07 December 2008

What to make with mixed company.

We've finally got to the point where we can have people over, and often times, it'll be mixed company. What do I mean? Well, there's some that enjoy "Indian food", those that have never had it before, and those whose tastes I'm not too sure about, because I haven't met them yet. On the 14th, Steve is having some of the people from his Church come over for lunch. Again, you're talking about mixed company, because I'm not sure what everyone likes. There are definitely going to be people who enjoy spice, and those whose tongues haven't acclimated to the fire yet.

Here are a couple of easy favourites that I try to have on hand:

Mashed sweet potatoes. Basically, you peel the sweet potatoes (about 3 lbs), and white potatoes (1 lb), and dice them up into one inch cubes. You boil them in a pot until they're tender. It should take about 25 - 40 minutes, depending on your stove and how uniformly you've cut everything. When you are boiling the potatoes, you don't want to go with a full, rolling boil the whole time. Instead, stick with a full rolling boil for about five minutes, then drop down the heat to low, and let it simmer, covered, until the potatoes are tender.

Once that's done, pitch in a tin of coconut milk, some apple juice, and some cinnamon and a scrape of nutmeg. A touch of salt will help heighten the flavours all the more, and everything will be done to a turn. The texture of the sweet potatoes is a little bit grainy, so the white potatoes will help balance that out. Mash everything up with either a wooden spoon or potato masher, and serve hot. I've never had problems watching that stuff get eaten!

Hummus. This one's a no-brainer. Throw some cooked chickpeas in a food processor, a few cloves of garlic, a tablespoon or so of tahini (per eight ounces of cooked chickpeas), the juice of one lemon, a bit of cumin powder, and olive oil. Pulse until the chickpeas are kind of chopped up into small pieces. Then, knock down the chickpeas from the sides of the food processor bowl, and add a few tablespoons of water. Grind it down until it becomes smooth. If you want it to be smoother, add more water, a few tablespoons at a time, until it grinds to your liking. Along with the hummus, I usually serve toasted bread or cut up vegetables. Carrot sticks, cucumber slices, celery sticks, courgette slices, or whatever else you have on hand that you like to eat raw with a dip work excellently.

Guacamole. Again, an easy one to throw together at the last minute. I use Hass avocado, and figure on one per 3 people. I combine the avocado with lemon juice (just a teaspoon or two, tops), some minced onion, and salt. I quickly stir it around in a small bowl with a fork, so as to get it smooth, but still have little avocado chunks. You don't want the guac to be silky smooth. Some texture is quite nice. For a cute serving idea, I like to serve the guacamole inside the shells of the avocado that I vacated when I removed the avocado flesh.

Fried plantains. If you're up for it, do twice fried, but if you're not in the mood, just slice them thinly and deep fry till crispy. Peel your plantains, and slice them into 1" thick round slices. Deep fry them in medium high heat until they're tender. Let them drain on a wire rack, until cooled. Then, grab a tin of whatever you have lying around. I used a tin of beans, because it was there. Use the tin to smash the fried plantains into flat little discs. Press down gently, so that you don't break up the plantain slices. Then, get the frying oil screaming hot, and fry the plantains a second time, until they're crisp. If you decide to use thinly sliced plantains instead, you don't have to worry about the smash and refry step. They're quite lovely with some hot sauce or the guacamole.

Lentil/bean soup. Start with a deep stock pot. Heat up some oil in there, and add some cumin and coriander seeds. They should pop and crakle a lot. When the popping subsides, add some onions, garlic, and ginger (minced). Add a bit of turmeric or chili powder (not grond chiles; rather, the chili powder that comes with all the other spices in there already). Stir everything around in the pot until the spices and oil are mixed through. When the onions are soft, add in a package of lentils. I like red lentils, because they cook up in about 20 - 30 minutes. Add about double the water as you have lentils, and throw in a bay leaf. Cover the lid of the pot, and allow it to reach a rapid boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer, and allow it to cook until it's all tender.

Flat bread. I like to have either naan, pita bread, or roti on hand, so that the other stuff is easy enough to eat. It's also a nice change from the typical baguette style breads. Because I'm going to the effort to cook the rest of the meal, I just usually buy these in the store. It's a lot less labour intensive, and it doesn't cost very much money at all.

Vegetable soup. There's hundreds of recipes out there, including the ones in my book. I always make the vegetable soup more like a stew, so that it's filling and satisfying.

Roasted veg of whatever I have. Again, no-brainer here. It takes just the preparation time, and then the time to pitch the lot into the oven with a bit of oil and some dried herbs.

Pesto. 1 bunch basil, handful of walnuts, 3 - 5 cloves of garlic, juice of one lemon, salt and pepper to taste, and olive oil to thin it out. Combine it all in the food processor, and let 'er rip till everything is smooth and creamy. Toss with hot pasta, to remove a bit of that raw garlic taste. The walnuts give a much better flavour than cheese ever did, and they stand up well to the pasta. I like to use linguine or fettucine noodles for pesto.

At this point, people are usually way too full to eat much more, so we kick back and enjoy the view of the East River, and the Manhattan skyline. :)