Friday, July 04, 2008

Guess What Happened At Dinner?

It’s extremely rare these days that we invite anyone over for a meal. The reasons are many - busy schedules, a small kitchen, the lack of time, will, energy and adequate help to prepare a decent spread, the fear that I won’t be able to keep the conversation going, the mess in the living room …

When I do get down to it, I try not to stint on the spread. I am not comparing myself to the older generations who could whip up an immense feast “with the mere swish of a spoon” (they slaved and slogged, mostly unsung and unwept) but I do believe that when I invite someone to a proper meal (if it isn’t, I WILL warn them) I shouldn’t present them with a bare table citing the excuses I made above. And thereby hangs a tale.

Once, I was invited by X to lunch at her home. She would always tell me her mother was an excellent cook and that I should come sample her food. When the lunch invitation came, it came with the most delicious preamble - the list of some 20-odd delicacies her mother had whipped up recently for a lunch. Well, even if the good lady made a third of that, it would be too much, I thought, and generously told this friend her mum needn’t go to that much trouble. “In fact, why don’t you just make your traditional stuff - it will be easy on your mum and I’ll have experienced a new cuisine,” I said, and she agreed.

Come Lunch Day, and I arrived at their home on the dot, to find that everyone, including my friend, had finished eating! Er … Well, anyway, I was soon seated at the table that had only two or three vessels on it and asked to help myself. The ladle made contact with bare metal when I tried to. Peering into those vessels revealed very little. Literally, the dregs of the day’s lunch. Suffice it to say that there were less than 10 pieces of a vegetable, about a cup of soup and about three tablespoons of chutney. And some rice.

“You wanted traditional, no? You got it,” said X, almost as if she was daring me to object, complain, ask for more? “Yes, yes, it’s very nice,” I said rapidly. Meal ended, X said, “We didn’t make any dessert, it’s not as if we’ve invited you formally, so we didn’t bother.” Er … of course???

“Hush,” says The Spouse, whenever I narrate this story to anyone. “It’s not nice.” Maybe it isn’t but the entire experience seemed so bizarre, all the more so in the light of the build-up that preceded it.

The point of this story is that guests expect something substantial and fulfilling, if nothing special, when you promise them “an experience”. I, of course, take the easy way out and seldom invite anyone, but when I do get around to it, I aim for something that is easy on me, satisfies my guests and eases my conscience.

Here’s one such dish, I think, that will fit the bill. A mixed vegetable curry. It is a bit of hard work if you have to cut the vegetables yourself, but I loved the result.

Potatoes - 4 (small), diced
Carrot - 1, cut into long pieces
French Beans - a big handful, cut into 1-½-inch pieces
Tomatoes - 2, chopped
Onions - 2, chopped
Coriander - a little, for garnish
Lime juice - 2 tsp
Oil - 2-3 tsp
Salt - to taste
Water - 2 cups

Grind to a paste
3 green chillies
1 tsp of red chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp dry ginger powder (sonthi)
4-5 flakes garlic
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder

Heat the oil in a pan and saute the onion till your patience runs out.

Add the tomatoes and keep swishing them around till they get mushy. Or turn down the heat and let them get mushy at their own pace - do stir now and then.

Add the paste, the vegetables (you can use other combinations of veggies), salt and fry till the vegetables are well coated with the spices.

Add the water. Cook till the vegetables are done and dry. If you want it thicker, don’t let much of the water evaporate.

Turn off the heat, wait a while and mix lime juice gently into the vegetables. Garnish with coriander.

Put it in a nice dish and make it the centrepiece of your meal! (Actually, this dish is a pretty recent discovery and I’ve never served it to guests, but I will, henceforth, since I’ve done this post.)

Oh, and it works the other way too - do remark on the meal to the host. A friend told me how they invited someone to a meal and went to great pains to make it interesting - and the guests ate it in stark silence. Not a word said, not a single indication that they liked it or disliked it. Everything was tasted, eaten and remained unmentioned. That was one of the strangest meals she had ever experienced, she said. We could only commiserate over each other’s experiences.

