PSA: Cheese isn't the only food worth including on your snack board.
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Snack board with veggies and cheese
Credit: Caitlin Bensel

A meal of bites and small plates is easygoing, tasty, and so satisfying when warm weather hits. "Snacks are perfect for outdoor dining with friends or family, no matter the crowd size," says Rebekah Peppler, the author of À Table (Buy It, $18, amazon.com), a cookbook of modern French food. "They create a cohesive experience where everyone can graze, socialize, and enjoy."

Plus, that casual vibe is a lot more relaxing than a dinner. Just put together a snack board, layer on colorful vegetables, and round it out with a few extra-special dishes. For a no-fail snack board, steal Peppler's go-to spread: "Combine the best of French snacking with the genius of Basque pintxos to create a mix of thinly sliced sausage, potato or veggie chips, cheese, and olives," she says. "Arrange everything on a platter or a board, and tie it together with a sprinkle of mild pepper flakes such as Piment d'Espelette (Buy It, $10, amazon.com)." (You can also use paprika or Aleppo pepper.)

If you want to embrace your creative side and experiment with flavor and texture pairings, however, read on for tips on how to create beautiful, healthy snack boards.

À Table: Recipes for Cooking and Eating the French Way
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1. Serve dips and spreads.

Arrange several bowls around your snack board. Spoon flavorful and brightly colored dips, such as beet hummus and green goddess, into any larger bowls, then fill any smaller ones with condiments like grainy mustard, jam, and honey. These will give you contrasting tastes (sweet, tangy) for the savory foods.

2. Pile on the cheese.

These should play a starring role in your spread. Anchor the board with at least three types of cheese, making sure to choose varieties with different flavors, textures, and shapes. If you're serving a snack board to vegan guests, brie, goat cheese, and cheddar from Rebel Cheese make a great combination. (Related: The Best Vegan Cheeses for a Plant-Based Charcuterie Board)

3. Layer on protein.

Give your snack board staying power by adding protein, like hard-boiled eggs or shrimp. If you're opting for classic charcuterie, slice salami thinly and fold larger pieces in half, then cut sausages into coins. For plant-based substitutes, turn to Plant Provisions Smokehouse beet salami, Renegade Foods Smoky Soppressata or Sweet Toscana, and Hellenic Farms sweet fig salami.

4. Top it with fresh fruits and veggies.

Don't forget to be creative in your choices. Peppler likes to use raw fennel, leafy greens, small heads of lettuce cut into wedges, radishes, cherry tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, and boiled potatoes on her snack board. To ensure your dips actually get used, add steamed or blanched green beans, purple cauliflower florets, and carrots sticks. Then layer on hits of sweetness with apple slices, figs, and grapes.

5. Fill in the gaps with crackers, bread, and nuts.

Stack hearty bread, flavored crackers, and nuts in the remaining spots around the snack board. For crunch and flavor, try fruit- and nut-packed Maine Crisp — the vegan and gluten-free fig and thyme variety is made with buckwheat flour, hemp hearts, walnuts, and flaxseeds. Or go for a soft and light fixing like socca, which is basically a large chickpea pancake. Finally, finish with some almonds, pistachios, or cashews.

How to Upgrade Your Snack Board with Flavorful Homemade Bites

While that formula for creating a snack board is sure to satisfy your growling stomach, elevating a few of the items on your snack board will really make the spread feel like a meal, says Peppler. It doesn't require much — just some quick techniques and a clever use of spices and herbs — for a huge amount of extra flavor. The ideas here are guaranteed to please.

Upgraded Potato Chips

"Salty and perfect between sips of your wine, seltzer, or cocktail, chips are the ideal starter snack," says Peppler. This preparation gives them some spice for your snack board. (Related: Air Fryer Pasta Chips Are the Genius New Snack from TikTok)

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
  • A generous pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 10 oz. kettle-cooked potato or veggie chips

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F. In a small bowl, mix together 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika, 1 tsp. sugar, 1/2 tsp. cumin, 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt, and a generous pinch of cayenne pepper; set aside.
  2. Spread 10 oz. kettle-cooked potato or veggie chips on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake until warmed through, about 5 min.
  3. Transfer the warm chips to a large bowl, sprinkle them with the spice mixture, and gently toss. Taste, and season with more salt if needed. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Roasted Lemons and Olives

"Cooking olives with spices brings out their natural juices and umami-ness," says Peppler.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium lemon
  • 1 pound mixed olives
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • 1/4 teaspsoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Thinly slice 3/4 of a medium lemon into rounds, remove the seeds, and cut into half-moons. Reserve remaining 1/4 lemon.
  2. On a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle lemon slices, 1 lb. mixed olives, 4 thyme sprigs, and 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes with 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil. Toss to coat; season with freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Roast, tossing occasionally, until lemon slices start to caramelize and mixture is very fragrant, 10 to 15 min. Squeeze remaining 1/4 lemon over top, and use a wooden spoon to gently scrape up any caramelized bits before serving.

Eggs Mayo with Persillade

This French spin on deviled eggs is topped with bright-green garlicky persillade, a punchy sauce that's stirred into the mayonnaise.

Ingredients

  • Ice water
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup persillade (recipe below)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Flaky sea salt

Directions

  1. Fill a large bowl with ice water, and set aside. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over medium-high heat.
  2. Using a slotted spoon, carefully lower 8 large eggs into the water, 1 at a time. Cook for 7 min., adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle boil. Transfer the eggs to the ice bath, and set aside to cool.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup persillade (recipe below), and 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice. Season with fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  4. Use the back of a spoon to gently crack the eggs all over, and peel. Halve the eggs, spread each with a bit of the mayo-persillade mixture, and arrange on a platter. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and pepper, and serve.

Persillade

Ingredients

  • 1 cup packed fresh parsley
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. In a food processor, combine 1 cup packed fresh parsley, 6 garlic cloves, and 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil. Pulse until finely chopped. Season with fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Shape Magazine, July/August 2021 issue