We’re coming into the heavy-duty party season, and finger-foods abound. But what can you do for your guests who can have dip, but no chips? It’s nice to have something to offer them besides cheese cubes. (And if you’re the one on low carbs, consider taking a platter of low carb treats to the party yourself. I’m a big believer in making and sharing the goodies.)
There are plenty of things you can buy ready-made. Check the appetizer section of your favorite restaurants’ menus for treats you can copy or pay them to make for you. I have a Mexican place right across the street that does a bacon-wrapped grilled shrimp with queso blanco and a sliver of jalapeño in the center. I could make them myself, but it’s my contribution to the economy to pay them to make them. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.
If you don’t have low-carb options available for easy purchase, here are a few ideas for stocking the snack tray.
Choose Your Cheese
Not all cheese is created equal when it comes to carbs, so choose wisely when you look to lay out a cheese board. Gruyere, the real-stuff ancestor of Swiss, is a low-carb champ at roughly .1 gram of carbs per ounce. Compare that to Swiss at 1.5 grams per ounce, and you can see that picking the wrong cheese can blow your carb limit in a heartbeat. Close behind Gruyere are the French soft cheeses Brie and Camembert at just over .1 gram per ounce. Cream cheese has six times the carbs of Brie, so any soft-cheese-filled goodies should have a little French flair. If you live in the middle of nowhere and only have access to common commercial cheeses (I’m sorry), go with Monterey Jack at .2 gm/oz or sharp cheddar at .3 gm/oz. Mild or Colby Cheddar has twice the carbs, and American has two full grams of carbs per ounce.
If you can stand a few more carbs, fillings of cream cheese can be flavored with a variety of yummy things, or you can take the lazy way out and use a prepared cheese spread like Boursin. The Garlic & Herbs is our favorite, but if you can find the Apple-Cranberry at holiday time, it is not to be missed.
Choose Your Vehicle
Since most crackers and chips are just too carb-intensive for a low-carb diet, the trick to interesting canapés is to find a vehicle, a base, to get delicious cheese, meat, and other low-carb treats to your mouth. My husbands favorite is hard salami rolled up with a soft cheese filling inside and secured with a skewer. Any cold cut or sliced meat that is firm enough to hold its shape makes a great wrapper.
For crunch and color, I like to use thin slices of cucumber loaded with dip and garnished with caviar, salmon roe, or, if you have fish weanies like I do, some grated carrot. For an Asian flair, make sashimi-gari rolls. Sashimi is raw fish (sushi is the raw fish over a foundation of rice, which is a low-carb no-no); gari is pickled ginger root, those thin pink slices usually served with sushi. Again, for those too squeamish for raw fish, you can wrap chunks of a firm steamed fish or fake crab (and fake crab is basically firm steamed fish with some added color and crab flavoring) in the gari. Gari does have carbs, but the individual slices are so thin, each bite is negligible. A 3-ounce container of gari, about 16 grams of carbs, will make a large tray of appetizers. Just don’t eat the whole thing.
If you’re lucky enough to find nice, large walnut halves, they can be a great dip vehicle as well. Each half has about 1/4 gm/oz of carbs, so don’t go wild, but a walnut half with some of the Apple-Cranberry Boursin is totally worth it.
The undisputed king of cracker substitutes, though, is the parmesan wafer. On a baking sheet covered with a silicone sheet like Silpat or good-quality parchment paper, place small stacks of grated parmesan (be sure to leave room between stacks for a little spread). The wafers shown above were made with about a tablespoon of coarsely grated parmesan each. The coarser the grate, the more lacy the look of the baked wafer; a fine grate will make a more solid wafer. Flatten each stack slightly with your hand, and bake them at 350° until they are the color you want. Golden brown takes about 10 minutes (if your oven runs hot, start at five minutes and check every minute until you get the color you want); that’s what I like for canapés, because it’s still a little chewy and it doesn’t shatter when you bite into it. Fine grated parmesan will bake faster, so start checking at the 5 minute point. You can also shape the wafers if you want; take them hot off the baking tray and drape them over a wooden spoon for little taco shells, or push them gently into a mini muffin tin to make cups.
You can also bake them 14-15 minutes to a mahogany color, salt them, and eat them like potato chips. Toss some chili powder and cayenne into the cheese before baking, and you’ll get the closest thing to a carb-free Dorito that you’re going to find. They will be much more brittle than the golden brown wafers, but they should hold up to some salsa or hot queso.
Enjoy the party, and be prepared to defend the low-carb goodies from everybody else!