The Socialite Section: 5 Simple Starters for Beginners

Upgrading your dinner party from a one-course gathering to a two-course soirée? Here’s a few easy-as-pie ideas for you to wow your guests…

I always think desserts are easier to plan for a dinner party, as it’s a rare guest who doesn’t care for a slice of cheesecake or a chocolate brownie. Starters are more difficult; not only do you want it to contrast well with your main course (e.g. don’t precede a chicken-based entrée with a chicken-based starter), you have to make sure it doesn’t fill your diners up before your primary dish.

The quintet of ideas I have laid out below should make for quick, simple and tasty starters that won’t dominate your main course either.

FRENCH ONION SOUP

French Onion Soup

This dish is not only starkly simple to make, but it is ideal for a dinner party since it requires you to make it well in advance. I have served it at two of my annual soirées for this blog. It requires minimal effort – just softening a lot of onions in some butter before filling the pot with beef stock and allowing to cook for two hours. Simple, and gorgeous with some liberally-buttered baguette.

smoked mackerel pâté

Here’s another one you can make well in advance, but it is so wickedly easy that you can whip it up in minutes just as easily. If you have decided to opt for a fish course to start your meal off, a mackerel pâté will be perfect, since it’s so full of flavour. And all you need is the smoked mackerel fillets and some soft cheese, which you blend together into a paste in the food processor. Lemon juice and Horseradish sauce get added to taste, a little sprinkling of parsley for colour. Bingo – an awesome dish to begin your meal.

prawn cocktail

Okay, maybe a little cliché, but the prawn cocktail is such a classic that you can get away with serving it — especially if you’re a beginner to dinner partying. If you buy pre-cooked and pre-peeled prawns, so much the better, since then it’s just a matter of presentation. And, perhaps mixing the sauce. Lettuce in the glass or on the plate first, followed by the prawns. Your sauce can be as simple as buying some Marie Rose sauce from the shop. Alternatively, you can make your own by mixing Tomato Ketchup, mayonnaise or double cream, horseradish sauce, a little lemon juice, and a dash of Worcestershire and/or Tabasco sauces, according to yours and your guests’ tastes. Then just drizzle that all over the prawns and lettuce. Delicious.

BARBEQUE CHICKEN WINGS

As mentioned earlier, don’t follow this up with more chicken. If you know how to make a mean barbeque sauce, cooking up some chicken wings in a frying pan in some herbs and spices — maybe even a little chilli if you’re feeling brave — and coating them in the sauce for your guests to pick at for starters will be ideal.

Once you’re a bit better practised, start experimenting with other sauces and influences. Korean-style Chicken Wings are a personal favourite of mine.

MEXICAN-STYLE NACHOS

Finger food serves just as well as a starter as much as a fully plated-up dish. Put some nachos in a bowl, with a selection of dips — you know the classics: tomato salsa, guacamole, garlic and herb, etcetera — on the side. Let your guests help themselves. That communal aspect around the dinner table adds to the sociable atmosphere and may even encourage conversation between guests who don’t necessarily know one another that well. That, in itself, is important.

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