Vegetable appetizers are a perfect way to start a meal. They run the gamut from simple dips and spreads like guacamole, made from silken smooth avocados, to complex dishes that are sophisticated enough to feature at the most elegant dinner. One of the most popular vegetable appetizers, and one that really requires no recipe, is crudités.
Crudités is nothing more elaborate than fresh, raw vegetables served with a cold sauce for dipping. The name itself means “raw” in French. Nearly every cuisine has some corollary to the French crudités. Sometimes it’s as simple as the “relish” platters popular in the 1950s that featured stalks of celery and radishes with the simplest of all sauces: salt. Sometimes it’s an extensive selection of fresh and pickled vegetables, such as you might enjoy from an antipasto selection, or some tapas.
Crudités platters can be strictly vegetables, or you might want to include pickles, olives, cured or smoked meats, and cheeses to turn your crudités into a more substantial appetizer, or even, if paired with good breads and some flavorful oils, to make into a simple supper.
The most important quality for crudités vegetables is flavor and freshness. The best way to be sure your vegetables are the most flavorful is to choose them based on the season. Sniff or, if possible, taste vegetables.
The way vegetables look is important for a successful crudités platter. Look for vivid colors, good textures, and unblemished specimens. It’s a good idea to be generous so you can create a bountiful array. Consider not only the flavor of the vegetables, but also the color.
Look to local or speciality markets for unique varietals or "baby" veggies, like colorful carrots, baby gem lettuces, or vibrant radishes. These varieties are often more flavorful and tender than commercially grown items that are bred for size and sturdiness, rather than flavor or texture.
Some vegetables are perfect to eat raw: cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, carrots, celery, and fennel are some examples. Rinse, peel, and cut or slice them so they are easy to pick up and eat. You may choose to cut the vegetables so they are relatively uniform in size and shape, or, for a more contemporary and artistic presentation, embrace the difference in shape and size as you create a rustic platter.
Other vegetables, including green beans, sugar snap or snow peas, broccoli, cauliflower, and some baby vegetables, including zucchini, pattypan, or yellow squash, also are delicious raw, but you may prefer to quickly blanch them, and possibly even marinate them, before adding them to your platter. Blanching makes some vegetables brighter and more vivid. It also helps remove some bitterness from vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli. Blanched vegetables should be thoroughly drained and chilled so they are crisp, not waterlogged.
If you are planning to pickle or marinate the vegetables, remember that the flavor is absorbed better when the vegetables are still warm. However, acids can change the colors in green vegetables, so it’s best to chill them before you add any dressings or marinades.
And while crudités is named for raw vegetables, you can use the concept to inspire variations on the theme. Lightly grill or roast vegetables to bring out the sweetness of seasonal vegetables, being sure to leave the veggies just slightly al dente (or toothsome) to make for easy dipping and hand-eating. Remember to season the vegetables before grilling to bring out the best in their flavor.
Vegetables for a raw- or pickled- veggie crudités can be prepared the day ahead as long as they are tightly-wrapped and refrigerated. Consider storing vegetables like carrots, celery, and radishes in cool water to keep them from drying out. Or, if you would like, refresh the vegetables in a bowl of ice water before arranging.
It really doesn’t matter how you arrange the vegetables themselves. You can arrange them neatly for a sophisticate look or simply toss them together for a rustic presentation. There are a few guidelines to follow, however:
- Dry the vegetables well so that any dips can cling.
- Chill the vegetables and the platter, as well as the bowls you plan to use for dips.
- Use strong or contrasting colors for a dramatic look.
Ready to build your crudités? These dips make the perfect pairing for bright crisp veggies.
Plant-Forward Ranch Dip
Italian-Style Herb Sauce
Hummus bi Tahini