What makes a food an appetizer? The last time I took on this question, I concluded an appetizer had to be a one- or two-bite finger food with some little touch that made it special. This time, looking to create an appetizer specifically for a barbecue, I decided it should be all of the above, plus not too filling. You’re never sure if barbecued meat or whatever is going to be ready on time, and while people need something to eat while they’re waiting, especially if it’s late, they shouldn’t have anything that’ll spoil their dinners.
Vegetables seemed like a good choice. Of course, they’d need some added flavor. And some presentation that made them easy to serve and eat. Tomatoes were about the right size but felt somehow too everyday. Let’s see, what other vegetables were about that size? Carrot slices . . . uh, no. Mushrooms . . . if they were cooked first. Pickled onions . . . maybe a little too weird.
But water chestnuts had it all. They were mild tasting, slightly exotic, and just the right size, shape, and texture to put on a stick. They’d also go well with an Asian coating, if I could get it to stay on.
And that led me to think of a stripped-down version of satay sauce. Once you’ve got the tastes of peanut, sesame, and soy sauce, the rest is just spice.
I had never marinated water chestnuts in soy sauce before. Some recipes tell you to do it overnight, but I didn’t get around to that. Just as well, because after three hours they were quite salty enough.
Though the coating sticks well, it does begin to drip a little as it comes to room temperature, which is why they should stay in the fridge till the last minute.
If you feel like it, thread on some more vegetables.
- 1 (8-ounce) can whole water chestnuts
- 2 Tb. soy sauce
- 1 Tb. sesame oil
- 1 Tb. peanut butter
- Drain the water chestnuts and pat dry with a paper towel.
- Marinate them in the soy sauce for up to three hours, stirring occasionally.
- When they’re done, mix the sesame oil with the peanut butter in a small bowl.
- Stick a bamboo skewer or wooden pick through the center of each water chestnut.
- Twirl each in the sesame oil/peanut butter mixture to coat — leave one edge uncoated, if you want to be neat.
- Refrigerate till serving.