We often talk about Thanksgiving as a "dinner," but if we're being honest, it's more of a multiday affair—a gloriously prolonged eating extravaganza that comes but once a year. It might start with sampling the sweet potatoes we're beating for a marshmallow-topped casserole on the morning of, and not end until a couple of days later, when we're scraping together the last of our precious leftovers to turn into sandwiches (or, better yet, waffles). And one of the most important stages of that entire process is pre-dinner snacking.
Sure, the meal itself demands a lot of attention and stomach space, but a large part of the fun of Thanksgiving lies in the downtime beforehand—a period that's best spent with a cocktail in hand, enjoying a long gab with your fellow eaters and the smells wafting in from the kitchen. That's when a bowl of nuts, homemade potato chips, or creamy dip becomes essential, easing hunger as the turkey takes its time in the oven, encouraging the flow of drinks and, thus, conversation. Even if you're in charge of the cooking—especially if you're in charge of the cooking!—you're gonna want snacks on hand to take the edge off (not to mention that cocktail now, please). Read on for 16 recipes for Thanksgiving starters, including addictively spicy-sweet glazed pecans, savory smoked-paprika and cheddar crackers, and the smoothest Israeli-style hummus, to whet the room's collective appetite before the real feasting begins.
Bourbon Old Fashioned Glazed Pecans
There's nothing old-fashioned about these sweet, tart, and lightly spicy glazed pecans—their flavors are largely derived from the ingredients that make up an Old Fashioned, the classically debonair whiskey cocktail. A little cayenne and black pepper lend a piquant edge to the coating of brown sugar, bourbon, and cherries, and a sprinkling of orange zest folded into the bowl adds a sharp citrusy finish.
Olive-Rosemary Spiced Cashews
Woodsy rosemary works beautifully with salty oil-cured olives to add a Mediterranean flavor profile to buttery cashews. Dehydrating the olives and fresh herb sprigs in the microwave, then pulverizing them with a mortar and pestle, is the best route to getting a fine mixture that can easily coat the nuts while retaining good flavor. Just a bit of sugar and cayenne provide balance, without making the cashews overtly sweet or peppery.
Smoky Candied Almonds
To spice up these almonds, we looked to a barbecue dry rub for inspiration, blending smoked paprika, Old Bay, and cayenne and applying the mix on top of a rich dark brown sugar–based glaze. A single egg white added to the candy shell helps it stay light and crisp.
Basic Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
The crunchy seeds are one of the many reasons you should be cooking with pumpkin more—it's as if the squash comes with a free gift inside, ready and waiting to be turned into a Thanksgiving snack, and how many other vegetables can make that claim? All it takes to make a great batch of pumpkin seeds is washing and thoroughly drying the seeds to ensure they crisp and brown nicely in the oven, roasting them with high heat, and tossing them with a little oil, salt, and pepper. That said, we highly recommend experimenting with more creative flavors if you want to add a little kick.
Buttered Rum and Cranberry Popcorn
Popcorn's inherently light and airy nature makes it a good choice for pre-dinner munching, since it's unlikely to fill you up. But much better than simply setting out a bowl of plain-Jane buttered popcorn is combining it with a few festive additions—in this case, tart dried cranberries, plus a little rum to make things interesting.
Stuffing-Flavored Potato Chips
If you love stuffing so much that you'd rather start eating it even before the turkey comes out, these robust yet crisp homemade potato chips are for you. They've got all the homey flavors of a traditional Thanksgiving stuffing—sage, celery leaves and seeds, marjoram, onion, rosemary, and chicken bouillon for a meaty note. Using a combination of fresh and dried herbs will help you nail the right flavor.
The same abiding love for stuffing led us to develop these golden-brown fritters, which resemble hush puppies that taste like Thanksgiving instead of just plain cornmeal. Here, we've used onion, apple, celery, sage, and thyme to replicate the stuffing flavor, though you should feel free to try other ingredients—sausage, cranberries, and mushrooms are all possibilities—as your own tastes dictate.
