New Year’s Eve is the perfect time to bring the tastes of travel to your home. Celebrating the holiday with a delicious international tasting menu is a great way to expand your culinary horizons and have fun at the same time. For a great tasting menu, you can create small courses of individual items or serve tapas-style -- where many small dishes are available all at the same time. Of course, we think pairing appropriate wine and beverages is also a great treat. And, to ring in the New Year with style, a sweet finish is highly recommended.
You can surf online for authentic recipes if you want to try your hand at preparing some of the dishes yourself. To make it easy for even non-cooks, we’ve created some fun and delicious international tasting menus with items that should be available from your local grocer, deli, or favorite online resources. You can choose your menu items to identify, take notes, and rank your favorite bites for future reference.
A Spanish tasting experience is natural because so much Spanish food is served tapas-style. Small plates fill the table with cold and warm dishes. A menu we think would give you a range of tasting pleasures could include marinated olives, pickled beets with shredded carrots, Manchego cheese, Iberico or Serrano ham, shrimp grilled in garlic and olive oil, mushrooms sauteed with parsley and lemon, and dates wrapped in bacon. To round out your tasting, you can add some pintxos (pronounced “PEEN-chos”), small bites usually served on bread or a stick abundant in the Basque country. A bit of cooked sausage with a charred Padron pepper on a small slice of crusty bread or a pitted olive, oil-packed anchovy, and pickled pepper on a short skewer make great pintxos. Think small bites with lots of flavor.
For drinks, we love to add some fruity sangria. There are many brands already premixed or add sugar and fruit juices to a favorite red wine along with bite-sized fresh fruit pieces. Sweet finishes can include churros with chocolate sauce, creme caramel, and Spanish rice pudding. Toast at midnight with cava, Spain’s tasty and reasonably priced sparkling wine. For more ideas and authentic Spanish products online, visit La Tienda.
The Greeks have also mastered the art of tasting menus with the concept of meze. Meze literally means bite or taste, and while once they were served as snacks to go with alcohol, meze now often make up full meals served together on a platter or in small plates spanning the tabletop. Include hot and cold meze for a complete tasting. Kalamata olives, feta cheese, sliced tomato sprinkled with dried oregano and olive oil, yogurt and dill tzatziki dip with pita bread triangles, and stuffed grape leaves make a great start. Add warm items like grilled octopus, gyros meat, spinach, and feta cheese in triangles of phyllo dough called spanakopita, fried calamari rings, or small meatballs, and squares of pork on a skewer.
Of course, the Greeks are good at drinking, too, so there are many choices: anise-flavored ouzo (best mixed with water), Metaxa brandy, Greek beer, and red or white wines such as red Xinomavro or Agiorgitiko, and white Assyrtiko or our personal favorite, Moschofilero. Dessert options are plentiful, such as baklava, buttery cookies covered in powdered sugar called kourambiethes, galaktoboureko custard pie, or orange cake called portokalopita (try the easy recipe we learned to make in Athens with our friends at Real Greece). Check online at Parthenon Foods for ideas and supplies.
We have fallen in love with Portugal and its cuisine. Portugal’s small plate items are called petiscos. They are served similarly to Greek meze and usually ordered at one time, filling the table with small plates. Wine is integral in much Portuguese dining, and the many wine-growing areas, as well as fortified Madeira and Port wines, make a festive New Year’s Eve tasting easy. Red wines from the Alentejo region pair well with meat dishes like pork sausages with fava beans and Pica Pau, a dish of marinated pork or beef topped with pickled vegetables. Dao reds go great with lightly battered and fried green beans or mushrooms with charred onions.
White wine lovers will enjoy the slightly effervescent vinho verde from the north and a dry, citrusy white like Alvarinho. These pair beautifully with tastings of octopus salad, pickled carrots, bolinhos de bacalhau (salt cod cakes), little clams in buttery wine, lemon, and garlic sauce, and various cheeses. For dessert tastings, try Portuguese custard tarts, honey nut cake, cream-filled donuts, chocolate salami, and Bolo Rei, the Portuguese version of King Cake. Sweet wines include port, Madeira, and moscato. Visit Wines Of Portugal to learn more about Portuguese wines and explore Portuguese goodies from Shop Portuguese.
