Don’t wait for summer. Have a party now. Spring is a great time for a small party: no more than 10 people. In fact, no more than you can fit either around your dining room table or on your living room floor. I’m talking about dinner parties, specifically dinners with friends.
With people you know reasonably well, a good party to have on the floor is a Moroccan Party. Here is the menu:
Hummous tahini with pita bread
Chicken, Lemon and Olives with Couscous
Orange Salad with Rosewater or Dried Fruits and Nuts
Mint Tea and Rose wine
Make a large enough space in your living room (you may have to move furniture) and put down some towels or a blanket over a largish area. Cover this with either a sheet, table cloth, bed spread or some material that looks cheery but isn’t an heirloom. When dinner is served, guests can lounge around the perimeter with the dishes in the center. If you are a strict purist, you may not want to have plates or flatware but simply use the pita bread as your vehicle to propel the food to your mouth. Otherwise, give your guests plates and forks and dig in. Recipes for the hummous, chicken and orange salad are given below. Follow package directions for making couscous, making sure not to use too much water or it will be mushy. Instead of the orange salad, you might have a big tray or platter of various dried fruits and whole nuts. It can be pretty messy but keeps everyone on the floor for quite a while. If there is a middle-eastern grocery in your area, you can buy some sweet pastries to go with your dessert. A word about wine: there is a Moroccan rose wine called ‘Gris de Boulouane’ but any reasonably dry rose with go well with this menu. Don’t forget candles and music.
Another possible floor party is the Indian Party:
Sabz Ghost (Lamb stew with Coconut Milk)
Makhani Dal and Cucumber Raita
Basmati Rice, Chutney and Naan bread
Beer and Black tea
Because this Indian meal can be served lukewarm or room temperature, there’s no rush to get to the table so consider something a little rousing for your guests before sitting down (or lounging if you’re really taken with that idea). Take advantage of the evening light and have a croquet match or a badminton game before dinner. If you have no outdoor space or it’s raining, consider an Indian parlor game. I have read about some extraordinary ones such as Ticklin’ Feather (quite gentle) and British Bulldog (a bit rough). Recipes follow for the lamb, dal, raita and ice cream. I do have a recipe for naan but it is fairly easy to buy so, I won’t include it unless hounded to do so. Chutney and lime pickle are also easily purchased.
When making basmati rice, remember to rinse it first, and cook it in only 1 1/2 times the amount of (salted) water to rice for about ten minutes. Leave it covered and fluff it before serving.
Don’t have a Brazilian Party on the floor. Eat while dancing.
Roast Pork and Sausages
Black Beans and Rice
Orange and Red Onion Salad
Heart of Palm salad
Greens, Farofa and Hot Sauce
There are a lot of elements to this dinner but it’s a good one for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike since the meats are cooked and served separately. Farofa is ground manioc flour that is toasted and sprinkled over greens. It is easy to prepare but not that easy to find unless you have some Brazilian source near you. Nevertheless, I’m including the recipe because it is such a delicious accompaniment to the meal. Be sure to play Brazilian music and warn the neighbors in advance.
Now, these parties involve a little cooking but! It can all be done in advance. Set it all up and when that doorbell rings, you’ll be there wearing something festive and primed to mingle.
The Moroccan Party:
- 1 can chickpeas
- 2 – 4 tablespoons sesame tahini
- 1 lemon, squeezed
- 1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed
- Olive oil
In a food processor or blender or with the back of a wooden spoon, mash the chickpeas with a little of their liquid. Stir in the tahini with an equal amount of water. Add the garlic and lemon juice. Season with salt and taste. You may need more lemon, tahini and salt. Taste until it is seasoned to your liking (but don’t stress about this – the flavors do develop with a little time). Film the top with olive oil and serve with pita bread.
Chicken with Lemons and Olives This dish has many variations but this particular one has a lot of shortcuts (using boneless chicken, for example). Ras el hanout (which means ‘top of the shop’) is a spice mixture that can be bought or made. Vann’s spice company makes a version of it. I’ll include a simple recipe for it as well as for preserved lemons. If you don’t want to make preserved lemons, you can substitute fresh lemons. Use the best quality chicken you can find for this – it makes a difference.
