2/10/10 eeek...the first menu

Post date: 13-Jan-2011 19:01:12

Well now I had bookings! I had promised to make Indian food since most of my neighbours had eaten and enjoyed the fish curry I made for our Big Lunch street party so I thought that might entice them to come to my first ever supper club event. I had kinda worked out that the way to get people to come was not cook ordinary food like lasagna and spag bol but something themed that would really excite the tastebuds, so Indian it was. The big plus point about doing something like Indian is that it's a great communal thing. You can just make a few pots of it, what are essentially stews and can often take reheating (maybe even get better), whack it on the table, and Bob's your uncle. You don't need to take complex orders and plate stuff up. People take what they fancy. So it was a great choice to kick off with.

I guess the story with ANY successful dinner party is planning, planning, planning. WHAT can you make in advance and how much last minute preparations do you need to do? If all your dishes need last minute prep, you are in serious trouble unless you have a little army of sous-chefs. And I am just little I. No plans to take on hired help!! Not when it comes out of my measly £5 a head budget (the rest goes to charity). More on how to stretch the budget in the next post... :-) But I am quite experienced in planning as I work an 11-hour day normally so there's no way I can cook for a dinner party unless a whole load is done in advance.

I have a vast interest in Indian food. I am half Malaysian so we grew up with it, in a sort of hybridised way. My family are actually Chinese yet we have our own family curry powder. Once a year or so, someone takes 5kg of cardamom, 1kg of chillies, 7kgs of cumin, 200g cloves, etc etc to the miller, and gets them all ground into curry powder. Then this potent mix gets packed into any containers we can find, old squash bottles, old coffee jars etc, and redistributed around the family. Being a Chinese family of course, this is extended beyond belief. (Recently I found out my mother had an adopted brother I didn't even know about, how does that happen?, and a whole "branch" of the family were not actually relations at all, just sort of "adopted" years ago to help educate their kids).

Anyway, so the upshot of all this is that I have done a lot of experimenting with Indian food. It's a vast continent and nearly all of what we eat here is from one state. Surely I can find some more interesting stuff. Some curries, including the family chicken curry, were shown to me by my mother. She also taught me to make a dish called "Fish Molly" which is a fish curry I always liked. Others I picked up when I travelled there, bribing hotel chefs and pestering the man making egg curry on his stall. I found recently in my research that there is a 'real' Indian dish, called Fish Mollee, just like my mother's. I love fish curries and have tried to cook quite a range; they are difficult to get in restaurants here (strange because most Indian restaurants here are Bengali and they eat quite a lot of fish). So my Green Fish Curry which made it onto the menu is a good 'un, the result of intensive research. I recently tried an excellent Himalayan lamb curry too, very different again to regular Indian restaurant food (no garlic!! wow!), so that got on the menu - that is one that can be made in advance. The fish curry sauce can be made in advance and then brought to the boil and the fish and coriander (that's what makes it green) popped in at the last moment.

Then we had a couple of veg curries, one cauliflower with mustard seeds, very easy, and the day before I found a pineapple curry in one of my cookbooks which is made with fresh pineapple and fresh grated coconut so I thought I'd try that. Generally it's not a good idea to try new recipes when you're cooking for a dinner party, but if they can be made in advance (so you can check out if it's any good!) and there are other dishes you are confident will be a hit, then why not?

Main courses sorted, I agonised over starters. Out came the pile of Indian cookbooks, to no avail. Actually the pile got so high that I spotted my dad using them as a coffee table today. Perhaps I should put them away now. Pakoras and Bhajis were definitely out. I HATE deep frying! Never mind what it does to my waistline ;-) I don't have a tandoor (who does?) so any tandooris out too. What to do lah? As we say in Malaysia. I have a Gujarati friend whose mother taught me how to make a typical Gujarati snack dish called Dhokla (yes, I pestered her too). It's a savoury steamed semolina cake. Sounds dreadful I know but it is in fact very tasty, can be made in advance, and I recently had some at Broadway market that I paid good money for and I KNOW mine is 100x better than that. Hardly a traditional starter, but it would do nicely.

Dessert? Yuk. Don't like Indian desserts at all... too sweet, sickly and all that cardamom. In the end I adapted a chinese recipe for a mango pudding, adding some lime for a bit of zing. Again this is a great dessert as it can be made earlier on in the day and will sit happily in the fridge ready to be plonked on the table. Sorry guests, no choice on this one!

So there you go ladies and gents, that's my menu and how I chose it.

tune in tomorrow to find out how it went...