Technique Guide: Build an Awesome Snack Board

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(Note: this post was originally published on February 11, 2021. The date above reflects migration to the new platform.)

Why A Snack Board?

Snack boards are blank canvases for all your greatest ideas and inspirations. Because they're unrestricted with regards to size, complexity, and ingredients, you can easily build a snack board for virtually any occasion and to fit any diet. They're such a fun way to celebrate seasonal ingredients, focus on a certain theme, or evoke a specific place, culture, or memory.

A giant snack board is our absolute favorite way to do date night! A couple cocktails and a big board is so intimate and fun. Why spend all day fussing over something fancy when you can put together a color- and texture-filled board that will allow you to actually spend the evening together rather than running back and forth to the oven.

But snack boards are great for entertaining too; they're actually my go-to when we have people over! I love that everyone can build their own plates, taking whatever they love best. A big snack board makes any occasion feel more low-key and approachable.

Example #1: Eat the rainbow! This bright, fresh snack board focuses on fruits and veggies and is themed around a rainbow. From top left, it includes pomegranate, strawberries, baby red bell pepper rings, persimmon slices, whole baby orange bell peppers, orange slices, baby yellow bell pepper rings, roasted delicata squash rounds, cucumber slices, blueberries, radicchio wedges, and grapes. A (mostly) raw board like this is so easy to put together since it's just assembly. This one is a great example of cutting ingredients differently to create an interesting array of shapes and textures. (For full details, see my Instagram post from January 13, 2021.)

Goals of This Post

In this post, I'll discuss some possible themes and inspirations for your board, the components I like to put on a snack board, how to organize your board, and some tips for making it super-satisfying (and also easy!).

But my biggest take-home message? Have fun with it! This isn't some fussy catered wedding cheese board; rather, it's your own creation that's meant to be casual and approachable and unique.

You'll see that there are a TON of examples sprinkled throughout this post. I want to give you all sorts of ideas and inspiration for your own snack board adventures! Make sure to check out the captions below each photo for details. I'll keep adding to this post as I create more boards, so don't forget to check out the newer examples at the bottom too.

Example #2: More boards equals more fun! These made for the perfect date night (alongside some Negronis, of course). My inspiration for these boards was (loosely) how I think about the "food pyramid". I used the biggest platter for veggies, the medium platter for fruits, and the smallest platter for fats and carbs. Large platter: an assortment of raw veggies, fresh basil, and a mustard-balsamic dipping sauce. Medium platter: an assortment of fresh fruits, dried dates, and a maple-yogurt dipping sauce. Small platter: roasted pecans, seedy bread, wild rice sticks, roasted almonds, and a bourbon-cherry compote. (For full details, check out my Instagram post from October 29, 2020).

You Can Do It!

I've had so many people say to me "Oh gosh I could never create a snack board like that, I wouldn't know where to start". Can you cut up veggies? Can you open a box of crackers? If so, YOU CAN MAKE A SNACK BOARD. There is absolutely nothing difficult about this, and in many ways making a big board is actually way easier than cooking a meal.

The best part about making a board like this is that there's no right answer. And unlike cooking, there's not much that can go wrong! It's just a big pile of whatever ingredients are really speaking to you at the moment.

If you're feeling overwhelmed, my biggest suggestion is to start with a theme and then go from there. Having a theme (see below!) narrows down the essentially infinite assortment of ingredients you could add. I always start there, then pick a few centerpiece items (like a dip or two), then fill in. Let's get going!

Example #3: Diversity is the key to success! This board is a great example of using diverse colors, textures, shapes, and flavors. It includes a whole bunch of raw produce (cucumber slices, carrot sticks, grapes, figs) and non-raw produce (pickled yellow beets, raisins). The veggies and fruit are complemented by crunchy seedy crackers, hearty nuts (almonds, pistachios), and a creamy maple-mustard yogurt dipping sauce. (For full details, see my Instagram post from December 30, 2020).

Choosing a Theme

Although it's not necessary, I find that my snack boards are much more successful if I have a theme. It can really be anything, but having a theme helps you decide what to include and provides some structure behind the otherwise enormous world of possibilities. Plus it's just fun, and a great way to share a memory with people who are special to you. Some ideas for themes:

  • A place. It could be a place you want to go, a place you've been, or a place you're planning to go. This is my favorite way to do date night; I'll make a snack board in honor of a fun place we've spent time together (see Example #7, an homage to our travels in Italy and Spain).
  • A season. This is a great way to use local food, for example by making a summer farmers market produce board during the summer. Or, you could go for the vacation vibe and make a tropical, summery bowl on a cold January weekend!
  • A color, or set of colors. Choose them to match a theme or go rainbow-style and try to include all the colors (see Example #s 1, 6, and 10 for snack board rainbows).
  • A certain ingredient. Have a favorite or special ingredient you want to celebrate? Build the whole board around it! See example #4 for a board that celebrates bourbon and example #5 for a board that celebrates locally-made pickles.
  • A flavor. What about a spicy board? Or a sweet/salty combo board (see Example #10)? Or a sweet board for dessert (Example #12)? There are so many options here.
  • Combinations of the above. One of my favorite boards I've ever made was themed around late summer in Italy (i.e. a season and a place). Or see my rainbow sweet and salty board (Example #10) for one that combines flavor and color themes.

