communal food

Communal Meal: Fresh Pasta

Inspired by a pasta-making class, a friend suggested that we hold a pasta cook-off. The ingredients were identical – flour and eggs. The combination of semolina flour and “00” flour gave the pasta both texture and lightness, while the eggs added density, color, and richness to the dough. We could agree on those basic components, but we differed in our processes. Our challenge lay with the implements used to mix the flour and eggs (fork versus fingers) and in the rolling and stretching of the kneaded dough (her KitchenAid versus my hand-cranked pasta machine).

There was flour on both sides of the kitchen counter, as we sieved and measured the night away! My friend used a fork to mix in the beaten eggs, whereas I used my fingers for a more old-fashioned approach. While we waited the 30 minutes necessary for the dough to rest, we cleared the kitchen, set the table, and drank wine. Then we rolled (rolling pin versus hand-stretching) and folded the dough before passing it through the KitchenAid or the hand-cranked machine. She trimmed the dough by hand into wide strips, while I got more uniform spaghetti-thin and wider strips from my cutting attachment. However, both of our pasta was uniformly delicious! We served the pasta with three different sauces that we’d previously made and brought to the cook-off, matching flavors with the differing widths of pasta. The widest pasta was reserved for the rich pork ragout, the medium-cut pasta with an eggplant and roasted pepper sauce, and the spaghetti-thin pasta worked well with the plain marinara sauce.

We ended up with the best of a potluck and communal meal at the end of the evening. Cooking together allows people of all ages and abilities to contribute to a meal, something to keep in mind for the holiday visitors soon to come! (If you need ideas, other favorites include cheese fondue, shabu shabu, and injera)

Pasta

“00” flour – 2 cups, sieved

Semolina flour – 2 cups, sieved

Eggs – 4, plus two yolks

  • Heap the two flours separately. Bring them together, forming a small well in the middle.
  • Break an egg into the middle, and using your fingers (or fork) start to form a mixture pulling in the two flours from the sides of the well to combine with the egg – until you get a runny consistency. Keep pulling the flour into the middle of the well and mixing and kneading as you go.
  • When the mixture loses its stickiness, break the next egg into the middle. Continue the process, until all the eggs and two yolks are incorporated into the dough.
  • Pull, stretch, and knead the dough, adding flour as needed. The dough is ready, when pulled apart there are no sticky bits in the middle. The dough should be just firm enough, such that an indented thumbprint would show.
  • Place the dough in a wet towel to prevent drying.
  • Set aside for at least ½ hour.
  • Sieve the excess flour and keep it aside, ready for dusting.
  • When the dough is ready, slice the dough into four equal parts.
  • Work with one portion at a time, while keeping the others covered in moist cloth.
  • Flatten the dough with your fingers. Feed the dough through the machine that is set on the lowest setting (1). The first pass lengthens the dough a little. Fold over the dough and pass through the setting at least 4-5 times, continuing to fold the dough both in half and along the edges. Dust with sieved flour to keep the dough from sticking to the counter.
  • Move up the setting to 3, and repeat at least three times, making sure you get a straight edge, working with aligning the dough. Continue, until you have an even sheet of stretched dough.
  • Move the setting to 5 or 6 and pass the now lengthened sheet through at least twice, dusting with flour as needed.
  • Cut the thin sheet into shapes, or use the cutter on the machine to make thin, medium-size or fat ribbons.
  • Repeat with other sections.
  • The cut pasta can be placed on parchment paper, until ready to cook. Alternatively, freeze the pasta to use within a month.

 

Serve with your favorite sauce. Tomato sauce.

 

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Seder Dinner: Communal Meal

During this Passover season, I was invited to share the Seder dinner at my neighbor’s table. The traditional Passover meal is grounded in history, and all of the food components have symbolic meanings. The Seder plate comprises foods that serve as stand-ins to retell the story about the journey from slavery to freedom. One plate around which people gather together has the all the makings of a communal meal, which happens to be my favorite blog theme (fondue, shabu shabu, injera, and raclette)!

As the dinner progresses from past to present, I wanted my contribution to honor traditions. As grain and flour are absent at a Passover meal, and eggs, orange, nuts signify new beginnings; I combined as many of the ritual foods to end on the sweetness of hope.

Orange Tart

(Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Lemon-Almond Tart)

Eggs – 4

Ground almonds – ½ cup

Sliced almonds – ½ cup

Cream – ½ cup

Sugar – ¾ cup

Oranges – 1 ½, juice and zest

Butter – 2 tbsp

Powdered sugar – for decoration

Kosher Salt – ¼ tsp

  • Heat the oven to 375ºF.
  • Process the almonds in a food processor to a fine flour-like texture.
  • Juice the oranges and zest the skin.
  • Beat the eggs in a bowl.
  • Add the almonds, cream, sugar and zest to the bowl. Mix well.
  • Add the orange juice and mix.
  • Melt the butter in an ovenproof skillet. When the butter has melted, add the egg-almond mixture. Cook until the sides of the egg mixture start to firm up.
  • Remove from the stove and transfer to the hot oven.
  • Cook for 10-12 minutes, until the mixture is lightly browned.
  • Remove and set it under the broiler for 30-40 seconds, for a caramelized brown.
  • Decorate with powdered sugar.

 

Happy Passover!

