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Last week, I invited a few friends over for dinner in the backyard—on a Tuesday. All of our weekends have been jam-packed with travel or family commitments lately, so we figured, why not grab a free evening in the middle of the week? (What happened to those long, lazy days of summer, btw?!)
It reminded me why I love a weeknight get-together. There’s zero pressure to pull out all the stops, and everyone tends to call it an early night. But because it’s a bit unexpected, there’s a “go ahead, treat yourself” vibe that puts everyone in a fun mood. The only challenge? I had a workday full of meetings and kids’ camp pickup just 2 hours before my guests arrived, so I knew that it was not going to be a night for prepping a full dinner menu from scratch.
Enter: Snacks for Dinner. Also known as the easy dinner solution that comes together in no time flat and that no one is ever sad about. I pull this out of my back pocket all throughout summer, whether it’s for an impromptu pool party or a Friday night with the fam when I don’t feel like cooking. It’s festive, it’s summery, it’s a party with nearly zero effort. The idea of Snacks for Dinner is that it’s made up of delicious, store-bought ingredients that can be quickly assembled—and that friends or family can jump in and help you throw together. Think of it as a group activity that might require a little chopping or blending beforehand, but very little actual cooking.
Here’s my formula for the perfect “Snacks for Dinner” spread: a toast + a board + a salad + a nibble + a sweet.
Simple! It’s infinitely customizable, so choose one item from each section below, set it out family-style in the middle of your table, and get snacking.
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Snacks for Dinner Item #1: A Toast
This pretty toast is bursting with flavor, fresh herbs, and crunchy veggies. Make the kale pesto in advance, then set out all the toppings and invite friends to build their own.
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This recipe proves, once again, that the simplest things taste the best—and it’s a great way to throw something unexpected into your snacks menu. Use really good crusty sourdough as your base, and char it on the grill or stove to impart more flavor. Use your absolute favorite garlicky hummus (bonus points if you use homemade!)
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Tuna and avocado toast is one of my favorite things to make in the summer. Loosely inspired by a niçoise salad, it tops crusty bread with kale pesto, rough-mashed avocado, crisp cucumber slices, rich and garlicky oven-roasted tomatoes, chunks of oil-packed tuna, and loads of fresh basil. Mouth is watering.
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Snacks for Dinner Item #2: A Board
4 ingredients (figs, burrata, pesto, and mint) that are such a perfect match, you’ll want to make this combo all summer long. You can make this as a salad, or spread out the ingredients on a big wood cutting board and let people scoop up bits, cheese plate-style.
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This Green Goddess Dressing is the perfect accompaniment for fresh spring veggies–and it’s a great no-fuss appetizer to welcome outdoor dinner party season. Not to mention, the dressing is a dip or salad dressing you’ll want to have in your fridge at all times for impromptu snacks for dinner.
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Malibu Farm Rainbow Chopped Salad (the board version)
Okay, technically this is a salad recipe, but my reco for a simple summer gathering is to chop up all your ingredients and spread them out on a long wood plank for grazing, just like chef Helene Henderson did at the al fresco dinner she hosted.
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Snacks for Dinner Item #3: A Salad
Juicy citrus, savory Marcona almonds, tangy onions, and fresh herbs, this citrus salad is refreshing, simple, and might be the new star of your summer table. Plus, I have a theory that just about every fruit is better with a drizzle of EVOO and sprinkle of flaky salt.
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The combination of bitter greens, creamy white beans, and salty parm is downright addictive. Make this for an Italian-inspired aperitivo gathering, just like Olivia Muniak did.
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At the magic hour gathering she recently hosted at her home in Santa Barbara, Jessie De Lowe served this salad as the centerpiece for a meal meant for sharing. She says, “I make sure to always include some toasted nuts for a crunch and some fruit for sweetness. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with the Farro Salad from Charlie Bird and have been making that on repeat.”
Snacks for Dinner Item #4: A Few Store-Bought Nibbles
Think of this as an opportunity to “fill in” your snacks for dinner spread with some items that require zero cooking. Olives, nuts, a block of parmesan, some charcuterie, or pickled veggies from the Whole Foods salad bar are all fair game. Put them in little bowls and group together on a cutting board for an easy and chic presentation.
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My favorites are cerignola or castelvetrano olives—both are rich, meaty green olives that transport me to the Italian riviera. Don’t forget a small bowl for discarding the pits.
I always keep a jar of toasted nuts in the freezer. For parties, almonds are my favorites, but pistachios, walnuts, or cashews work great too. If they’re not already salted, be sure to add a pinch of flaky salt before setting them out for snacking.
Especially when my menu veers more plant-based, setting out a serving board with a couple of store-bought charcuterie options is a great way to add some heft with very little effort. My go to options are thinly-sliced prosciutto and sliced salami.
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Snacks for Dinner Item #5: Something Sweet (and Very Cold)
So refreshing, starring everyone’s favorite summer fruit. If you can find them, ripe and juicy Alphonso mangos work best here. Otherwise, whatever mango variety you can get at the store will work. You can absolutely use frozen mangos, just thaw them and drain any extra liquid for this specific recipe.
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While I’m a self-proclaimed lover of delicious cakes and cookies, there is something inherently magical about desserts that require no active baking time. When simple ingredients are mixed together and become something entirely different, the effect is nothing short of magic. No wonder these bars are one of our most popular recipes of 2022.
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The fact that this raspberry tiramisu can be made up to a day in advance and just hang out in the fridge, ready to go, makes it pretty near perfect for any summer party you’ve got on the books. Raspberries are used in two ways: fresh berries between the layers, plus raspberry liqueur in the soaking liquid. I love the dark fruity quality that it adds, especially combined with the chocolate, cream, and espresso flavors.