This is off to Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging hosted this week by Pam of Sidewalk Shoes.


  1. I can't believe that really happened to you.

  2. I'm just imagining your expression when the ladle hit the metal :DDD.

    I invite people over dinner..and the easy out for me has always been a biriyani or a pilaf..and i'm happy and so are the guests...

    This dish seems to be easy and a good one...

  3. OMG, OMG, OMG. They ate before you got there! AND they didn't leave anything for you! AND they had the temerity to say something nasty. Don't tell me you are still her friend. As for your strategy, I totally agree. I love to feed my guest, in fact that's usually when I cook up several courses for a meal, but I try to keep it easy on myself too and do some prep ahead.

  4. which planet do some people live in?

  5. looksyummy,,,liked reading ur post...

  6. I'm laughing so hard!
    Mixed vegetables are a hit when you have someone over :-)

  7. did that really really is a bizzare experience!!! :-)

    like rachel said, i always go for something that need the least amt of side dishes possible! ;-)

  8. LOL - I can imagine the expression on your face.

    I openly ask if people like the food. I ask repeatedly till I am satisfied that they're stating the truth. They better comment. :D

  9. That must have been absolutely BIZARRE! I dont do seriously formal dinners but if anybody comes home (and especially if they're invited) I DO like to make an effort. It's only polite to do so - and it shows your guests are important to you. How UTTERLY weird you must have felt...!

    PS. If you ever visit me in the UK, I promise to offer a slap-up spread :)

  10. Yes, some people are like that.

    We too rarely have people over, but whenever we do, we make sure that they are well fed...and no, we never eat before the guests have arrived and leave the remains....even if it is a simple you can come over to our place without any fear :-P

  11. What a ridiculous way to treat a guest! Safer not to call:) The sabji looks aromatic and yum!

  12. Cynthia, oh yes it did! And I haven't revealed the half of it!
    Rachel, :( I make about five dishes, and make an effort with the presentation - style over substance, if necessary!
    ET, no, no longer. She went off me for some strange silly reason and finally I got tired of the whole thing, even when she was prepared to mend fences.
    Bee, that's a good question!
    Notyet, thanks, and welcome.
    Raaga, LOL! Can't believe that really happened, right?
    JZ, it did, about 10 years ago, I think. I've tried not to expect anything from even the best cooks/hosts ever since.
    Lakshmi, good for you! I'd prefer an honest opinion (shouldn't be brutally so :) )
    Shyam, BIZARRE was it! I'm wondering now if they'd had a fight, but I don't think so.
    Sunita, ah, Shyam and now you, two cooks I'd love to visit!

  13. Whoa..inviting someone for a meal and behave this way..?some people have got the nerves!!I had a similar experience-I was invited to a friends place(not for lunch but she asked me to come by 1,so naturally I thought there would be some lunch)We chatted for sometime(there were no signs of cooking or setting the table)and by 1.45-2,she casually asked are you having your lunch today??Excuse me..??;-)

  14. that was real bad, haven't they ever heard about atithi devo bhav....ok dont bang your head on the montior :D.....but it is awful.....

    thats an easy and comforting dish

  15. That sounds bizarre!! I wish you had answered her with "I asked for traditional, not empty". :-)

  16. unbelievable... but sarcastically funny (i donno if that word exists also, but that's what came to my mind when i went through ur post).

    i can't say i like to have guests, especially after very hectic week at work, i like to spend time with my hubby and cook whatever we love over the weekend. but when we have guests coming over for lunch or dinner or staying over the weekend, i make it a point to cook elaborate meals. i always questioned my mom as why she should cook so many things whenever we had guests but looks like i have inherited that nature unknowingly. and i can't think of finishing our meals before they arrive even if they arrive after one hr. i am not sure if ur friend did this on purpose or this is how they are... but it is really really strange behaviour for sure :)

  17. This is nightmarish..!!
    Such people actually exist !!

    Sra the vegetable curry looks yum..simple yet filling and delicious..

