One party down, many more to go. In a country with numerous festivals and an eating culture, you just know there’ll always be an occasion to make food for a crowd.
If you’re hosting the party on your own, planning is key. Among the guidelines any experienced party planner will offer is to stick to tried-and-true dishes and pick traditional crowd favourites so that your menu appeals to wide-ranging tastes.
That’s good advice. But there are imaginative cooks who find it boring to always make their signature dishes, and they will test-run a new recipe — way in advance, hopefully — if it appeals to them.
The recipes here are not unusual in terms of flavours — it’s their presentation that may deviate slightly from the familiar.
The fact that all these featured dishes are layered is no coincidence. Stacking food can be visually appealing — check out your Instagram feed to see evidence of this. And doesn’t food always look more substantial in layers?
HERBY RIBBON RICE
You can probably tell that this dish is based on nasi kerabu/ulam. Here, the rice is moulded in layers (or “ribbons”; while I can’t find a definitive provenance of the name, all online searches seem to point to India and Pakistan).
Since this recipe will serve many people, it may be advisable to mould it in two or three portions instead of doing it in one huge container.
Or ditch the mould and simply layer the components on a large platter. Toss them together like a salad before serving to get the full flavour of the dish.
Serve as a side dish with sambal belacan and a curry. Here, we’ve topped the ribbons with some flaked fried fish, which is one of the components of Nasi Kerabu Utara.
For vegetarians, a sweet and spicy tempeh will make a nice accompaniment.
3 cups long-grain rice, rinsed and drained
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 cup loosely packed butterfly pea flower (bunga telang)
2 cups grated fresh coconut
6 shallots, peeled
5-6 kaffir lime leaves, centre vein removed
2-3 large torch ginger buds (bunga kantan)
3-4 fat stalks lemon grass, white part only
4cm galangal, peeled
4cm ginger, peeled
4-5 bird’s eye chilli (cili padi)
sugar, salt and white pepper, to taste
juice of 4-5 limes
1/2 cup finely shredded mint
1/2 cup finely shredded fresh herbs (any type of ulam you like)
1 cup finely sliced snake bean or french bean
1 cup finely sliced four-angled bean
2-3 long red chillies, finely diced
Cook two cups rice in a rice cooker with one teaspoon of salt. Divide the rice into two and transfer each portion to a separate bowl.
Mix the turmeric powder with one tablespoon water into a paste. Stir this into one of the bowls of rice to colour it yellow.
Soak the bunga telang in 1/2 cup warm water for 10 minutes. Place the remaining one cup of uncooked rice into the rice cooker with 1/2 tsp salt.
Discard the bunga telang and pour the blue-pea coloured water into the rice cooker.
Top up with enough water to cook.
Roast the grated coconut, stirring frequently until brown and crisp.
Finely slice the shallots, kaffir lime leaves, bunga kantan and lemon grass.
Pound the galangal, ginger and cili padi into a paste. Add sugar, salt, pepper and lime juice to taste.
Divide this paste (hold some back) among the three bowls of rice and toss together well. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
Mould the rice: Use a lightweight bowl as a mould as this is easier to invert and get the rice out.
Arrange the components the way you like, pressing down each layer before the next one, with the herbs, vegetables and coconut between the rice.
Invert the bowl onto a large platter. Make sure each serving comes with all the layers for the full flavour of the dish.
TRICOLOUR KULFI LOAF
This ice cream requires no cooking or churning. It’s rich, yet it refreshes the palate like a much lighter frozen dessert.
250g berries (fresh or frozen)
a pinch of saffron threads
1 tin (390ml) sweetened condensed milk (not creamer)
1 tin (390ml) evaporated milk
400ml whipping cream
1 tbsp rice flour (optional)
120g almond meal
1 tsp rose water
seeds of 2-3 cardamom pods, crushed
Line a 20cm by 10cm loaf tin with cling film. Place in the freezer while you make the kulfi.
Set aside a third of the berries; mash the rest.
Place saffron threads in a small bowl and add 1 tablespoon warm water. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Combine condensed milk, evaporated milk and cream in a large measuring jug. Mix the rice flour, if using, with 1 tbsp water into a smooth paste. Stir into the milk mixture. Divide the mixture between three bowls.
In one bowl, add the almond meal and rose water to combine.
In another bowl, add the saffron water (including the threads) and cardamom to combine.
In the last bowl, add the mashed fruit. Stir well until evenly combined.
Place the saffron and berry mixtures in the fridge.
First layer: Pour the almond mixture into the prepared baking tin. Place in the freezer until almost set, about 40 minutes.
Second layer: Stir the saffron mixture to make sure it has not separated. Pour it over the almond layer. Place in the freezer until almost set, about 40 minutes.
Third layer: Scatter the whole berries over the second layer. Give the mashed berry mixture a stir and pour over the fruit. Wrap the top of the tin with cling film and freeze until completely set (at least four hours).
