As Bugs Bunny said, and vocalist Alan Jackson sang: "Well, it's 5 o'clock somewhere." And what better time to get together with friends and colleagues for some relaxation, fun, food and drinks, especially during this festive season? Ensure you provide plenty of nibbles to balance the tipples. Aim to serve at least five different snacks an hour. The more people you are entertaining the more varied the selection should be.

Asia influences my finger food menu this year. And my current favourite is the highly nutritious edamame bean.

Edamame (pronounced ed-a-mah-me) are young soybeans, usually still in the pod. Bright green and soft, the beans inside the pod look a lot like a peeled broad bean. Edamame served with a local sea salt is a popular side dish at Japanese izakaya restaurants. Frozen edamame are available in New Zealand from Asian food stores.

To eat edamame in the pod, steam until hot, cool a little, then pop the pod to your mouth, and squeeze or suck out the beans. You don't eat the pod. Edamame are high in carbohydrates, protein, dietary fibre, folates, manganese and vitamin K.

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Shelled frozen edamame are available from many supermarkets. They are great pureed for dips, or they can be added to stir-fries, salads, soups and casseroles.

Tips for hosts:

Refrigerate food until just before preparing and serving to avoid contamination and food poisoning.

The menu should include a balance of flavours and textures. Include sliced fresh vegetables such as red, green and yellow capsicums, cucumber and snow peas. They are healthy alternatives as dippers rather than chips and crackers.

Serve a combination of hot and cold finger foods. Serve the hot choices at intervals.

Dietary considerations of guests should be taken into account eg gluten-free.

Offer a range of non-alcoholic drinks for the designated drivers.

RECIPES
THAI RED CURRY DUMPLINGS

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Minced pork or chicken could replace the prawns. The pork may take a little longer to cook. Dim sum wrappers are thinner than wonton wrappers, which could also take longer to cook.

1 tsp rice bran oil
1 small shallot, diced
2 tbsp grated root ginger
250g raw prawns, shelled, deveined and tails removed
2 tsp Thai red curry paste
1 tsp fish sauce
2 tbsp chopped coriander
20-22 dim sum or wonton wrappers

Dipping Sauce: 1/4 cup light soy sauce
2 tbsp lemon juice
Heat oil on low and pan-fry shallot, until softened. Stir in root ginger and heat through for 1 minute. Cool.

Place prawns in a food processor and mix until finely chopped. Place in bowl and add shallot mixture, red curry paste, fish sauce and coriander. Mix.

Take one wrapper, lightly moisten the edges with water, then place a heaped teaspoon of prawn mixture in the centre. Draw up edges to form a bag. Squeeze tightly to seal. Place on an oiled plate and cover with a damp paper towel.

Continue making bags until filling is used up. Dumplings may be covered with a damp towel and refrigerated for 2-3 hours before steaming.

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Place a steamer on top. Lightly oil the base. Steam wontons for about 8 minutes, until the filling is set and the wrappers soft.
Serve immediately with dipping sauce. - Makes 20-22

EDAMAME & CORIANDER SPREAD

Frozen shelled edamame are available from supermarkets and Asian food stores.
450g shelled edamame beans
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
Finely grated rind kaffir lime or common lime
3 tbsp lemon juice
1-2 tsp sesame oil
White pepper to taste
Water
1/4 cup finely chopped coriander

Cook edamame in a saucepan of boiling water until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain. Place in a food processor and mix until coarsely chopped.

Meanwhile, chop garlic and sprinkle with salt. Using the flat blade of a heavy knife, squash garlic and salt to a paste.

Add to beans with lime rind, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil and 3-4 tablespoons of water. Mix to a smooth paste. You may need more water and seasonings. Stir in coriander.

The spread can be prepared ahead, covered and refrigerated for a day or frozen for up to two weeks. - Serves 8-10

SWEET CHILLI MUSSELS

I used steamed mussels that are vacuum-packed in their shells. If using fresh mussels, steam them to open.
12 mussels, steamed
1 egg white
1 tbsp chilli sauce
Finely grated rind 1 kaffir lime
1 tbsp each: chopped coriander, spring onion
2 tsp fish sauce
4 tbsp panko crumbs

Remove half of each mussel shell. Snip mussel where attached to shell. Remove tongues if preferred. Place on a tray suitable for grilling.
Lightly whisk egg white. Add chilli sauce, lime leaf, spring onion, fish sauce and panko crumbs. Spoon over mussels. Grill for 1-2 minutes until topping is set. - Makes 12

CRAB CAKES WITH AVOCADO RELISH

2 small shallots, diced
1/2 tsp each: grated root ginger, crushed garlic, ground turmeric
340g frozen crab meat or 2 x 170g cans crabmeat, well drained and chopped
1 & 1/2 cups panko crumbs
1 tbsp each: lime juice, chopped coriander
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp canola oil

Combine shallots, ginger, garlic and turmeric with crab in a bowl. Add 1/2 a cup of panko crumbs, lime juice, coriander, seasonings and egg. Form into eight patties.
Place remaining panko crumbs on a plate. Coat crab cakes with crumbs, pressing gently. Chill.

To serve, pan-fry crab cakes in oil for about 2-3 minutes each side. Dollop top with avocado relish. - Serves 8.

AVOCADO RELISH

1 avocado, halved, stoned, peeled
1 medium tomato
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 spring onion, diced
2 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tsp each: finely grated lime rind, diced red chilli or chilli paste
2 tsp lime juice

Place avocado in a bowl and mash with a fork. Halve tomato and squeeze out seeds. Finely dice the flesh.

Add to avocado with onion, coriander, and seasonings and lime juice. Cover and chill for up to 2 hours. - Makes 1 cup.