You can think of our upcoming holiday as nothing more than a nuisance, two Mondays in one week, unless you turn it into a fiesta. What better way to celebrate our oldest summer tradition than getting together with friends to enjoy our decks — the kind on the water or in the grass.
Get these appetizers in the fridge and serve them when you return from the lakeside festivities, or spend your day at home puttering around your kitchen trying out these perfect bite-sized morsels.
Curried scallop lettuce wraps
Any flavourful seafood will work in these — from clams to chunks of salmon. Boston lettuce is the perfect foil for the slightly sweet, rich filling, with its own buttery, peppery bite. This is the place to use fresh scallops, not the tiny frozen ones that are fine for chowder. If you are fortunate enough to get really big ones, cut them into quarters. This recipe makes about 12 small wraps. Save the small, inside lettuce leaves for salad.
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. hot curry powder
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed but left whole
1/2 lb. fresh scallops
1/4 tsp. salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. each lemon juice and sherry or white wine vinegar
1/2 cup each finely diced cucumber and red pepper
1 green onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1 head Boston lettuce (large outside leaves), washed and completely dried
Heat olive oil in a non-stick pan and add curry powder and garlic. Cook together about 1 minute over medium-high. Sprinkle scallops with salt and pepper and add to hot pan. Fry until golden on all sides and just barely cooked through; discard garlic. Add lemon juice and vinegar. Remove from heat and allow to cool at least to lukewarm. Stir in cucumber, red pepper, green onion, and cilantro. Place a spoonful — divide the scallops as evenly as possible — in the middle of each lettuce leaf and roll up to serve.
Classic deviled eggs
When I was a kid, serving deviled eggs elevated a card game to full-blown party status. I can remember the oohs and ahs when I made these for the first time. Of course, I didn’t have Dijon mustard, parsley or smoked paprika, but those are only the finishing touches. Feel free to use plain old prepared mustard if you prefer.
3/4 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small stalk celery — tender white part only, minced
2 tbsp. minced onion
1 tbsp. chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika (optional)
Cover eggs with cold water in a large pot. Cover, bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Allow to sit 10 minutes then rinse in cold water until you can handle them; remove shells. Carefully cut eggs in half crosswise — a sharp knife helps. Remove the yolks and place in a mixing bowl. If you want the eggs to sit perfectly flat then take a very thin slice off the bottom of each half-white. Mash the yolks together with mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stir in celery, onion and parsley and spoon back into egg white halves. Sprinkle tops with paprika and serve at once or refrigerate for an hour or so first.
Nothing focuses a party like the arrival on the deck of a gigantic pot of mussels. Provide big plastic bowls so people have a place to put the shells and bring out baskets of garlic toast (recipe to follow), as the perfect accompaniment. Fresh tarragon makes all the difference in this recipe, so please try and find it, but if there’s none around substitute Italian flat-leaf parsley or even fresh basil leaves. Mussels have a natural saltiness so you don’t really need to add more, but salted butter will lend the perfect savoury note. Allow at least half a pound per person, although I would consider that a bit on the mean side.
5 lbs. fresh mussels
1/4 cup soft butter or margarine (butter is much better)
1 small onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 or 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced (optional)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch fresh tarragon, coarsely chopped
4 lemons, cut into wedges
Scrub the mussel shells thoroughly and pull off the beards, if still attached. For the uninitiated, the beard refers to the scraggly little goatee growing out of one side. I find the easiest way is to use small pliers. Discard any mussels with shells that are gaping open. Melt butter in a large pot and add onion. Fry a minute or two then add the garlic and jalapeños. Cook together just until fragrant. Add mussels, wine, black pepper and tarragon. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat and cook about 3 minutes, until the shells open up. Discard any mussels that have not opened and serve with lemon wedges on the side.
Easy garlic toast
No need to fuss here — you don’t even need butter if this will be served with a dish as flavourful and juicy as those party mussels.
1 loaf Italian bread
1/4 cup olive oil
1 or 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved crosswise
Cut the loaf into thick slices lengthwise — you should have about 4 large slabs of bread. Drizzle olive oil over one side and toast in a hot oven or on a barbecue grill. While still hot and crispy, quickly rub the cut side of a garlic clove all over the surface. Tear or cut the toast into generous pieces and serve.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s.
Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86,
St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.