Example #4: Bourbon-themed birthday board! I made this for Dave's birthday one year because he's a big bourbon fan. I tried to incorporate bourbon in every way I could, and also tried to choose other ingredients that would complement it and/or add southern flair. There's a trio of dips here: bourbon-cherry compote, bourbon caramelized onion hummus, and bourbon maple mustard. There's also a bunch of goodies for dipping including various fresh veggies and fruits, some dried fruit for additional texture, two local cheeses, and seedy crackers... plus peaches and pecans to enhance the southern vibe! (For full details, see my Instagram post from June 13, 2020).

Components

What should go on your awesome snack board?? Here's what I generally like to include, although this will depend heavily on whether you're using this board as a meal and what sort of vibe you're going for.

  • Raw veggies and fruit. I love the freshness that raw produce brings to a snack board and always always include at least several items from this category. Choose ones that will complement your theme and add different colors and textures.
  • Cooked veggies. Including something cooked or otherwise prepared (see the pickled beets in Example #3 or the pickled red onions in Example #9) adds depth of flavor and different texture, plus it can make a board feel hearty and meal-like. One of my favorites is roasted delicata squash since it's small and pretty (see Example #1). Choose things that are bite-sized and don't require a fork.
  • Dried fruit. Almost every board I build includes dried fruit since it adds a delightful chewy texture and is so darn easy.
  • Carbs. They're just so satisfying! This could be anything from crackers to small slices of bread to chips. I like to choose options that are whole grain and loaded up with all sorts of seeds and nuts for fun texture and additional nutrients.
  • Spreads/dips. Depending on the board, these can really be the focal point (see the trio of bourbon dips in Example #4 or the four different hummus variations in Example #10). This can be anything from hummus to guac (check out the guac party in Example #8!) to various dipping sauces or jams. To avoid getting overwhelmed at the possibilities, try to pick a few that complement your theme.
  • Cheese. Note that I've called this post "snack board" rather than "cheese board", so I view cheese as an occasional special add-in rather than a necessity. If you do dairy, a couple kinds of special, local cheese can be a really wonderful element.
  • Nuts. Always nuts!! They're so fatty and decadent and crunchy. I love using a few different kinds. They really help to make a board more satisfying, especially if it's going to be a meal, and they're so easy.
  • Garnishes. Think little things like fresh herb leaves, a sprinkle of sesame seeds, a couple edible flowers, etc. While completely unnecessary, they can really make your board feel special and add loads of visual appeal; Example #7 shows this well.

Example #5: Pickle party! This board was the result of a partnership with The Tipsy Pickle and features not only those gorgeous artisan pickles but also two different recipes that I developed to use the pickle brine: pickle brine hummus and quick-pickled red onions. The other components are a hodge-podge of simple sweet and salty snacks to echo the flavors of the pickles. Want to get your hands on these recipes? You can find them on the A Slice of Vermont and City Market websites. (For full details, see my Instagram post from May 24, 2021).

Tips for Efficiency

Okay, so you want an epic snack board but don't want to spend all evening on it. I get it! Here are a few ideas to help you streamline:

  • Pick your spots. Not everything on the board has to be a homemade masterpiece. I generally like to have a few special centerpiece items that I've made, then I look to the grocery store for help with the others. Things like bread, crackers, dried fruit, and nuts require almost no prep.
  • Raid the pantry. As I assemble my board and see how it's coming together, I always seem to have holes to fill. This is when I crawl around on the floor looking into the bottom-most cupboards for random items that I can add, like a few leftover dates from a baking project or the bottom of a box of crackers.
  • Raid the fridge. See above. This is the time for little bits of random mustard, jam, a few leftover pickles, etc, to shine.
  • Delegate. Having friends over? We've had a few really fun cheeseboard parties when I've asked everyone to bring their favorite local cheese. I assemble everything else ahead of time, leaving spaces for everyone's cheese to get added at the last minute.
  • Be sneaky. You can take a single item and prepare or garnish it in different ways to make your board feel more diverse. See Example #10, in which I took plain hummus but garnished it four ways... all of the sudden like magic I had four different dips!

Example #6: Another rainbow board! This one was from our trip to Kaua'i this year and makes use of local, tropical fruit. From upper right, there's: rambutan, almonds, red bell pepper sticks, carrots slices, kumquat slices, orange bell pepper sticks, mango, starfruit slices, macadamia nuts, plantain chips, pineapple wedges, cucumber slices, and lightly-pickled purple cabbage leaves. (For full details, see my Instagram post from June 17, 2021).