- 5 pounds boneless chicken thighs
- 1 cup chopped parsley
- 3/4 cup chopped onions
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron (more if you have it and want to part with it)
- 1 tablespoon ras el hanout
- 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 cup butter
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 2 preserved lemons (or fresh – but if you have time, try to make the preserved ones)
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 8 olives, pitted and chopped (such as Kalamata olives)
Put the chicken into a large pot. Add 2/3 cup of the parsley, the garlic, onion, salt, spices, half of the butter and the cinnamon sticks. Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Simmer covered for about 40 minutes. Chicken should be very tender. Remove the chicken from the broth and remove the skin (if there is any). Remove the cinnamon sticks from the broth.
Reduce the broth by boiling it to a thick rich sauce (about 2 cups). Taste for seasoning. Add the remaining parsley, olive, lemons, lemon juice, remaining butter and the chicken and cover and cook until just hot. Can be made a day in advance and re-heated.
- 2 organic or untreated lemons
- 1/3 cup coarse salt
Wash and dry the lemons and cut each into 8 wedges. Toss with the coarse salt and squash the lemons into a pint jar, pressing them down to bring out the juice. Pour in more fresh lemon juice to cover (a few tablespoons, usually) and seal with a non-metallic lid. Leave at room temperature for 7 days, shaking the jar daily to distribute the salt and juice. Add olive oil to cover, then refrigerate. Keeps very well – about a month. To use: rinse the sections well in water, otherwise they will be too salty. Preserved lemon is delicious chopped up in couscous and on grilled vegetables or fish or tuna-fish salad.
Ras el Hanout
- 1 tablespoon ground mace
- 4 teaspoons each: nutmeg, ginger and salt
- 3 teaspoons allspice
- 2 teaspoons each: aniseed, cinnamon, black pepper, clover, turmeric
- 1 teaspoon each: cardamom, cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients. Makes about 8 tablespoons. Store in a small jar.
Orange Salad with Rosewater Peel and slice into rounds one orange per person. Sprinkle with rosewater and a little cinnamon and arrange on a large plate.
The Indian Party:
Sabz Ghost (Lamb in Coconut Milk)
This dish can be made a day or two in advance and served hot or room temperature. Be careful with the chilies: they do get hotter the longer they cook.
- 3 – 4 pounds lamb, cubed (use shoulder for a relatively inexpensive cut)
- 1/4 cup garlic, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup cooking oil
- 1/2 cup whole almonds
- 1/2 cup raisins (golden or black)
- 3 cardamom pods
- 3 whole cloves
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 small green chili pepper
- 1 small dried red pepper (remove seeds)
- 1 can unsweetened coconut milk
- 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
Marinate lamb in the garlic and ginger for 2 hours. In a large pot, heat the oil and fry the almonds and raisins briefly until they are light brown. Set aside. Using the same oil, add the cardamom, cloves and the lamb. Cook stirring over high heat until the meat is browned. Mix in the salt and yogurt and cook slowly until the yogurt is absorbed.
Stir in the red and green chili peppers and half of the chopped cilantro. Add the coconut milk and cook slowly, stirring from time to time for about forty-five minutes to an hour. When the lamb is tender, add the almonds and raisins. Cover the pan and simmer to reduce the sauce, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Taste for seasoning, adding additional coconut milk if too spicy. Garnish with the remaining chopped coriander and serve hot, with chutney, Naan bread and rice.
Makhani Dal Almost every Indian dinner is accompanied by some form of dal. Split peas, dried beans or lentils are the basis of dal which is then seasoned and spiced in a myriad of ways. Canned lentils in this recipe work well and make this an extremely easy dish to prepare. As with the lamb, this can be made ahead and served warm or room temperature.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 heaping teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 2 pounds canned lentils
- 1 pound can of pureed tomatoes
- 10 sprigs cilantro
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup cream
Heat butter and olive oil in a heavy pan and fry the garlic, ginger and chili powder for a few minutes. Add the lentils and tomato puree, stirring well. Separate the cilantro leaves from the stalks and chop each. Add the chopped stalks to the lentils, season to taste with salt and pepper and leave to simmer over low heat about fifteen minutes. Before serving, stir in the cream and the chopped cilantro leaves.
Cucumber Raita Raita, a yogurt relish, cools down a hot Indian meal.
