You don't need to wait for a holiday to invite family and friends for a festive gathering. Colder weather and longer nights provide the perfect setting for cozy dinner parties and elegant soirees at home. When you're entertaining, you know the standard drill: a cheese plate, chips and dip, maybe a selection of crudités. But finger foods and appetizers don't have to come from the same old script. Hors d'oeuvres are the first bites your guest will take — a chance for you to set the tone for a creative meal to come.
See also: Delicious low-cal desserts.
Holiday parties provide plenty of opportunities to indulge, but that doesn't mean you'll be missing out if you choose to serve healthier options. To make decisions easier on your guests, why not serve an entire menu of appetizers that count calories but don't sacrifice any flavor?
Go global: The hors d'oeuvres listed here borrow from Italian, Moroccan, Japanese and Southwestern cuisine for cross-continental appeal.
Lighten up: There's no need to rely on heavy meat- or cheese-based bites to provide satisfaction. Each of these recipes is both health-conscious and delicious. Many are vegetarian-friendly.
Variety is key: Offer a mix of hot and cold items with a variety of textures and colors such as soups and dips for creamy smoothness, whole-wheat chips and nuts for crunch, and steamed dumplings for a bite-size package of different ingredients.
Stuffed Eggplant, Basilicata Style by Julia Della Croce: This satisfying appetizer combines the classic Italian flavor profile of garlic, oregano and parsley with green olives and breadcrumbs to make a delicious stuffing for eggplant. Serve heated or at room temperature.
Butternut Squash "Pizzettas" by Eric Gower: In this recipe, pizza dough is swapped out for rounds of seasonal butternut squash, which is low in fat, high in fiber and full of potassium and vitamin B6.
Peperonata by Rick Rodgers: This blend of sautéed sweet peppers can be served atop crostini, laid out in an antipasti spread or eaten by the forkful! Bell peppers are a good source of vitamins C and E, as well as carotenoids.
Herbed Flatbread Chips by Maxine Effenson Chuck and Beth Gurney: These quick and easy whole-wheat chips are impressive and go well with hummus and other bean dips, or cooked vegetable mixtures such as peperonata.
Creamy Butternut Squash and Apple Soup by Nava Atlas: This healthy autumn soup is perfect to serve friends at a small, cozy dinner party. Ginger and nutmeg give it that special seasonal kick.
Red Lentil Soup With Chicken by Mimi Sheraton: Serve this recipe as a first-course soup — its smooth texture and Moroccan flavor, coming from ingredients like chili pepper and saffron, are sure to make it a hit.
Quick Southwestern Bean Dip by Bonnie Tandy Leblang and Joanne Lamb Hayes: This dairy-free, low-fat dip has the hearty texture of black beans and chopped veggies.
Mushroom Shui-Mai by Crescent Dragonwagon: These delicate purses are filled with a mixture of mushrooms, seitan, vegetables and Japanese flavors like rice wine and sesame oil. Steaming them, rather than frying, means that two dumplings contain 63 calories and just 1 gram of fat.
Japanese Shrimp and Cucumber Salad by James Peterson: Pickled cucumbers provide a surprising and fitting counterpoint to cocktail shrimp in this recipe, which serves up just 30 calories per serving.