups
Prepare: 10 minutes
Cook: 2 hours 10 minutes
250g cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
½ tsp caster sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
150g sirloin steak, trimmed of fat
3 Baby Gem lettuces
4 tbsp caramelised onion chutney
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 140°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Tip the tomatoes into a bowl, add the caster sugar and 1 tbsp olive oil, season with salt and black pepper and mix well. Arrange the tomatoes on the tray cut side up, transfer to the oven and roast for approximately 2 hours, until the tomatoes are darkened and semi-dried. When you’re almost ready to serve, lightly brush the steak with oil and season with salt and black pepper. Set a frying pan over a medium-high
heat. Once hot, add the steak and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until done to your liking. Remove from the pan and set aside to rest for 10 minutes, then cut into thin slices. While the steak is resting, separate the lettuces into individual leaves, then use a cookie cutter to stamp out small rounds. Arrange on a plate or platter. Put a little caramelised onion chutney in the base of each lettuce circle, add a slice of steak and a couple of roasted tomatoes and serve.