  18. Your recipe sounds quite nice and looks great. You should cook it more often.
    I love your story even more. And I can believe it. Why? Be cause here's one of mine.
    When we were kids we would get invited to dinner at these friends of my parents. Now they were great people. But somehow, there would usually be some 15 people there and lunch would be just about enough for 10.
    And they would keep insisting we help ourselves to "some more". :D
    Of course, bread and butter from the fridge usually filled the gaps in our tums those nights!!

  19. Are there really poeple like that exist? And why do u have such "friends" ? Usually at home both myself and amma would feed our guests like anything as they could hardly get to get their hands washed! So dear, please do come home for a hearty meal served with lots of love :)

  20. Making simple and traditional food I understand, but not waiting for you and eating before the guest arives is something I have yet to experience...I can imagine how you were feeling at that time.

    The dish looks great and a good way to use the left over veggies too

  21. i have heard and experienced some crazy stories over meal invitations...but this one is clearly in its own league....i guess it takes all kinds of people to make the world!!

  22. Sra, now thats really some experience..can't believe ppl can actually behave like that!!!...good that you are not in touch with that friend of yours...

    curry looks great..nice shot!

  23. LOL! My experience exactly! I told Bee I have stopped inviting Indian couples we meet here and I used to invite every one of them. I would clean the whole house and make elaborate meals when I invite anybody and they come 2 hrs late with no apology and I am seething with anger! They don't ever invite us to their home at all, one even gave us post box no but shes would stay in my house overnight with her ralatives who were visiting her from India! When they moved out of their city, she didn't even call to say Bye, just packed and left!
    Just once when we were invited for dinner(aren't we lucky?:D), she had frozen parathas and canned metallic smelling curry she bought from the stores!
    One couple even refused my dinner invite and then 3 mnts later, suddenly the guy invites himself to our house, refuses even have some coffee and try to plug his software so we can invest in his adventure!Hell no!!
    That's the last time we invited any Indians couple, I am sure most people are okay, not like these ones but unfortunately I meet only some uncivilized ones her!:P
    Heck with them, I don't bother anymore!
    All this I do for them is without any help here, I do all the cooking it alone and Arvind cleans the house etc. Least they can do is come on time and say thanks!
    Sorry you got the leftovers over there, she is absolutely rude!!I don't think she deserves your friendship at all sra. You are like me girl, always worry about others too much!:)
    Mixed veg curry looks delicious, bookmarked, will cook when I come back home!:)
    Enjoy the weekend, we have some fun waiting for us today!

  24. Wow, that's hilarious! I can't believe anyone would actully do that - very cheap in my opinion! I do agree with youof creating an experience for your guests. Afterall, if I'm inviting them over, than I care enough to treat them well. My dinner table is usually loaded a variety of choices, but I make sure a mojority of the dishes are quick and simple to make. My husband thinks I'm nuts, but I love making a big deal of entertaining - it's one of my actual hobbies! And it surely makes it worth it when my friends swear they skip lunch so that they can enjoy the whole deal at my diner parties. Makes me feel quite special! ;)

  25. Lovely and enticing photo of your mixed vegetable curry. Is this a new camera? You have me salivating. I don't think I'd ever be unsatisfied if I came to eat at your home.

    That was a very bizzare experience at your friend's home. You handled it very well.


  26. Oh Sra.. you poor thing. Why would they do something like that? pretty shocking. There are so many things to bug me in that scenario...!! Where's Rajitha? Wait till her comment so she can give them an earful :)

    I also go to elaborate lengths and think a lot if someone is coming over for a meal so I can give them a spread. It's tiring but I simply enjoy cooking and you are right.. at the end of it all, a simple 'it tastes good' is a big payoff. Makes it all worth it.

    The vegetable curry looks delicious.

