Small Plate Ideas for Your Next Outdoor Gathering

What could possibly be better than sharing lots of delicious dishes with your friends? It’s my favorite thing to do at a restaurant – order small plates and share. You get to try a little bit of everything, rather than having to settle for just one large entrée. It’s even better in the summer, because you can share lighter dishes that together make a satisfying meal. The best part, though, is that you don’t even have to go out to eat to share small plates. Try it at home with these quick and easy recipes.


Salsa is a classic shareable. Serve a variety of salsas: one spicy, one more mild, one fruit based and one that’s a little more substantial, like a hearty corn and black bean salsa. Don’t forget dippers like tortilla chips, multigrain chips or pita chips, and crunchy vegetables like celery, jicama and cucumber.

Want something a little more substantial? Make potato salad, and not the mayonnaise-laden kind (you know, the kind you had at picnics as a kid). This grilled potato salad recipe features thick-sliced russet potatoes served hot off the grill with onions, cannellini beans and a lemon-mustard dressing. It will change your mind about potato salad forever.

Tacos are another heartier but still bite-sized dish perfect for sharing. For delicious beef and bean tacos in only 15 minutes, slather small corn or flour tortillas with Baked Beans and ground beef, taco seasoning, lettuce, cheese and any of your favorite toppings. Some browned chorizo is a great addition for the meat-eaters at your table. Just serve it in a bowl on the side if you’re entertaining vegetarians too.


Summertime also calls for some cool, crisp salads. Cucumbers are very cooling, especially when they’re tossed in lemon-lime vinaigrette, which is exactly what makes this simple cucumber salad the perfect side for your small plate dinner party. You can play around with it. Try fresh basil or mint instead of the dill, and use different vinegars (sherry, Champagne or rice wine) to vary the flavor.

Big, heavy meals have their place, but they’re usually the last thing you crave on a sweltering hot day. Instead, make smaller, summery dishes to share with family and friends at a picnic or dinner party, or to just change up your weeknight dinner routine.  

Meet Julie Niesen

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