When ready to serve, invert the tin onto a plate and remove the loaf. If the kulfi does not slide out, cover the bottom of the tin with a hot cloth for a few seconds. Remove the cling film. Wipe a knife with a hot cloth and use it to slice the loaf.
To make kulfi bars, push a wooden ice cream stick into the bottom of a thick slice. Each bar will be quite large, though, so you may want to cut each slice in half to make two bars.
Return the kulfi to the freezer to firm up for 10 minutes before serving.
BIG BAKE BANGERS & MASH
A combination of a Big Breakfast and sausages and mashed potatoes re-imagined as a giant pie. After I finished making it, I wondered if I should have added a layer of baked beans. If you give that a try, let me know.
300g good quality sausages
1 large onion, sliced
1 tbsp English or Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
300g button or portobello mushrooms, thickly sliced
200g red capsicum, thickly sliced
60g all-purpose flour
100g cheese, coarsely grated
salt and pepper
oil for frying
Line the base and sides of a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.
Heat a little oil in a large frying pan. Add sausages and cook, turning them occasionally until golden brown. Remove from pan and cut into thick chunks or slices.
Add a little more oil to the pan and fry the onion until soft. Add the mustard and 2-3 tablespoons water. Stir together until mixture comes to the boil.
Return the sausage pieces to the pan and toss to coat with the mustard sauce. Set aside to cool.
In the same pan, cook the garlic, mushrooms and capsicum until tender, 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Boil the potatoes in salted water until soft, then mash until smooth. Stir in the egg and flour until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Spread mashed potato in the base of the prepared tin and halfway up the sides.
Spread sausage and onion on the bottom, then the mushrooms and capsicum. Cover the top of the tin with foil.
Preheat the oven at 180ºC. Bake the pie for 25-30 minutes, remove foil, sprinkle with cheese and bake a further 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted and golden.
STICKY CHICKEN PICNIC LOAF
The chicken is infused with an Asian flavour, and the rest of the ingredients and dressing complement it. But you can add other familiar sandwich ingredients, such as cheese and relish.
The worst kind of sandwich is a soggy one so don’t be tempted to spread too much sauce in the cavity of the loaf. One way to avoid this is by using day-old crusty bread, which will hold up against the fillings.
400g boneless chicken thighs, skinless
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 tbsp palm sugar
2-3 tbsp fish sauce
large pinch of chilli powder
1 tbsp dark soya sauce
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 5cm-long matchsticks
1 tbsp white sugar
2 tbsp canola or sunflower oil
11/2 tsp rice vinegar
1 garlic clove, crushed
salt and pepper
1 cucumber, thinly sliced
1 small head lettuce, leaves separated
1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 cup mayonnaise
2-3 tbsp Sriracha sauce or other hot chilli sauce
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut into quarters
2 medium-sized loaves crusty bread (see headnote)
Pound the chicken pieces with a meat mallet to flatten to about 0.5cm thick.
In a large bowl, combine garlic, palm sugar, fish sauce, chilli powder and dark soya sauce.
Stir until sugar dissolves. Add chicken pieces to the bowl and toss to coat well. Cover and set aside for 30-40 minutes.
Heat a large non-stick frying pan over medium high heat. Pour in 1 tablespoon of oil and swirl the pan around so the oil just coats the base. Add the chicken to the pan in one layer.
Press the chicken with a spatula so that the pieces are in constant contact with the base of the pan. Cook until the bottom is dark brown and slightly charred.
Turn down the heat and turn the chicken pieces over. Cook until completely done.
Transfer the chicken and the pan juices to a plate.
Rest for 15 minutes, then slice the chicken into thick pieces.
Assemble the picnic loaf: First, cut off the top of the loaf to create a lid. Hollow out the loaf to create a shell by scooping out the soft bread and leaving an edge of around 1.5cm.
To pickle the carrots, place the matchsticks in a bowl, add the sugar and 1 tsp salt. Toss together and set aside.
After 10 minutes, press out the liquid. The matchsticks will be tender but still crisp and you should be able to bend one without breaking it.
Mix together the oil, vinegar and the chicken resting juices.
Divide this dressing between the cucumber, lettuce and sweet onions, season with salt and pepper and toss each one separately.
To make the chilli-mayo sauce, combine the mayonnaise and Sriracha sauce.
Spread a thin layer over the base and sides of the hollowed out loaf and the bottom of the lid (serve the rest of the sauce on the side).
Begin layering the fillings starting with the sliced chicken, hard-boiled egg, carrot, cucumber, sweet onion and lettuce.
Repeat the layers until the loaf is full. Put the lid on. Do the same with the second loaf.
Wrap each loaf tightly with cling film and place in the fridge for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours.
Slice the loaves and serve.
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