Remember the days when party food meant platters of fried samosas and greasy peanuts? Much has changed and people are looking for culinary flair and excitement from a variety of countries. More people are now happy converts to the principle of simple and quality eating. At the end of the day, entertaining should be fun. And as a contemporary, well-informed hostess/host, it is important to give your guests the choice of healthy options.
Life beyond samosas: Serve hummus with crisp naan or paratha.
Party entertaining with healthy food is a tough one. Not because it is difficult; quite the opposite. There is nothing easier than serving dips and salads with juices and wines. This is definitely much healthier than reheating some Indian dishes. No, it is not the food that is difficult. It is the people. People love talking about which gym they have joined and which diet they are on. So when they go out, they throw caution to the wind and expect to be fed well.
Taste is all important. Dishes must be trendy, tasty and look like you have put a lot of effort into them, even if you have just poured them out of a jar. Salsa, guacamole, hummus and cheesy dips, all make entertaining easy and elegant. Many can be bought if you don’t want to make them yourself. Hummus, a West Asian dip made with chickpeas, olive oil, sesame paste, garlic and lemon juice, is traditionally served with crisp pitta bread. I often serve it with naan or paratha bread, crisped in the oven. Salsa is Mexican, easy to make and also readily available in bottles. Serve it with tortilla chips, or even wafers. I also add a bit of salsa to guacamole, a dip made by mashing ripe avocado with lemon, garlic and onion. Also add some chopped red pepper to cheese spreads or cream cheese. When I was in Cape Town a few years ago, a party favourite was Thai sweet chilli sauce and Philadelphia cream cheese mixed together as a dip. You can do the same with cheese spreads. I also do a completely non-fat dip using Silken Tofu, a bit of soya sauce, whole grain mustard and tahini (the Indian one) all “woozhed” together in a blender and seasoned with spring onions and capers. Dips can also be rolled in a wrap (thin dry chapatti) to make a cold kathi roll. Another wrap favourite in my house is my vegetarian version of the Peking pancake. I smear the chapatti (or Vietnamese rice paper, if you can get some. It’s available in Mumbai, New Delhi and Kolkata) with Hoisin sauce. Add fine juliennes of carrot, cucumber, spring onions and bean sprouts and roll.
I prefer to serve a few good dishes than several mediocre ones. I like things that are well presented, and created with thought and sensitivity. Also, people want to spend time with the hostess/host. A party defeats its purpose if all they see is your back running into the kitchen, all the time. Do you have help? Beg, borrow, call in a friend or hire help for the evening, and you’ll have a perfect party.
Hummus (chickpea dip)
250gm dry chickpeas
¼ cup olive oil
2 tbsp garlic paste
3 tbsp tahini
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika or mild red chilli powder to garnish
Soak the chickpeas overnight in plenty of water. They should swell to almost double their size. Wash in several changes of water. Boil or pressure cook with a little salt in plenty of water until very soft. While still warm, put the chickpeas (you may have to do this in batches, depending on the size of your mixer or food processor) and two to three tbsp of the cooking liquid, garlic, tahini and lemon juice into the mixer and grind. If the puree looks too coarse, add some more cooking liquid.
Add half the olive oil towards the end. You should obtain a fine puree. If you are going to use the hummus later, make the puree thinner, since it will dry out slightly in the fridge. Serve in a shallow bowl. Scoop out a little from the centre with the back of a spoon or fork, and pour in the remaining olive oil. Sprinkle paprika or Kashmiri chilli powder on top.
Vietnamese Chicken and Lemon Grass Meatballs
300gm boneless chicken, with skin
1 tbsp tom yam paste
1 cup Thai basil leaves (optional)
2 lemon grass stalks (bottom white part only)
Chop the onion, Thai basil leaves and lemon grass stalks in a food processor. Add the chicken and tom yam paste and mince everything together. Refrigerate for at least an hour so it firms. Form balls, and cook in a preheated oven for about 10-12 minutes or until cooked. Serve immediately.
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