- 1 English cucumber, peeled and diced
- 3 cups plain yogurt
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper
Combine the diced cucumber, onions and yogurt. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Coconut Sorbet There are wonderful Indian desserts and I confess this is not one of them but it does fall into the easy make-ahead category. That said, it is very sweet (a hallmark of many Indian recipes) and you may want to double this recipe because it is very tasty!
1 can of Coco Lopez (cream of coconut – it’s sweetened)
Using a whisk, combine the cream of coconut with 1 cup of ice-cold water. Pour into a glass baking dish ( 11 x 7 inch or and 8 inch square). Freeze until frozen, stirring every 30 minutes (about 3 hours). This can be make 2 days in advance. Cover and keep frozen. Make 2 cups.
The Brazilian Party A tip of the hat to Melissa Voorhees who grew up in Brazil and Nilma Ottoni who is Brazilian for sharing their recipes. Both wonderful cooks!
Caipirinha: the Brazilian cocktail!
For this cocktail, you’ll have to prowl around and find cacacha, Brazilian cane liquor. You can subsitute rum, but then you’ll have mojitos which are a fine substitute.
Basically, you need 1 1/2 parts lime juice to 1 part alcohol and sugar to taste (about 1 tablespoon per drink). Make up a pitcher of these in advance and when ready to serve, be sure to fill the glasses with ice. This is a strong one!
Pork Loin and Sausages
- 1 pork loin, about 3 pounds
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 or 3 onions, chopped
- 4 or 5 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 pounds Italian sausages, mild
Pre-heat the oven to 325. Dry the pork with paper towels and season with salt and pepper all over. In a large pot, heat the oil and brown the pork loin on all sides. Set aside and wipe out the pan. Add the olive oil and stir in the onions and garlic and saute a few minutes. Place the pork on top of the onions, cover the pan and bake for 2 hours. About 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time, prick the sausages on all sides and add the pan.
Cook one pound of dry black beans and then flavor with garlic or use 2 to 3 cans of cooked beans, drain and season.
For a party of 6 to 10, you’ll need 2 to 3 cups of rice, long grain or Basmati.
Orange and Red Onion salad
- 4 oranges, peeled and sliced
- 1 medium red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
- Black pepper
- Olive oil
On a large plate, arrange the orange slices and top with the red onion. Drizzle with olive oil and crack fresh pepper over all. The fruit and onions can be cut in advance and stored separately.
Heart of Palm Salad
- 2 cans heart of palm, sliced into spears or rounds
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Make a vinaigrette by mixing the mustard and vinegar and slowly adding the olive oil. Pour over the heart of palm at serving time. Season with salt and pepper.
Brazilian style Greens
- 2 pounds greens (kale, collard or mustard – I like kale best)
- 2 – 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 clove garlic
Wash the greens. Strip off the stems. Make a stack of several layers of the greens, roll up tightly and slice across the roll into very thin strips. Repeat until all the greens are shredded. Place them in a large mixing bowl and pour boiling water over them. Drain the water. Heat the garlic in the olive oil in a pan large enough to hold the green. Add the greens and toss until well coated and hot. Check for tenderness and season with salt and pepper. Do not overcook – the greens should keep a deep green color and be a bit crisp.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3-4 tablespoons finely chopped onion
- 1 clove finely chopped garlic
- 1 cup manioc flour
- 1/4 cup pitted and coarsely chopped black olives
- 1 hard-boiled egg, coarsely chopped
In a small pan, melt the butter and saute the onion and garlic until soft but not browned. Add the manioc and stir continuously on medium heat until the manioc is very lightly browned. Watch it carefully as it burns easily. Add the olives and egg and remove from heat. Serve at room temperature – a few spoonfuls with the greens are heavenly.
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 3 eggs
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup toasted almonds
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 2 cups light cream
Measure sugar into an 8 inch cake pan. Place the pan over direct heat and swirl constantly until sugar melts and turns a caramel color. Remove pan immediately and place on a cool surface or it will burn (a cold wet cloth is good). Let the caramel harden. Put the eggs and yolks in a blender or food processor. Add the almonds and brown sugar. Add cream gradually. Pour into the prepared pan and place in a larger pan with 1/2 inch hot water.
Bake at 325 for 45 minutes. Cool and refrigerate overnight or several hours.
Write with any questions and have a great party!