Midwestern or Southern-Style Appetizers
In this neck of the woods, when we’re looking for simple foods to party with, we’re all about combining savory, slightly sweet, and salty tastes for snacks and finger foods. That’s where these bite-size appetizers shine.
Like my Ham Salad Spread, this recipe combines ham and pickles for a smokey salty taste that is to die for delicious! We start with smoked deli ham, smother it in cream cheese, then roll it around a dill pickle before cutting it into bite-size servings. They’re a go-to party staple found at all the best gatherings in the Midwest.
They’re made simply with ham, cream cheese, and kosher dills if you’re from Michigan or Wisconsin. Minnesotans make them by incorporating ranch dressing mix with the cream cheese before it’s slathered on the ham and rolling up the pickle to make what they call Minnesota Sushi. Travel south of these northern states, and Okra Dokie’s show up in a rendition with diced pimentos blended into the cream cheese spread liberally on the ham with an okra spear used in place of the pickle.
Laugh all you want, but if you’ve never tried any of these ham, cream cheese, and pickled veggie varieties of ham roll-ups, you haven’t experienced one of life’s tastiest bite-sized combinations…
Ham Roll-Ups Ingredient Notes
This appetizer involves only four ingredients that you can pull together in about ten minutes. Because it’s neither lengthy nor complicated, it’s also an appetizer or snack that kids can enjoy helping to make.
Begin with thin-sliced ham from the deli department of your local grocery store. We suggest using a premium off-the-bone variety sliced at about a 2 or 3 thickness on the Deli’s meat slicer. You also could buy prepackaged ham (already sliced lunch meat) from the refrigerated section.
Make sure to dry the slices of the ham before spreading the cream cheese. Doing this will help the cream cheese stick without tearing the ham slices.
Note: Remember, if you must be gluten-free or follow a gluten-free diet, you should always look for the certified gluten-free label on the packaging or ask the deli worker to double-check the packaging and ingredients for you.
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If you’re looking for the healthier of ham options, consider these tips:
- Choosing Deli Meats –Always choose fresh deli meats that are lean, uncured, nitrate-free and low-sodium selections over prepackaged lunch meat.
Fresh Off the Bone –
Deli meat sliced fresh off the bone is usually processed using a sea salt mixture that contains naturally occurring nitrates and is minimally processed.
Bone-in meat provides more Micronutrients –
Bones themselves are rich mineral sources, including phosphorus, sodium, magnesium, and other essential nutrients. In addition, bones contain bone marrow, a fatty substance that is very nutrient-dense and considered one of the original superfoods. Bone marrow also has Vitamin A, which supports a robust immune system, cell growth, and healthy vision. Because vitamin A is not present in meats, cooking meat with the bone-in helps release these nutrients into the flesh during the cooking process, amplifying its nutrient density.
Support Gut Health with Bone-In Meat –
Besides mineral sources, one of the most significant benefits of bone-in meats is their high collagen, gelatin, and glycerine concentration. These nutrients are essential for gut health. For example, collagen can help maintain the integrity of the gut lining, and gelatin absorbs water and helps support the intestinal wall, including building the layer of mucus that keeps gut microbes away from the intestinal barrier.
Bone-In Meats Add Flavor –
Maybe you’ve heard the old saying, “the nearer the bone, the sweeter the meat.” Not only do bones add nutritional value, but they add a ton of flavor while the meat is cooking. That’s because bones are surrounded by fat, so as the bone heats the marrow, its juices penetrate through the flesh, adding depth of flavor that you won’t get with boneless cuts of meat. And while bone-in cuts may take a little longer to cook, the wait is well worth it because it creates a more succulent, flavorful, and juicy cut of meat.
You’ll have the best luck spreading the cream cheese if it has warmed to room temperature. To help warm it quickly, any of these tips will work:
- Remove the cream cheese from the outer package and foil, then cut it into small cubes. Let sit for 10-15 minutes to come to room temperature.
- Fill a metal dish with warm water and submerge the contents of the foil packet into the water for about 5-10 minutes.
- Remove the cream cheese from the foil package and place it in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 20-second intervals at 50 percent power until it begins to warm and spreads easily.
Option for Making Minnesota Sushi – In a small bowl, stir the cream cheese with a small rubber spatula or spreader until smooth. Add two tablespoons of ranch dressing mix, and stir until thoroughly combined.
The ranch dressing mix kicks up the flavor profile a notch in the roll-ups. If you don’t have a packet at home, you can make our Homestyle Buttermilk Ranch Dressing Mix from scratch.
Option for Making Okra Dokies – In a small bowl, stir the cream cheese with a small rubber spatula or spreader until smooth. Add two tablespoons of diced pimentos stirring until thoroughly combined.