Baguette Toast "Crackers"
It's true that good store-bought crackers aren't particularly hard to come by, but these no-frills homemade toasts are leagues better and can be made a day in advance with minimal work. There's nothing to it but thinly slicing a baguette, lightly brushing the pieces with olive oil and sprinkling with salt and pepper, then sliding the tray into the oven to bake. You'll be rewarded for your extra effort with an especially crisp and flavorful cracker for scooping up dips or topping with spreads.
Cheesy Smoked-Paprika Crackers
Want to get serious about your homemade crackers? Infused with Parmesan, cheddar, and smoked paprika, these deeply savory and subtly spicy ones beat any fancy variety you'll find in a box. And, though you will be rolling and cutting these out by hand, don't fret over the process too much—the butter-and-flour dough takes just minutes to make.
Whole Wheat Sables With Za'atar
Za'atar, the warm Middle Eastern spice blend that prominently features oregano, thyme, and sumac, is typically seen caked heavily onto fresh pita bread. In an unusual but delicious alternative, this recipe uses it to dust French butter cookies instead, creating an interesting savory-sweet effect. You won't want to dip these in anything, though—enjoy this unexpected combination just as it is, maybe alongside a glass of wine.
9 In-Your-Face Deviled Egg Variations
An oldie but a goodie, the traditional deviled egg, seasoned with just mayo, Dijon mustard, and a sprinkling of paprika, is still a great unfussy hors d'oeuvre to serve at any party. But it's also a formula that's ripe for innovation. In doing a little of our own riffing, we came up with no fewer than nine variations on the theme, including deviled eggs with Buffalo sauce and blue cheese, smoked salmon and caraway, and confit tuna. Try out any of these combinations on your Thanksgiving guests, or just let these get your creative juices flowing and devise your own.
Israeli-Style Extra-Smooth Hummus
For homemade hummus with a silky, creamy texture and great flavor, we start by making tahini sauce with a garlic flavor that doesn't overpower—and we do it by puréeing the garlic (and lots of it!) in lemon juice before adding the tahini and cumin, which helps prevent the formation of sharp, pungent compounds. Then we combine the sauce with the chickpeas—overcooked, so they're extra soft—and blend it all while the beans are still hot to ensure a smooth texture.
Rosemary and Lemon White Bean Dip
Looking for a dip recipe that doesn't involve careful whisking and hours of simmering? This bright and herbal alternative to hummus is different but not too challenging, and, thanks to canned white beans, it's also laughably easy to make. We're talking all of 10 minutes' work: Just dump those cans into a food processor with garlic and lemon juice, slowly drizzle in a stream of olive oil, and stir in rosemary and lemon zest.
Whipped Salt-Cod Spread (Brandade de Morue)
If you've never tried a version of this thick and rich salt-cod spread, a delight often served under various names in Mediterranean countries like Italy, Spain, and France, don't let yourself miss out any longer. The cod does need to be soaked for 24 hours to leach out much of the salt and render it palatable before it's cooked, but the rest of the process takes just a little over an hour. Add potato for milder flavor and softer, creamier texture, or omit it if you want a firmer bite and a more assertive fishiness.
Black Olive Tapenade With Garlic, Capers, and Anchovies
The ingredients that made up the "original" Provençal condiment called tapenade are up for debate, but the one you're most likely to see on this side of the Atlantic is a briny, oily, savory number that's heavy on the olives. Our version also adds anchovies, capers, garlic, Dijon mustard, and herbs for a powerfully flavored spread; use a food processor to chop them all up if you're short on time, but a mortar and pestle will deliver better flavor and a more interesting texture. Black Niçoise or Italian Taggiasca olives are the most traditional, though swapping in green olives could be a fun change of pace.
Chicken Liver Pâté With Bourbon and Cranberry Gelée
You don't need to get fancy with your Thanksgiving appetizer spread, but if you're feeling driven to impress or just to try something new, this smooth, rich chicken liver pâté with a little Thanksgiving flair is the ticket. Besides, despite its chichi associations and ooh-là-là name, pâté isn't too hard to make: Sear chicken livers over high heat, then sauté aromatics and deglaze with liquor, purée it all in a food processor, and strain. It's a fairly traditional approach (other than the food processor), but the hint of bourbon and apple cider we add to the chicken and the cranberry gelée topping make it distinctively seasonal, and decidedly American.