Monday, October 04, 2010

Exotic Dinner Party

Had I made it past the first round of Project Food Blog, this would have been my third post:

When I read that the third challenge was to hold a "luxurious dinner party where guests would discover new tastes and exotic flavors," I was immediately struck by the word "exotic." My favorite cuisine, one that is still pretty exotic in the greater Baltimore area, is Thai food. I can't begin to tell you how much I love the intense flavors of lemongrass, kaffir lime, and chiles commingled with creamy coconut milk, the scent of fragrant, nutty, jasmine rice perfuming the air along with garlic and galangal, and the aromatic wonder that is red curry.

:::closing eyes and taking a deep, imaginary sniff::: Ahhh!

My favorite Thai restaurant closed a few years ago, leaving me heartbroken. Where was I going to get my fix of tom yum goong and Thai iced tea? While there are still a couple of pretty decent Thai places around, sometimes I find it easier to concoct something at home. And while I love authentic food, the inauthentic certainly has a place in my heart, too. Definitely in my kitchen. I thought it would be fun to have a party featuring not only Thai food, but also Thai flavors in dishes of other ethnic origins, to make them more accessible to my inexperienced friends. The Thai food virgins.

I was happily surprised to find that eight of the fourteen friends and family members I invited were eager to experience the flavors of Thailand. Counting Mr Minx and I, that would make ten diners.

And six dining-room chairs.

Rather than a sit-down dinner party, I thought it could be more fun to have a finger food buffet, that way, I could accommodate everyone, while making food prep a bit easier on myself.

The first thing I do in a situation like this - well, in any party situation - is to go through my cookbooks to get ideas for dishes. What authentic Thai dishes did I want to include? What other party food could be transformed with the flavors of lemongrass and Kaffir lime? How much coconut milk and red curry paste could I get away with using without making everything taste similar? What could be enjoyed cold or at room temperature? What dishes best fit the various dietary requirements and allergies that would be in attendance? And what do *I* really want to prepare that both shows off the ethnic flavors I wish to showcase...and my cooking talents?

And then I had it - the menu:

Thai red curry and Thai basil deviled eggs
Laab chicken salad wraps
Smoked Tofu lettuce wraps
Thai coconut gazpacho
Roasted eggplant with tofu and basil
Trio of Thai dips with crudités
Cucumber relish
Thai pork sliders (Tod mun mu)
Thai "babaganoush"
Jasmine rice salad
Coconut trifle

The whole spread.
One of my all-time favorite Thai dishes is tod mun pla, fried fish cakes studded with bits of green beans and seasoned with Kaffir lime. These little beauties are aromatic, crunchy, and fried - a triumverate of perfection. I always thought they would make terrific sliders. So I concocted a Minxian variation, substituting ground pork for ground fish. Served on mini potato rolls and topped with a traditional cucumber salad, these tod mun mu (mu being the Thai word for pork) were little bits of burger heaven.

A tod mun mu slider topped with cucumber relish and cilantro.
Another twist on Thai flavors is found in my coconut gazpacho. I whipped some of this up a few weeks back, when I had a surfeit of coconut milk on hand. The flavors are gorgeous, and a chilled but spicy soup is perfection on these still a bit too-warm early Autumn days.

Because Mr Minx isn't a fan of deviled eggs, I seldom get to eat them. But with seven egg-loving party guests (and one hater), I thought it would be a good occasion to break out my fancy deviled egg plate. (No good Southern girl should be without one, so I've been told!) I flavored half of the filling with Thai chilli basil paste (one of my all-time favorite condiments) and half with red curry paste. All were incredibly good, and I had to stop myself from eating most of them.

Yeah, they're not pretty. Almost every yolk was way off-center, which caused the
whites to tear when I removed them. And I didn't have a piping bag.
The egg-hater happens to be an eggplant lover, so I made a couple of dishes with her favorite vegetable. One was a fairly straightforward Thai stir-fry of roasted eggplant and tofu, and the other a Thai-ized babaganoush, with almond butter standing in for the tahini.

Can't have a dinner without dessert, right?  I contemplated making some of that decadent coconut custard that is usually served in tiny little two-tablespoon-sized bowls, but instead decided that a trifle would be just the thing.  I cheated a bit and used Bird's Custard, but mixed with two cans of coconut milk rather than cow's milk, and an Sarah Lee All Butter Pound Cake. Plus fresh pineapple and mango. It was a smash hit.

The verdict?

Everyone seemed to enjoy the food, and I received several requests for the recipes, which I'll be posting here in the near future. Two of the three dips were completely decimated, with the third being too spicy for most people. And people who didn't like coconut milk were eating...coconut milk.

Personally, I was very happy with the way just about everything turned out. The sliders were probably my favorite, followed by the gazpacho and the eggs (which made for a killer breakfast on Sunday).

If you liked this post (or even if you didn't), please leave a comment!


Unknown said...

A few years back, we tried to recreate the experience of going to the Food and Wine Festival and Disney's Epcot park. (If you've never been, they have over two dozen little food booths scattered around the park with food from all over the world.) So instead of concentrating on the flavors of one country, like you did, we hopped all over the world using a few recipes from the F&W Festival cookbook I bought the last time we were there (2005) along with other international foods. All were served in small-plate portions. It was fun!

Kristine said...

I would have flown to Baltimore for that spread. I love Thai. My favorite Thai place (what little we do have)closed as well.