I am hosting a seder this year, and while I have MOST of the menu set, all of the "how to make seders less horrifying" articles mention having some veggies and dips out before dinner during the readings (for those who haven't been, a seder consists of about an hour or more of religious service, then a meal, then another shorter service).
However, when I started trying to do this, I hit a brick wall. What dips can I make?? It needs to be dairy-free since our meal is meat. It also has to have no grains, beans, or legumes. My first thought was hummus.. but chickpeas killed that. What about baba ganoush? Would that be wierd with carrot sticks?
I can use mayonnaise in dips, but not sour cream, so that is something.
What about an olive spread with some parsley? Or an eggplant dip w/o tahini? Spring pesto dip? Something with mushrooms?
I made this last year to put out when my guests arrived...I really liked it and so did everyone else. Served with with baby carrots and matzoh crackers. As the reviews state, I added some garlic and I also added more olives.
Also, since we now have several small kids at the seder (including my own), I gave up on serving gefilte fish as a course. So now I cut it up into bite sized pieces and put it out with toothpicks and horseradish as an appetizer for when guests are just milling around.
We often do steamed artichokes with aioli or lemon/margarine dip as a part of carpas -- then people keep eating them for a while. Other friends serve boiled potatoes and eggs as part of carpas. Either way (or both) it adds something substantial to get you through...
I usually do chopped liver and smoked whitefish salad. I also put out crudite and olives. Another suggestion is artichoke pesto. I don't know about you, but when I have 20 people coming I've found it is easier to have the "first course" when people arrive, before we start the seder. Then we can start at the table with matzah ball soup.