Deepali Mukherjee starts off the year with some unusual appetisers...
It’s that time of the year when you wake up thinking, “Where’s the party tonight?” Some of these parties could well be in your own home. And as the hostess, it’s your responsibility to plan out the menu.
While the main course or even the dessert is never a problem, starters can give one anxious moments. What do you serve guests that not just tastes good but looks good too? What is easy to whip up without making too big a hole in the budget?
Cheese, I’ve discovered, is a popular appetite grabber. The French make crispy toasties from a batter of grated cheese, eggs, cream and cornflour, seasoned with salt and pepper. This is slathered on slices of brown bread, cut into four squares and fried a golden brown.
The Chinese use the same recipe, substituting the cheese for fresh shrimp and replacing the cream with diced onions. Yummy but loaded in calories!
I prefer the shrimp lightly sautéed, then whipped in a blender with an onion. Seasoned with a dash of paprika and a sprinkling of parsley, the shrimp paste can be spread over toasted bread squares or crackers. These crackling hors d’ oeuvres can be devoured without worrying about piling on the kilos.
Steamed cabbage rolls also find favour with weight watchers. Wash tender green cabbage leaves in boiling water, add a spoonful of filling made from soaked brown bread and egg, seasoned with salt, chaat masala, green chillies and finely chopped. Tie the leaves up into neat bundles with the edges sealed, steam till tender. Mmm with fresh mint chutney!
Another vegetable which inevitably turns up on a platter is corn-on-the-cob. I go for tender ears of corn which are halved and tossed in a little olive oil, then covered in thick, freshly squeezed coconut milk, seasoned with salt and pepper. After bringing it to a quick boil, the corn is simmered in this white gravy till done.
This is the season for carrots. Pick out a dozen.. ripe, juicy and slender. Cut into matchsticks, season with salt, pepper, a little sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Add a dot of butter and a scattering of mint leaves, grill for about 20 minutes for carrot sticks which are not just a rabbit’s delight.
You can work magic with mushrooms too. Wash and clean them, trim the stems and stuff the cups with a mixture of melted cheese, breadcrumbs, a drizzle of cooking wine and a seasoning of salt, pepper and oregano.
Add a squeeze of lemon juice, dot with butter, bake for about 15 minutes and wait for the compliments to flow.
Most appetisers come straight from a smoking kadai. Here’s one you may not have come across yet. Boil and mash potatoes, add ginger and green chilli paste, salt, finely chopped methi leaves and steamed sprouted wal.
Shape into small balls, coat with breadcrumbs and deep fry. Then, if anyone talks calories, point to the nutritional qualities of steamed, sprouted wal (pulses) and fenugreek leaves.
Cocktail sausages have found their place on the party circuit. You can give your pork or chicken sausages a distinctive taste by letting them simmer gently in a frying pan to which you’ve added two cups of water, one-third cup brown sugar and a tablespoon of vinegar.
This is used to glaze eight sausages which are then pricked with toothpicks and set out on a tray with a sprig of decorative herb.
Finally, we come to the kebabs, the kings who rule the world of appetisers. Ground meat spiced with grated onions, crushed garlic, powdered cumin, coriander and chillie, a pinch of ground cinnamon and ginger, salt, pepper, lemon juice and a little flour for binding.
This mixture is refrigerated for a couple of hours, moulded on the shish and grilled for about 15 minutes.
The meaty bites are an all-season favourite but if you’re tired of the same old shammi kebab, try orange lamb kebabs. They are unlike anything you’ve tasted before, the citrus flavour of fresh orange and the salty-sweetness of soy adding a bite to the lamb. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s rock the party tonight.