An Italian tasting menu is likely to please just about anyone. And while the concept of “antipasto” is the first course “before the meal,” it’s fun for tasting menus through the whole meal. A good start would be with a cold antipasto tray of different bites. Cured meats like salami, prosciutto, and mortadella, olives artichoke hearts, caponata (Italian eggplant dip), Italian cheeses, marinated mushrooms and red peppers, pickled green beans, and pepperoncini are all good choices. Have some breadsticks, crackers, or crusty bread to go along. Bruschetta and crostini are also fun. Chianti or a refreshing Italian cocktail like a Negroni or Campari pair well.
Add a warm tasting menu with small or shareable versions of classic Italian dishes. Ravioli filled with meat or cheese is an easy serving choice, as are eggplant rollatini, pizza bites, or arancini. For heft, add some small Italian meatballs in marinara, Stromboli sandwich slices, grilled sausage, and pepper skewers, or small plates of pasta with clams or olive oil and garlic. Or go simple and have an all-pasta tasting with various sauces. Enjoy dessert tastings of cannoli, panna cotta, and tiramisu. Have some sparkling Prosecco at midnight. Many grocery stores and delis have prepared Italian items. Check out the great boxes with many items in one package at Delivery Italiano.
Chinese food is meant to be shared and makes a perfect international tasting menu. Whether you prefer authentic Chinese or American-Chinese dishes, the variety of flavors just can’t be beaten. Pick your favorites and keep the portions small. Remember, we’re tasting, not eating. Fortunately, much Chinese food comes in portion-perfect sizes, so you can mix and match a fantastic tasting menu. Mu Shu pork and Peking duck are rolled up bites. Bao, potstickers, and Char Siu ribs are good too. Add shareable servings of larger items such as fried rice, noodle dishes, and meat or seafood with vegetables. Another option is a dim sum tasting with individual servings of shrimp, pork, and soup dumplings, sweet barbecue pork buns, and spring rolls.
As we learned on a visit to Beijing, the Chinese often drink beer like Tsingtao with food, which is cheaper than water to buy, and the best selling beer in the world, Snow Beer, is Chinese. The most popular distilled alcohol in China is Baijiu, often called Chinese vodka because of its similar potency and characteristics. Rice wine is also popular. For nonalcoholic imbibing, tea reigns supreme and could have its own tasting menu. A dessert tasting of red bean buns, egg tarts, almond or coconut jelly, or the American-Chinese favorite almond cookies and fortune cookies and orange wedges are fun.
Brazil’s famous churrascarias offer an all-you-can-eat tasting menu. Many servers come by your table with grilled meats on a skewer and keep serving you until you turn your guest disk from green to red. Beyond the meat, a Brazilian tasting menu adds salads and side dishes. Make a Brazilian tasting menu by scaling down the portions. Grilled meats can include your choice of sausage, various cuts of beef, pork, chicken, and lamb. Sides like hearts of palm, marinated olives, pickled beets, and seafood salads are great. Warm bites might be grilled vegetables, potatoes, rice, or beans. Also popular are cheesy bread puffs called Pao de Queijo, which are naturally gluten-free. Find ready-to-bake versions from Brazi Bites or Trader Joe’s. Try Brazil’s national drink, the Caipirinha. You can use traditional cachaca or substitute light rum in this easy recipe. Coconut custard, passion fruit mousse, and a chocolate cake called bolo de brigadeiro make sweet tastes for the new year.
7. Middle Eastern
Hospitality is a hallmark of Middle Eastern countries like Lebanon and Israel. That means lots of flavors for a tasting menu. Also known as mezze, the small plates offer a wide array of tastes. Hummus and lavash bread are favorites. Tabbouleh salad made with bulgar wheat, parsley, tomatoes, and a lemon and olive oil dressing is refreshing and light. Turnips pickled in beet juice called torshi add a bright splash of pink color. Baba ghanoush (smoky eggplant dip), tahini sesame sauce, and muhammara (pepper dip) add distinctive flavors. Turmeric-spiced chicken kebab bites, kofta meatballs, falafel, kibbeh croquettes, shawarma, and cheese fatayer (filled savory pies) are great finger food options. Arak is a traditional alcoholic beverage, while fresh fruit juices are also abundant.
For sweets tasting, Basbousa semolina cake, halvah, knafeh (syrup-soaked phyllo shreds filled with sweet cheese), rugelach, and sweet dumplings called Qatayef can make tasty bites. Many ethnic bakeries like Farhat Sweets online have versions of sweet treats whose names vary by the country creating them.
Welcome the new year with open arms by creating delicious international tasting menus perfect for a New Year’s eve at home. To get some more ideas about having a tasting at home, check out our 7 Tips For Creating A Memorable Tasting Experience At Home.