  27. tell me about it!! one of our distant relatives invited us for lunch when my parents came here to we were 4..and they were 6..and sra..they made food enough to serve only 5-6 people..and i mean those 6 people would have had it just about enough!!..the worse part is..they kept forcing and insisting..have some guys don't eat at-all...err...where is the freakin food!!...i mean..don't invite people for lunch if you are too busy...have other priorites or you are daving on groceries!!..we had to stop by a drive-thru on our way home to eat....

  28. all the comments..and realised only some of us are stuck with some doozies like this huh!!..but seriously..i was sooo mad after the lunch..when my amma invited them over i had a good mind to make everything with garlic and onions :D..and less to boot...well..did not happen..but i kept telling..we made a please help urself..really there is more :D..needless to say..i got a huuge lecture from mom and dad after they left :D..i have no contact with those was too much work to be cordial!...and an earful:(... :D

  29. Whoa, what a great story. I learned alot from your experience!
    The veggie curry looks awesome too!

  30. Sra, we have guests at home very often, not that I like that alot since I have to clean and cook myself, I still make a complete meal with dessert whether it is elaborate or homely. And the funny part is my hubby is the first one to tell me how good the food is when we are at the table!! The poor guests have to appreciate my efforts after that whether they like it or not!:D After some strict warnings, my hubby is allowed to praise the food only after the guests have left - atleast I get honest feedback then!

  31. "The ladle made contact with bare metal"- lol :D
    But seriously, that's terrible, Sra! I hope you aren't still friends with her!

    If you are, have her create a blog (if she doesn't have one already), and then we can all send in some pretty nasty comments.;D

  32. Sra,
    I loved the mixed vegetable curry, lemon juice makes it even more tasty tangy ..
    We dont invite people much , but when we do we make sure house is cleaned and the menu is well off...
    Well this Planet is full of weird creatures ...and may be that girl is one of them LOL..
    hugs and smiles

  33. Oh my poor baby! Sra!..can imagine what you went thru..hmm..

    The dish looks perfect!..

  34. Sunshinemom, welcome! Yeah, I can't understand what happened!
    Divya, you poor thing! Some people are so odd - it was like she was telling you not to expect anything at her house! I would have appreciated it had she warned you in advance.
    Bhags, atidhi devo bhava is looooong gone!
    Arundathi, bad enough I was kicking myself inside, imagine me demanding food! LOL!
    Sia, I understand sarkily funny v well. Even I feel the pressure to lay out a big spread - it used to be easier when I had help, now I don't have much help, just for a couple of hours in the morning, and The Spouse leaves for work v early, so we cook generally when we are around to help each other.
    Swati, it was completely bizarre!
    Aparna, you know, I think there are people who naturally cook only a little. I know one guy who told me he moved out of his aunt's house into his own room because he just couldn't eat well enough as his aunt cooked very small amounts.
    Nirmala, I don't know, she took a shine to me and we became friends. She went off me as suddenly a few weeks after all this! Immature, I guess.
    Medhaa, welcome. I was puzzled by the shoddiness, the food per se didn't matter.
    Arundati, you bet! I look back on this with a lot of humour and puzzlement, it didn't really affect me much.
    Valli, thanks, this happened ages ago. Even I liked my pic :)

