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.
Weekend Herb Blogging Vegetarian Humour Mixed Vegetables Inviting people