Photo: Eric Wolfinger

We love a cheese plate or bowl of potato chips as much as anyone else, but if you really want to make an impression, here are some amazing dishes to try from the influential cookbook author Paula Wolfert.

When it comes to appetizers, it's hard to beat Mediterranean cuisine, with its many varieties of olives, intriguing bean- and vegetable-based dips and flatbreads decked with a dizzying array of creative toppings. We have Paula Wolfert to thank for much of what we know about the region's food in America; she may not be a household name, but she has written nine cookbooks and was instrumental in bringing couscous and Moroccan clay-pot cooking as well as southern France specialties into our kitchens.

One of the most appealing things about Mediterranean dishes is their simplicity. Take this garlicky shrimp recipe, which is featured in the new book Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert's Renegade Life, by Emily Kaiser Thelin. It's surprisingly uncomplicated: just shell-on shrimp (Wolfert likes the brininess they impart, though you can also use peeled) sautéed in nothing more than olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and Spanish smoked paprika. Serve with the rich oil that the dish is cooked in—and have crusty bread nearby!

Get the recipe: Sizzling Shrimp with Garlic and Pimentón

Photo: Eric Wolfinger

An Eye-Catching Alternative to the Same Old Dip
You already know hummus—now meet its cousin, muhammara, a Middle Eastern bell pepper and nut spread that's tangy and sweet. In Arabic, the dish's name means "brick-colored," which is the color that results when sweet bell peppers are pureed with meaty walnuts and tart pomegranate molasses. Serve with pita chips or crudités. The flavor improves if you make this dip one or two days before serving; and, it keeps for up to a week.

Get the recipe: Muhammara

Photo: Eric Wolfinger

The Meat-on-a-Stick Everyone Loves
A hearty appetizer you can eat with one hand is always a winner in our book, and if you can enjoy it without even getting your fingers messy, even better. This bright, lemongrass-infused beef satay will be a guaranteed hit at any gathering, since it's simple to make (thread marinated beef cubes onto skewers; let sit; cook) and appeals to a wide range of tastes, with a sweet and spicy flavor that's great with or without the accompanying peanut sauce.

Get the recipe: Indonesian Beef Satay

Photo: Eric Wolfinger

A Salsa That Surprises
Set out a bowl of this light and refreshing salsa, and you're sure to get comments of the "Wow, what's in this?" variety. Wolfert's unusual, delicious twist on the ubiquitous party dip incorporates lemon juice, preserved lemon, cumin, sweet smoked paprika, cayenne, tomatoes and roasted bell pepper. Salty chips (whether tortilla or pita) make the perfect pairing.

Get the recipe: Moroccan Salsa

Photo: Eric Wolfinger

An Old-Fashioned Bite Ready for a Renaissance
If you've forgotten about stuffed mushrooms, allow Wolfert to reintroduce you to these savory treats. They're small but mighty, with a deep flavor that happens to go wonderfully with cocktails. The filling includes Greek green olives; their briny, buttery flavor is a spot-on match for woodsy mushrooms. You can assemble these hors d'oeuvres up to a day ahead of time and reheat them just before serving.

Get the recipe: Mushroom Caps Stuffed with Olives and Porcini