(THE GUARDIAN) - I am that person at a party, desperately following the one tray of vegetarian canapes around, trying to sneak a second mouthful before I get noticed.
I can't count the number of parties I have left a little bleary because there just wasn't anything to eat. As far as I am concerned, where there's drink, there should be food - for everyone.
So I have three things I keep in mind when I am making food for a party.
While it's hard to cater to all tastes and whims, I cook food that I hope almost everyone can eat. This is a party and no one wants to feel left on the sidelines.
Party food should be friendly, not too fussy, casual and convivial. Canapes aren't my thing; I prefer something a little more substantial, colourful and full of flavour.
One thing I always crave at a party is light, fresh food - especially with champagne or anything bubbly. I like a hit of freshness and chilli to pep everyone up, clean flavours that sing.
Punchy Asian flavours, like the recipes below, are what I want when I'm chatting and sipping a drink.
LITTLE PEANUT NOODLE BOWLS
These little bowls of bun cha - a fragrant, delicate rice noodle salad - are a take on the original Hanoi recipe. I've made it my own with chilli-spiked peanut butter tofu.
It's half noodles, half salad, all flavour. Here many of my favourite things jump into the same bowl: crispy tofu, bright and zippy vegetables and sprightly herbs.
For a quick assembly, have everything prepped and lined up and your bowls in a row so you can quickly drop each element in and move on to the next.
If you can get your hands on some Vietnamese basil, mint, coriander and perilla , it would take this bun cha to the next level, but I've kept it simple with mint and coriander here.
Makes 10 small bowlfuls
FOR THE TOFU
- 400g firm tofu, chopped into 5mm fingers
- 2 red chillies
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 stalk of fresh lemongrass
- 2 tbsp soy sauce or tamarind
- Juice of 1 lime
- 2 tbsp peanut butter
- Coconut oil
FOR THE NOODLES AND VEG
- 250g rice vermicelli
- 1 small iceberg lettuce
- 2 large carrots
- 1 cucumber
- 4 spring onions
- 1 ripe avocado
- A small bunch of fresh coriander
- 100g unsalted peanuts
- A small bunch of fresh mint or other herbs (see introduction)
FOR THE DRESSING
- A small thumb of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 tbsp runny honey or maple syrup
- 2 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
- Juice of 2 limes
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- Good dash of chilli sauce
1. Put the tofu into a bowl. Finely chop the chilli, garlic and lemongrass. Set aside half the chilli and garlic and add the rest to the bowl of tofu with all the lemongrass, the soy sauce and half the lime juice. Set aside to marinate.
2. Mix the other half of the lime juice with the peanut butter and a splash of water and set aside.
3. Put the vermicelli into a bowl, cover with boiling water and leave to soak for 3 minutes, or follow the packet instructions.
4. Shred the lettuce. Cut the carrots and cucumber into matchsticks. Finely slice the spring onions. Slice the avocado thinly. Roughly chop the coriander and do the same to the peanuts.
5. Make the dressing by mixing the reserved chilli and garlic with the rest of the dressing ingredients.
6. Heat a pan and add a little coconut oil. Drain the tofu, reserving the marinade. Once the oil is hot, add the tofu to the pan and fry until browned on all sides, then add the peanut butter mixture and the reserved marinade, and toss together to coat. Take it off the heat.
7. Pile the drained noodles into the bowls and top with the vegetables, coriander, peanuts and roughly torn mint (or other herbs if you have them). Put the tofu and any marinade left in the pan on top and pour the dressing over. Each guest can mix up their own bowl.
MINI SQUASH AND CHIVE DUMPLINGS
These take time to put together: I enlist a couple of helpers for gyoza folding. The finished dumplings will be more than worth the effort. They can be made ahead and frozen if you like.
You can make gyoza pastry yourself, but I always buy it. You'll find packets of fresh or frozen in most Asian supermarkets (and they're available online).
If you are using frozen gyoza wrappers, make sure they are defrosted before you use them: it'll take 30 minutes. Cover them with a slightly damp piece of kitchen paper to stop them drying out.
Makes about 30 dumplings
- ½ red chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 3cm piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
- 2 spring onions, trimmed and chopped
- 200g white cabbage, roughly chopped
- 200g butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and roughly chopped
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- ½ tbsp soy sauce
- A small bunch of chives, chopped
- 30 gyoza wrappers
- Groundnut or vegetable oil
FOR THE DIPPING SAUCE
- 8 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
- 8 tbsp brown rice vinegar
- 4 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp chilli sauce
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1. To make the filling, put the chilli, garlic, ginger and spring onions in a food processor and blitz until finely chopped (or pound by hand if you like).
2. Add the cabbage and squash to the food processor bowl, along with the sesame oil and soy, and blitz again until you have a coarse paste (you can finely chop the cabbage and grate the squash if you don't have a food processor). Scrape the mixture into a bowl and mix in the chopped chives.
3. To assemble the dumplings, you'll need the filling, the gyoza wrappers, a bowl of cold water and a clean tray. Take one of the wrappers from the pile and put it in the palm of your hand: you will need to do this slowly and carefully. Keep the rest of the wrappers covered with damp kitchen paper to stop them from drying out. Spoon a heaped tablespoonful of the filling into the middle of the wrapper - don't be tempted to overfill or it will be hard to seal. Use your finger to dampen the edge of the wrapper with a little water. Fold the wrapper in half, pleat the edge and press down to seal completely. Keep going until you've used up all the filling. The dumplings can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer for a few months.
4. When you are ready to cook the dumplings, make your dipping sauce by whisking all the ingredients together in a small bowl.
5. Put a little oil in a nonstick frying pan big enough to hold at least 8 dumplings and put on a medium heat, remembering that you need to cook them in a single layer. As the pan starts to warm, put the dumplings in with their flat bottoms on the base. Fry them until they are golden underneath.
6. As soon as the bottoms are crisp, pour in hot water halfway up the side of the dumplings. Turn the heat up, bring the pan to the boil and cover with a lid. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 8 minutes.
7. When the dumplings are cooked, remove the lid and turn the heat up to high. The water should have almost evaporated. You now want to cook them for a final minute or so until the bottoms get nice and crisp. Serve warm with the dipping sauce.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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