Tips For a Charismatic Board

How do you make your snack board feel really special and unique and satisfying? These are a few of my favorite tips:

  • Think about textures. Your board will be more interesting if you include some things that are juicy, soft, crunchy, chewy, and crisp.
  • Think about color. Likewise, unless you're working within a specific color theme, diversity is always good. Your board will have more visual appeal if you include a lot of different colors.
  • Think about shape. I like to cut my ingredients to have different shapes to create a more interesting board. You can even cut any single ingredient into multiple shapes (see Example #s 1 and 12 for inspiration).
  • Make it interactive. This is especially great for a board with bread or crackers, from which people can assemble their own bites. For example, if you set up the board so that each time you pick a cracker you also pick a spread, a piece of cheese, and a piece of fruit, the options are endless and so fun. The bourbon board, Example #4, was perfect for this.
  • Think about your layout. I like to put my biggest items down first (e.g. a big block of cheese or a bowl of hummus). Then fill in with medium-sized things like crackers and veggies. Save the little things for last, like nuts and dried fruit, since you can pile them into whatever holes are left. This strategy allows you to use up all of the available space, making your board feel boutiful and over-flowing.
  • Use repetition. Example #s 3 and 7 show this really well. The board will feel more exciting if the ingredients are scattered about rather than all clumped together. So put crackers in a few different places, cucumber slices in a few different places, etc.
  • Evoke movement. I like to lay out slices of veggies or bread in arc-shaped patterns to convey a sense of movement throughout the board. It's so much more interesting than putting things in static piles! Example #s 3, 5, and 10 show this particularly well.

Example #7: Take me to the Mediterranean! This one was inspired by the time we've spent in Italy and southern Spain. The focal point is my favorite Lemon Hummus. There's lots of hearty, seedy bread, as well as cucumbers and peaches since we bought them both frequently at the street markets in Florence. It's finished off with a whole assortment of Mediterranean goodies including Marcona almonds (which we brought back from Spain!), pistachios, sesame seeds, dates, raisins, and fresh mint. (For full details, see my Instagram post from September 24, 2020).

Even More Examples

Because snack boards are such a go-to for us, I'm always making (and photographing!) them. I'll keep adding to this section moving forward, so remember to bookmark this page and check back. You never know what will appear!

Example #8: Guac party! This epic avocado love fest featured FOUR different types of guac. Because there was so much going on with the guac, I kept everything else simple with just blue tortilla chips, cucumber slices, and some fresh garnishes. From top to bottom, the guac variations are (1) kumquat and sesame seeds, (2) corn and pepitas, (3) papaya and macadamias, and (4) black bean and cabbage.

Example #9: Babagahummus?? Oh yes! It's the best possible marriage between hummus and baba ganoush, and you can get the recipe here. I designed this whole board around my Babagahummus in order to really play up the Middle Eastern vibe. There are a load of colorful, fresh veggies as well as pickled red onions, pita chips, almonds, and raisins. (For full details, see my Instagram post from September 27, 2020).

Example 10: A Sweet and Salty Rainbow! There are two themes here: a color and a flavor. This over-the-top board progresses through a rainbow of colors, but also mixes sweet and salty flavors. The stars of the show are four different dishes of hummus that are each garnished in different ways. The red hummus is garnished with almonds, sumac, and a drizzle of hot sauce; the yellow with mustard and pine nuts; the green with hot sauce and pepitas; and the blue with homemade blueberry jam. There are chocolate-colored sunflower seeds sprinkled throughout to highlight the different colors and add pops of sweetness. This board was actually really easy to prepare because I sneakily used the same hummus four times! (For full details, see my Instagram post from March 12, 2021).

Example #11: Eat the Rainbow, Mexican style. The platter arose one evening when we couldn't decide bean dip and guac; the obvious solution was to make both! This colorful, Mexican-inspired board features black bean dip AND grilled corn guacamole, with a whole array of sweet and salty items for dipping. There are cucumber slices, rainbow baby peppers, plantain chips, macadamia nuts, sesame sticks, red kiwi halves, kumquat halves, and mandarinquot halves. (For full details, see my Instagram post from May 14, 2021).

Example #12: Brunch style! I designed this board in collaboration with Hawaiian Host to celebrate their wonderful chocolate covered macadamias. It includes an assortment of tropical fruits and would work great either as a casual brunch item or a light dessert. Note how the fruit is cut in a variety of different ways to add more texture and visual intrigue to the board. (For full details, see my Instagram post from April 1, 2021).

Closing Thoughts

And there you have it! All my tips, tricks, and examples to help you construct your own wonderfully unique snack board. Whether you make one for date night, as an appetizer for a crowd, or for a special event, this is definitely a good way to make everyone happy. Food that's casual, interactive, and customizable?? Sign me up!

Share It!

It makes me so happy to hear from you and see your creations! Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about this recipe. If you post a photo on Instagram, hashtag #TheRogueBrusselSprout and tag me (@TheRogueBrusselSprout) in the post text so that I'm sure to see it.

Technique Guide: Build an Awesome Snack Board

Whether you're hosting a crowd or doing a romantic date night, a snack board is always the right decision! Snack boards are a casual and fun way of approaching food, and they're infinitely customizable too. This guide will walk you through how to build a killer board that will be the star of your event.

Author:
Lee

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Instructions

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Suz
August 15, 2021
Love love love all these great ideas, thx for sharing!