7 Asian-inspired appetizers and side dishes for your holiday dinner

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It time for turkey, mash potatoes, gravy and roasted vegetables again! While many of us love the idea of being able to dive into a full-on holiday meal again only two months since Thanksgiving in Canada, it might not be a bad idea to add a touch of Asian to the spread. Now, hold on. We’re not saying you should remove those iconic dishes from your table or to throw away tradition, but if you’re going to a potluck or hosting dinner at home, considering including these Asian-inspired appetizers and sides to complement some of the more customary dishes.

Thai shrimp cakes

Leave the shrimp ring in the freezer and go for these hot, savoury and crispy Thai shrimp cakes instead. These perfect umami-bursting bites are really easy to make; just throw everything into the food processor, blitz into a paste, coat with breadcrumbs, and fry. Served with a sweet chili sauce, these will probably become one of your go-to appetizers.

Try this recipe from One World Kitchen for shrimp cakes using red curry paste or this recipe from Serious Eats without curry paste.

Thai green mango or papaya salad

You can’t really go wrong with bringing a salad to a potluck, especially if it’s a flavour bomb like this one. Unlike with avocados, for which you almost need a baby monitor to see when it’s ready before it goes bad, green mangoes are easy to find because, well, they are usually sold underripe already. The mangoes soak up all the juices from the tomatoes, along with the zesty dressing. You can also make a similar salad with green papaya. This salad is the perfect balance of sweet, savoury, tart and salty.  

Try this recipe from Saveur.

Chinese black vinegar sticky ribs

You can still have porky goodness without the traditional Christmas ham. These sticky ribs have the appeal of sweet and sour pork, but they are a hundred times better. The beauty of these ribs is that they don’t take as long to prepare as oven roasted or barbecue ribs, only an hour or so, but the flavour gets right into the meat, not just the outside. Even better, they only require a handful of ingredients or so, most of which you already have.

Try this recipe from the Asian Grandmothers Cookbook blog.

Crispy tofu stir-fry


A photo posted by Serious Eats (@seriouseats) on


Yes, tofu can be absolutely delicious despite its soft texture (depending on the type you get) and lack of flavour. It can soak up whatever you add to it--stocks, sauces and seasonings--and firm tofu holds up to frying for a crispy addition to any stir-fry. Toss it with other crunchy vegetables and salty, thick sauce, and you have a side dish that you can easily adapt to any diet and preference.

Try this recipe from Serious Eats and learn how to get the best texture for the tofu.


Chinese smashed cucumbers

It was a food “trend” last year in New York City, but it has always been a popular and common dish in Chinese cuisine. It’s garlicky, refreshing and bold, and it’s as simple to make as it gets. The raw garlic and optional chilis give it bite, so it’s not really a thing you’d make again on Valentine’s Day.

Try this recipe from Serious Eats.

Warm daikon salad

We already mentioned that turnips are especially great to have in the winter, now here’s how you can make a simple but flavourful salad using daikon radish with a rich miso dressing with only a few ingredients. The kelp flavours the daikon itself to add complexity to the dish.

Try this recipe from One World Kitchen.

Shu Mai: Chinese pork and shrimp dumplings

Dim sum isn’t just for weekend lunches. This classic dim sum favourite can easily be made at home and they are the perfect bites for a big party. The wrappers can easily be found at grocery stores and you don't need any dumpling wrapping skills--we still haven't mastered those perfect pleats--to make these.

Try this recipe from Chinese Food Made Easy.