I’ve been thinking that the world – Western world – North America – my city – my social circle – needs to get together more often. And what better setting than to gather around a table and share a meal and conversation. Here are a few tricks that I’ve learned for success. And a recipe for good measure!
GETTING GUESTS TO COMMIT: This is an important step and I think the first step. Choose your guests, get a commitment from them. I’ve had a few too many last minute cancellations and had to cancel parties so I now ask for guests to RSVP 100% so I’m not left with piles of food and disappointment.
SELECTING THE MENU: This is done after or when I have an idea of who will attend so that allergies and “degree of foodie adventurousness” can be factored into the equation.
SETTING THE SPACE: If at all possible, take some time to consider the space (lighting, pre-dinner nibbles, table decorations-as simple as flowers, washrooms). But don’t go overboard and stress out unless that’s your forte.
SHOPPING AND COOKING: To take the stress out of the event I like to choose a date where I have ample time to shop, clean the house, and do some prep work for the dinner. This way there are less things to do when guests arrive and I can spend time with them. Time the cooking of your dishes so you won’t be trapped in the kitchen (unless its a kitchen party).
BE A GRACIOUS HOST: Give everyone a warm welcome and engage each person in a meaningful way. This is after all why people host parties.
QUICK CLEAN UP: You will definitely host more parties when you can master a quick clean up. That way you can go to bed and wake up to a clean house. Having a dishwasher helps especially with wine glasses which always seem to be cleaner when washed in a dishwasher.
I’ve hosted 2 dinner parties in my small condo in as many weeks. The first was Indian themed, the second was a Chinese New Year party. Each party had its own strategy for preparing multiple dishes for a group of 8.
Case Study I: Indian Dinner
This was a solo venture, the cooking at least, I had lots of help with organizing the space and preparing for guests. This menu was designed so that many dishes had to be prepared in advance. Curry tastes better after a day or so. Saturday was shopping and cooking, buying interesting vegetables, desert, and pre-dinner nibbles from the Indian grocery. I cooked a dish I was already familiar with, Goat Curry from Adwadh but substituted beef shank for goat. The vegetable drumsticks (the long veg shown above) were stewed with lentils to become sambar. Rice was served because It was easier than naan. The desert was purchased, chutneys and pickle was ready made. Cucumber sticks were the salad component. Hot crispy vada were gluten free and a good bread to sop up sauce.
The whole meal was served on plastic Indian party trays with compartments and guests were invited to eat with their hands in the Indian way (finger bowls were provided after) This meant easy clean up with only a few dishes to wash.
The recipe for vada is at the end of the post.
Case Study II: Chinese New Year Dinner
This was a collaborative dinner with 2 weeks of menu planning and coordination. If I remember correctly there were 10 courses. The dinner was hosted at my house with the cooking split between myself and a friend. This was a great way to divide up the work with a person with whom you are confident in their cooking ability. Also if you have a small kitchen like I do, half of the cooking can take place in another location. All the prep work was done ahead of time, washing and chopping vegetables, simmering soup. Last minute cooking was de riguer however some courses were left to simmer while us cooks sat down to enjoy the dinner with the guests. Here are the highlights in photos.
Medu Vada* Makes 16-20
1½ cups urad dal
20 fresh curry leaves, chopped
1 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
1 tbsp cracked black pepper
½ small onion, chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
3 green chilies, chopped (optional)
¼ tsp asafatida (optional)
2 tsp ginger, chopped
Salt to taste
Oil for deep frying
Soak the dal for 3 hours minimum to overnight. In a food processor, grind to a thick paste with little or no added water. Mix in the rest of the ingredients when ready to cook.
To get fluffy vada beat the mixture with your hand or a stand mixer until a ball of the batter floats in water. This technique will produce a lighter vada.
Form the vada by hand and drop into hot oil (350F) cook, flipping once until golden brown. There are lots of youtube videos which show the technique. Be careful with the hot oil.
The vada may be kept warm in a low oven (200F) for 30 minutes.