  35. Sra: I've lost your email address. Could you please email me? Thanks!


  36. Asha, I wonder why some people behave the way they do! Your examples seem pretty strange. This case happened a long time ago, it didn't affect our friendship, not in touch with her anymore.
    Meena, I too love entertaining so I make an effort. People don't always mean what they say, sadly :(
    Paz, those are lovely compliments, thanks. No, the camera's the same old, but even I thought this pic was esp. clear.
    Laavanya, there she is, in your wake! Even I think it's important to make your guests feel they are worth it, and I try to do it for people I like a lot as well as people I like only a little - one of the worst things to do to people is have them at your house and tell them in various ways that they are not worth it!
    Rajitha, my Uncle keeps telling a story - you know how ridge gourd shrinks during cooking, right. Once they called some people for dinner, and their cook make a quarter kilo of that - everyone was so scared to finish that dish, it got leftover even with that miserable amount! What you did - why doesn't it surprise me? {Cackle, cackle}
    Diane & Todd, :) Thanks.
    Jyothsna, feedback, as long as it's not hectoring or a whine, is fine with me. I have a relative who harps on how badly he was served at the table - apparently serving is an art and our women are losing it!
    TBC, I suffered no great trauma, we continued to be friends for a while. There's more to the story, but I will probably be outed if I continue so ended it there!
    Jaya, yes, probably. The lemon juice did add a nice touch!
    Bharathy, oh, no, nothing really! I found it mystifying, that's all.
    Paz, you have mail!

  37. Laddle hit the metal ? Gosh i cannot believe it ! Did they put u on diet! Or they don't want to see around anymore... It is heart breaking hearing that in our culture....

  38. What a story. Doesn't it just amaze you sometimes how odd people can be?

    The curry sounds delicious. I would LOVE to come to your house for dinner any time!

  39. Your comments section is as enjoyable as your post Sra...:D
    Once I had a guest,who never uttered the word 'Enough', while I was serving,and suffered throughout the night.Much later,I came to know through his ppl, aayanaki 'Chaalu' ani cheppataaniki koodaa mohamaatam ata.

  40. wow, I can't believe that they did that! the mixed veg looks delicious.

  41. That is so cheap of them, Sra! Come home and :P I will make A cook and serve you!

    BTW, great recipe. Its a keeper for me!

  42. OMG, that sounds so scary.... sheesh..cant imagine that happening to me....

  43. That sounds really ridiculous Sra..That sure is a bad experience..
    Veg curry looks delicious..

  44. Poor you, Sra.....they actually let you eat alone....AND didn't leave anything for you???

  45. Hi Sra: I wont agree any less..learnt from my mom that fill people's stomach if you are inviting them over. I have had a few similar experiences where a friend would go on-and-on about the organic xyz used with one slice of eggplant lying on the plate :)

  46. Cham, ha ha, probably looking at me they thought I would do well to diet!
    Kalyn, you're welcome any time!
    Satya, maree anta mohamatama? Strange!
    Mandira, thanks! They did do it, funny, isn't it? :)
    A & N, oh, it didn't bother me much, just amused me in a disbelieving sort of way!
    Rachna, ha ha, it was an experience!
    Anamika, thanks.
    Prema, it's okay, it was interesting! Incredible, really!
    Jayashree, ha ha, wonder what was going on, don't you, wish I knew!
    Pragyan, that's so funny, LOL!

  47. What??? I'm speechless. :o

  48. sra sweetie. where r u? still haunted by that dinner exp? he he he....

  49. just noted that was 48th comment...

  50. and let me leave 50th comment;) he he he... tada... my 50th comment on ur blog... wohoooo

  51. lol...but eating before the guests !! well, it bugs me when i've to go & cook the dishes at someone else's...finish the cooking before the guests arrive, i say ;)
    subzi looks good.

  52. i had been not able to blog hop much since last some time Sra , and i feel i missed reading your many nice posts. specially the one with convexity :D. even i enjoyed reading comments all of them together now :D.

    people can be so rude sometime I cant imagine. but i must say I have came across the most unsophisticated people(Indian all of them) after I came to USA :))

  53. WOW.. Are you serious????? Well, on the postivie side, you got a story out of it that you can tell people for ages... :)
    I had a "friend" who keeps telling us about all these great dishes she has been cooking for "her friends" but whenever we were invited to her place, its been nasty take-out Indian food... :( We are not friends anymore, not necessarily for this reason... but it was a contributing factor.. So, are you still friends with this person?

