Saturday, September 11, 2010

Menu's for entertainment Part II of the series

We all entertain from time to time, some of us more than others. Many of us have the same guests coming over again and again, typically our closest friends/family. And while these are informal gatherings you still want to do something different, something exotic to make your guests feel special. Selecting individual dishes to prepare is easy but putting together an entire menu can be a tough job. Years ago my sister had given me a very useful tip: she said all your dishes need to "look" different. I use that as a basic filter when I am deciding on the recipes. Over the years I have also made a few combinations that go well together and repeat the entire meal for different set of guests with maybe a few minor tweaks here and there.

While putting down the entertainment menu there are a few basic guidelines that I follow:
  • Some dry and some gravy dishes( so if you are making a chicken curry do remember to make a daal/chole or malai kofta for the vegetarians).
  • Some dishes that can be made beforehand and taste as good the next day( the popular belief and I agree, is that non-vegetarian food tastes better the next day as it soaks in the flavor/masala). Sometimes you can make part of the dish earlier like if you making shepherd's pie make the basic mince earlier. You can assemble the dish shortly before the guests arrive. If using boiled potatoes in any of your dishes boil and cool them early. Ideally make your greens on the day of the party. Kheers made from scratch( not the quick milkmaid ones) take a while to prepare especially chawal kheer, so make it the evening before. Chilled kheer tastes yumm!
  • Some elaborate and some easy to prepare dishes. You don't want to be all tired and stressed by the time your guests arrive.
  • Some popular( tried and tested, you will rarely go wrong with choley, alu ki subzi, jeera pulao etc.) and some innovative ones(wine chicken, shepherd's pie). New recipes add to the excitement and help create a little drama around the meal. People are curious to know how you made it, a discussion follows where you explain the recipe in great detail. If the guest is a foodie like you she quickly notes it down and you can be sure she will try it shortly. I do that very often and so I am always on the prowl for new recipes.
  • Some heavy and some lighter dishes. So if it is a rice and mutton menu add lots of salad, curd/raita and maybe a basic bhaji.
  • The key ingredients across dishes should be different. If making dahi wada do not make a dahi chicken, try and make a palak chicken instead. That way each dish has a unique taste and the meal looks very appetizing( thanks sis for that really valuable tip).
  • If a menu has worked for you- guests were generally appreciative try and write it down in your little black book. Believe me you will not need to rack your brains the next time. But make sure you are replicating it for a different set of guests so write the names of the people you had invited alongside and keep updating this each time. Like today I had some friends over for lunch and the menu was: Traditional Pulao( with whole garam masala, cashew and raisins), paratha, mixed daal, stuffed parwal, vegetable navratan, alu matar, tomato chutney and bhapa doi. I thought the menu worked well and the next time I have vegetarian guests I will probably make the same in its entireity. Might add a dish or two.
The stuffed parwal is an interesting dish( my mother's recipe). I have never had parwal cooked this way in any other place. The story goes that we once had some unexpected guests and my mother did not have the time to make the regular stuffed parwal( where you painstakingly remove the seeds and stuff it with potatoes or masala or prawns or mince). So she did her own innovation. The guests loved it and since then it became a regular part of her entertainment menu. Off late I have added it to mine.

Mama's Parwal (No other name can capture the essence of this dish better)


Parwal: 8/10( about 2 per guest and a few extras)
Dhania powder: 1 tbsp
Jeera Powder: 1 tbsp
Chilli powder: 1 tsp
Salt: To taste, about 1 tsp
Haldi powder: 1 tsp
Amchoor: 1 tsp(optional)
Oil: 1 tbsp


Place the parwal horizontally on the chopping board and make half slits along the body(refer to the picture, important to get this step right).
Mix all the masala together and stuff the parwal with the same. Allow the parwals to stand for about 30 minutes. Drain out any excess water.
Heat a non-stick frying pan, add the oil. Shallow fry the parwal, covering from time to time till done.
The dish is crisp on the outside and tender inside. Goes well with a basic rice, daal menu.

It is a very quick way to transform an ordinary vegetable into something exotic.

Happy Entertaining!


  1. Hey, this is a very interesting and useful post. You definitely put in a lot of thought to entertaining. Would love to be a part of one of these dinners. I usually hope that the alcohol will fix things by the time people will reach the food :) Will share this link on Finely Chopped facebook page

  2. Thanks Knife. Do come over when you are in town next. Cheers!

  3. from experience...let me assure you Knife...that you are in for a feast...a treat! We had a sunday lunch at her place... amzinggggggggg!

  4. Aree.... this looks so exotic.......why did you have to leave chennai? my mouth is watering seeing all the recipies..... and dont miss the chocolate cake.... and ken i must say has got your genes as far as food is concerned...