With Genius Recipes correspondent Kristen off for a few months trying to raise a genius newborn, we’re revisiting the column’s Greatest Hits with brand-new videos—and hearing from a few special surprise guests. Wish her luck! (And keep sending those tips.)
Imagine you’re hosting a dinner party tonight—one you’ve been planning for weeks. You bought all the groceries ahead of time and meal-prepped like a champ. The guest list is confirmed (and not one person cancelled last minute!); the showstopping main is in the oven; the wine is chilling; a playlist of soothing folk indie is gently creating a mood in the background. Everything is low stress, under control, dare we say…perfect?
Until you survey the table you’ve lovingly set, and realize you’ve forgotten something: an all-important appetizer to start off the night, to satisfy your guests until it’s time to seat everyone for dinner. You throw open your fridge and pantry in a panic, finding only a box of crackers (somehow unopened!), some nubbins of cheese, and half a bottle of white wine.
Great news for you: These ingredients can become a fine start to your meal—a very Genius one, in fact—and will set you back almost no time and effort. Below, you’ll find 11 more very simple, very smart secret weapons for all your entertaining needs (or for an uber-quick snacks-for-dinner sitch tonight).
I know we already talked about hummus, but you need to know about this one too. Because sometimes, the best-tasting snacks come from a big “oops!” So goes the story behind cookbook author Hetty McKinnon’s incredibly creamy, fluffy-as-a-cloud hummus: “I basically opened a can of chickpeas and I thought I had drained them,” McKinnon writes. “I hadn’t and I just tipped the whole thing into my Vitamix blender and then I thought: Oh no, what have I done?” What she had done, was stumble upon a Genius swap when it comes to the liquid in hummus. Using aquafaba (aka chickpea-liquid) instead of water or olive oil to emulsify the mixture in a high-power blender encourages hummus to whip up like a dream.
“Let’s put it this way, I really can’t think of a savory dish that this wouldn’t go well alongside,” journalist Priya Krishna says of her this chile and cherry tomato pickle recipe she developed with her mom Ritu for their cookbook Indian-ish. It’s spicy, juicy, tangy, and bright—just as welcome as a crunchy salad on its own as it is used as a condiment for rice or dal (for a prepared appetizer, try it spooned over toasts spread with something creamy like ricotta or yogurt). Plus, it comes together in minutes, so there’s really no excuse not to try it.
Why use regular butter when you can make “butter” from corn, one of summer’s sweetest offerings? Editor and former line cook at Pe Se Whitney Wright figured out how to transform the “milk” pressed from fresh corn into a butter-like substance that simply must be on your table this summer. Lay it out with radishes, crusty bread, and flaky salt, or, as Wright suggests, “mix it with shredded cheese, a little sour cream, and a jar of drained jalapeños, bake and serve as a LIFE-ALTERING dip for tortilla chips.”
You know Sohla, you love Sohla: if you haven’t already tried her ranch “fun dip,” please remedy that immediately. This oniony, nutty, umami-packed spice blend will make you eat vegetables like they’re potato chips—and it’s easily packed in a jar for any last-minute picnics or contributions to summer barbecues.
Cookbook author Bryant Terry’s ridiculously creamy, yet 100 percent vegan, lemon-pepper dressing—thank you, silken tofu, we don’t deserve you!—is just waiting to be drizzled all over whatever produce you have lying around, just waiting to be transformed into a summery appetizer. Too hot to cook vegetables? Just use this marinade-slash-sauce as a dip for crudités.
Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it Kristen’s way (and tell her what’s so smart about it) at [email protected].