  54. Kay, it's true!
    Sia, that's grand! Saw your mail?
    Richa :), there's no accounting for some people!
    Pooja, nice to see you here!
    Sig, there's more to the story. I didn't reveal the half of it. Anyway, we continued being friends for a while after that till she stopped talking to me suddenly, without explanation, and when she wanted to make up it was my turn to go cold :)

  55. That was so bizarre! How can they invite you at one time and already finish eating. What sort of a friend is she? Anyway your curry looks real yummy! Lovely pics too.

  56. I can't believe a friend would treat you like that.... Eat before you gor there and then leave you with nothing? I think I would have said that I'd already eaten, then left....
    I'm with you, even if it isn't fancy it should be well-presented...and enough to feed everyone!

  57. Hilarious. Have had my share of these experiences as well! One particularly funny one, was when I was in high-school, and was invited by friend's mom to stay overnight during summer hols. Menu was sambar, rasam, beans curry. for lunch. Cool. And then came dinner ..same rasam and same beans curry, minus sambar, as "dal in the night can cause us kids digestion problems". hmpf okay. Next morn breakfast...could hear freind's mom tell the cook.."its just the kids, so..." Breakfast was bread (not even toasted with... guess what! beans curry! I avoided beans for many years after that experience!

  58. Sra, I don't know how much you know of classic U.S. TV shows, but there is an episode of "I Love Lucy" where Lucy and Ricky go to dinner at Ricky's boss' home, and the hosts have already eaten. Lucy, desperately hungry, chomps down on a fake apple that gets stuck in her mouth. You clanking the ladle reminds me of this. There's an element of sitcom here, although I know I wouldn't be laughing if I was the guest. Appalling behavior for "a friend" to exhibit.

    Your curry looks marvelous, and I know you would make a vat of it to feed all of us if it was humanly possible. : )

  59. I loved your post, and it is really a strange experience that you had! The vegetable dish looks great:-) I usually add peas and cauliflower also to this, and steam cook the vegetables first, before adding to the tomato base. Keep up the great work on your blog:-)

  60. Yeesh. They left you the leftovers?!

    I'm totally with you about cooking enough and with a bit of diversity - I'd rather have copious amounts of leftovers any day!

  61. Homecooked, yes, it was bizarre, and quite farcical!
    Kate, I don't think I could have done anything else other than eat meekly and leave :(
    Dibs, welcome, that's hilarious, and I hear you!
    Susan, I do know Lucy but maybe not this particular episode. It was quite a funny experience.
    Shreya, yeah, you can use other veggies too - these were what I had. Thanks.
    Kaykat, LOL! They left the leftovers for me, yes.

  62. I have been to a few dinners like yours. Following Murphy's law, you wouldn't get any if the food was good. There would be aplenty if it was so so.

    Even recently I ate dinner just staring at the serving dish. And we were 8 adults, and the hostess had made 2 cups of curry with almost bare "vegetable" rice. I don't mean to bitch about it, but this was a little too much. I then invited the rest of the crew to my house and made a quick after-dinner....

  63. LOL! After-dinner, I like that phrase!

  64. We would like to feature this recipe on our blog. Please email if interested. Thanks :)

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  65. Dish looks extremely elaborate! Who are these people? I need to strike them off my guest list?!!

  66. This has to be one of the most bizarre guest stories I heard. Made me shudder on your behalf. Way to call a person to your home and make them feel feel unwanted. You were sweet to endure that experience. The most basic thing to do is to eat with your guest.
    The comments on this post made me laugh out loud. I guess I have been lucky in having had only good experiences as a guest. The only, unintentionally unfortunate one was when an American friend and his Japanese wife called us over for dinner and made up a table for make-your-own-sushi, forgetting that we aren't fish eaters. They felt bad that they forgot this and we felt bad we don't eat it, because it was such a beautiful laid table and she had taken so much effort cutting up everything and laying it all out. Fortunately there were enough vegetables for me to make my own veg rolls. I ended up enjoying it all a lot.
    Abundance at the tables is evident across cultures. I will take a meal like that any day over one where I could tell right away that inviting me was a bother and interruption, not a conscious choice.