I love throwing dinner parties. My brother and sister are the same way and we get it from our Mom. We love the planning of a menu, modifying ingredients to what is available that season or locally, and taking the opportunity to explore past memories to share with family and friends through our food. It is also a chance to create new memories while breaking bread with loved ones and that is what we live for.
Two nights ago, I hosted a dinner for all my cousins like I did the last time I was in town. I think it’s a new tradition that I definitely want to continue. It gives me a chance catch up with them and the little ones and allows me to share with them recipes I’ve recently discovered as well as those that I cook all the time to give them insight into my every day life. All the while turning them into my guinea pigs when I have to modify the ingredients to local substitutes. It is a kitchen experiment I’ve come to love because cooking in a different country is a chance for me to get creative and explore local ingredients and flavours.
I decided to cook my tried and tested roast chicken, an adaptation of Thomas Keller’s recipe. I wanted them to see how easy it is to make a damn good roast chicken and perhaps it’s a dish they can incorporate into their every day meals. It also makes for a pretty and impressive looking dish when the chickens come out of the oven whole and crispy.
I also wanted to introduce to them to the magical world of Ottolenghi. His recipes inspire a lot of my every day dishes and combined together as a spread, make for a pretty looking table with all their vibrant contrasting colours. In addition, they are great for dinner parties because these Ottolenghi dishes don’t require a lot of cooking. The heavy lifting is in the prep work which you can do a day ahead or early in the day to minimize the stress that comes with juggling the gas ranges, pots and pans, and oven and stove cook times. That to me is key to throwing a good dinner party. The last thing I want is to be stressed out cursing myself for having invited 9 people (and 3 kids) over for dinner. Having most of the menu flexible enough to be prepared ahead is always my strategy, and trust me, it works.
I chose Ottolenghi dishes that had more Southeast Asian flavours or ingredients that I knew would be readily available and easy to find. I substituted things like cane vinegar for cider vinegar and cane sugar for caster sugar, and I used bottled Tuyo (which I had never tried before) for a pasta dish that I normally use anchovies or sardines with. I opted to add lemongrass to the cavities of my roast chicken when I normally just put lemons and sometimes herbs. I used calamansi for all my lime juice requirements and the tiny, more potent local garlic over the regular imported ones. For the carrot salad I used the local pomelo from Davao, my Dad’s favourite, and just doubled the red beets for the beet salad when I couldn’t find any golden beets.
Kale, I discovered isn’t as easy to find as I thought. While many restaurants seem to have them on the menu, their purveyors appear to be the same as ours. The supermarket. I had to send Annie to Rustans when the doors opened at 8am to beat the wholesale customers buying out the deliveries first thing in the morning. This was what the lady working at the produce section suggested to me the day before when I had gotten there too late.
My sunflower seeds didn’t have to be roasted because they came roasted, in a snack bag, salted and flavoured with garlic. I had no choice. I couldn’t find pumpkin seeds either. It seems Manila residents only snack on salted and flavoured nuts in commercialized bags. Oh, and watermelon seeds. And quinoa isn’t that popular either. Sometimes they’ll have it at the supermarket and sometimes they won’t. Your best bet is going to Healthy Options which is where I found mine. Sold in the oddest, tiniest portions and rather over priced.
I boiled the beets instead of roasting it, as this is how Annie used to prepare hers while working in Lebanon. Huge time saver! And I blanched, simmered, and sautéed dishes using a wok when I would typically have used a saucepan or a skillet. Every kitchen definitely needs a good wok! It is the most versatile cooking equipment and I realized that I have been under utilizing mine in Vancouver.
As I sit here by the way, I am waiting for my number at the DFA passport renewal office. It’s been over 3 hours and there are still 80 numbers left to be called until mine. 80. Kill me now. For all the wonders and beauty and hospitality and abundance of produce this country has to offer, efficiency is not one of them.
Here’s the carrot salad, arguably the bestseller of the night. Feel free to modify the ingredients to whatever produce or ingredients are available where you live. Say substitute the pomelo with grapefruit or even shredded apple, pears or grape halves. Or shredded green mango or green papaya. Rather than cane sugar you can experiment with honey or maple syrup. And instead of cane vinegar, you can use rice wine vinegar, white vinegar or cider vinegar. Be creative, enjoy the cooking process, and share your food with loved ones. When you live miles and oceans apart, food is a great way to connect each other and creating food memories when you’re together is priceless.
Carrot and Pomelo Salad
Adapted from Ottolenghi’s Carrot and Pomelo Salad
What you need:
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into thin julienne strips or shredded
½ pomelo, peeled, and segments cut into 2″ pieces
1 tbsp calamansi juice (2 calamansis)
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp each white and black sesame seeds, toasted (or 4 tbsp white)
20g parsley leaves, roughly chopped
15g mint leaves, roughly shredded
15g Thai basil leaves (or regular basil), roughly shredded
For the marinade
40g cane sugar
120ml cane vinegar
1 tsp chilli flakes
What to do:
- Put the marinade ingredients in a small saucepan on a high heat, boil for a minute or two, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, then pour over the carrots. Toss and leave for half an hour or so.
- Cut the pomelo into segments, using a sharp knife to remove and discard the pith and membrane. Break the fruit into 1-2″ pieces and put in a bowl.
- Drain the carrots, retaining the liquid, and add to the fruit.
- Add 2 tablespoons of marinade, the lime juice, oils, sesame seeds, herbs and half a teaspoon of salt, toss and serve.