Pickle or Okra Spears:
Until recently, we had always used pickles for our ham roll-ups. It wasn’t until I sent Dear Hubby to get a jar of homemade kosher dills from the basement when he came back with pickled okra instead. That’s when I tried this variation.
We both loved the substitution. And okra roll-ups make for such a pretty presentation too!
So I knew I had to share them here on the blog.
Before sharing recipes with you, I always do some research. So, of course, I googled ham roll-ups using okra, and that’s when I discovered the southern-style recipes using pimentos mixed into the cream cheese used for the ham and okra roll-ups. In the south, people call these recipes Okra Dokies. How fun. Go figure. I didn’t even know that using pickled okra in ham roll-ups was ever a thing.
But you don’t have to process pickles or okra for this recipe. Claussen’s refrigerated Kosher Dill Spears or Talk O’ Texas (Hot or Mild) Okra are two of our favorite brands if we’re buying them. And you’ll also find several other commercially processed and local varieties when you peruse the pickle section at your store.
What to Look For:
Look for a jar of halves, spears or whole pickles, or okra pickle spears in hot and spicy or mild flavors to provide crispness and crunch to the ham roll-ups when you bite into them. Also, if using pickles, you may want to half or quarter them to fit into the roll-up better, depending on their size.
Whatever pickle or okra you use, be sure to dry them off with a paper towel before placing them on the cream cheese layer. Doing this will help it to stay in the roll-up.
To Make Ham Roll-Ups
The first step in making ham roll-ups is to
Stir the room temperature cream cheese in a small bowl until easily spreadable. If making Minnesota Sushi add two tablespoons ranch dressing mix in this step; or for Okra Dokies, you’ll add 2 tablespoons diced pimentos stirring until thoroughly combined. Once everything is spreadable, you should have a creamy base to spread on the ham.
In the second step
Using one slice of ham at a time, lay a ham slice on a cutting board or plate. Pat the ham dry with a paper towel. Then spread an even layer of the cream cheese mixture edge-to-edge over the slice.
For step three
Cut the ends off each pickle or okra spear. Pat the spears dry with a paper towel and lay them on the cream cheese mixture already spread on the ham.
Tightly roll each spear up in the ham. Use toothpicks to hold them together if needed.
The final step is
Cut the ham rolls into 1/2 to 3/4-inch slices. Place on a plate or platter. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
A note about Pre-prep
These are perfect appetizers to pre-prep up to 24 hours before. Follow the instructions (above) through step four to make them ahead. Store uncut roll-ups in an airtight container until needed. Before serving, slice into bite-size pieces (1/2 to 3/4-inch thick), securing each pinwheel with toothpicks if necessary.
- If pickles or okra are not long enough to reach the outside edges of the ham slice, fit two spears (or a whole spear and another half or piece) end-to-end to reach. Another option is to slice the ham into strips to fit the pickle or okra spear.
- Don’t have any ranch dressing mix or pimentos? Think about other things you might have on hand. Add chopped scallions, diced red pepper, bits of jalapeno, or mince fresh herbs to add another layer of flavor to the cream cheese before spreading.
One batch of this recipe will make approximately 25-30 ham roll-ups about 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick (more or less), depending on how thick or thin you slice them.
Picture the recipe step-by-step...
Looking for More Appetizers?
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- Cutting Board
- small bowl
- Utensils (Cooks Knife, Rubber Spatula or Spreader)
- 6 slices Deli Ham 
- 8 ounces Cream Cheese room temperature 
- 6 5-6-inch long Dill Pickle or Okra spears drained well, and pat dry on paper towels 
- 2 tablespoons Ranch Dressing Mix to make Minnesota Sushi, or
- 2 tablespoons Pimentos drained and chopped to make Okra Dokies
- In a small bowl, stir the cream cheese with a small rubber spatula or spreader until smooth. If making Minnesota Sushi add two tablespoons ranch dressing mix; for Okra Dokies, add 2 tablespoons diced pimentos stirring until thoroughly combined.8 ounces Cream Cheese, 2 tablespoons Ranch Dressing Mix, 2 tablespoons Pimentos
- Using one slice of ham at a time, lay the ham on a cutting board. Pat dry with a paper towel. Then spread an even layer of the cream cheese mixture edge-to-edge.6 slices Deli Ham
- Cut the ends off each pickle or okra spear. Pat the spears dry with a paper towel and lay them on the cream cheese mixture already spread on the ham.6 5-6-inch long Dill Pickle or Okra spears
- Tightly roll each spear up in the ham. Use toothpicks to hold them together if needed.6 slices Deli Ham, 8 ounces Cream Cheese, 6 5-6-inch long Dill Pickle or Okra spears
- Cut the ham rolls into 1/2-3/4-inch slices. Place on a plate or platter. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.6 slices Deli Ham, 8 ounces Cream Cheese, 6 5-6-inch long Dill Pickle or Okra spears
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