 

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Raclette Grill

I posted several communal food blogs over this past year, and all of the featured meals worked well when friends and family visited. As we all gathered around one pot, the kitchen buzzed with collaborative activity and commotion. Each person took charge of one aspect of assembling the necessary ingredients around the main event. It seemed appropriate to usher in the New Year with a communal meal, working with a familiar theme and a favorite ingredient – cheese.

My niece’s Christmas present, a raclette grill, inspired me to borrow a German New Year’s Eve tradition to usher in 2016. The raclette grill is a combination of a table-top hot plate and small spade-like pans called coupelles. Many more people can hover around a raclette grill than a fondue pot, while melting individual pans of cheese and interspersing them with fondue favorite accompaniments of boiled potatoes, green beans, and pickled onions. Fresh tomatoes and peppers were reintroduced, as they added color and contrasting texture. New additions, such as kielbasa, bratwurst sausages, and shrimp sizzled on the hotplate. Some of us scattered raclette cheese on the accompaniments to set under the grill, while others preferred to slide the melted cheese right off the coupelles on to the dinner plate. Whatever our choices, going into the New Year was remarkably easy.

Best wishes for festive and shared meals in the New Year!

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Chinese Hot Pot: Communal Food (Part 4)

It is enjoyable to have friends and family stay over for the Thanksgiving holidays. However, arranging other meals can get tiring after the frenzy of T-day cooking. Communal foods such as fondue, shabu shabu, and injera are stress-free options to feed visiting family. When friends introduced us to the Chinese hot pot last week, I realized that this is yet another communal meal that is easy to put together. There are no hard and fast rules on what to add to the broth or the type of ingredients required. Ingredients can be bought in advance, and the meal can be stretched depending on how many there are present. Your choice of hot pot ingredients becomes more diverse and interesting as more people join!

The Chinese hot pot is built around three soup bases: hot and spicy, white (fish stock), or a vegetarian option. The accompaniments can be ingredients from a regular supermarket such as mushrooms and cabbage or the more exotic lotus root, winter melon, and pre-cooked frozen fish egg balls and fish tofu from the Chinese supermarkets. Everyone can be involved with the meal — whether slicing meats and vegetables or preparing simple dipping sauces.

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For the Hot And Spicy Broth:

  • Boil a large pan filled water.
  • Add 2-3 bouillon cubes of fish, vegetable, or meat stock.
  • Add daikon (radish), mushrooms, garlic and ginger slivers to build up the broth flavors. Season with cinnamon, anise, and dried red chilies, and bring the broth to a boil.
  • Season with salt and pepper. Add a tablespoon of sesame oil.
  • Once thickened and flavorful, the broth is ready. Keep the broth simmering to dip the uncooked accompaniments.
  • Alternatively, follow the directions of a ready-made hot pot mix available from Chinese supermarkets.

Suggested Accompaniments:

Lettuce

Bok Choy

Chrysanthemum Leaves

Yam

Taro

Sirloin or Flank Beef

Lamb

Shrimp

White Fish Fillet

Sliced Squid

Tofu cubes

Slice all the chosen ingredients into thin strips or small chunks. Keep raw meats and fish on separate plates.

Dipping Sauce:

Mix together light soy sauce (2-3 tbsp), sesame oil (1 tsp), fresh ginger slices (3-4 slivers), and scallions (2, chopped). Season to taste.

When Ready to Serve:

  • Present everyone with plates, chopsticks, and a bowl of dipping sauce.
  • Place all the sliced accompaniments within easy access.
  • Keep the broth simmering: You can use an electric heating plate or have everyone gather around the stove.
  • Use slotted spoons, small strainers, or chopsticks to dip the uncooked ingredients into the broth.
  • Cook vegetables such as lotus root and taro (3-4 minutes), until soft; meat (1-2 minutes) until cooked through; and tofu and mushrooms (30 seconds), until just warm.

 

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Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and a restful weekend filled with communal meals!

 

 

Injera: Communal Meal (Part 3)

Blogging about communal meals (cheese fondue and shabu shabu) made me aware of the importance of the main cooking pot: The flavors developed here enhance the taste of the accompaniments. In Ethiopian cuisine, the central “pot” is injera bread, which is both the dish that holds the accompaniments as well as part of the meal itself. Breaking bread becomes a communal experience as pieces of injera are torn to scoop up the side dishes that are piled in small mounds on the bread platter.

Injera is made from an ancient gluten-free grain called teff. Teff flour batter is fermented overnight and gives injera its characteristic sour taste. The cooked pancake-shaped spongy bread balances, both literally and figuratively, an assortment of cooked vegetables, lentils, and meat. Side dishes range from lightly spiced to the richly spiced flavors aided by the spice blend, berbere (pronounced burr-burr-ee). Berbere gives the meat stew (wot) and red lentil sauce its rich red color and complexity. Depending on family or regional traditions, there are at least 8-10 different spices in the berbere blend.

Proper etiquette requires that you eat with your fingers, working your way from the edges of the injera toward the middle. This has a practical aspect since the soft spongy center soaks up the sauce from the stew by the end of the meal.

Doro Wot – Chicken Stew

Oil or niter kibeh (spiced clarified butter or ghee) – 4-5 tbsp

Onion – 2 large, chopped finely

Garlic cloves – 6, peeled and minced

Ginger – 2-inch peeled and minced

Chicken –1 lb, washed

Berbere powder – 2 tbsp

Tomatoes – 2, chopped

Salt – 1 tsp

Boiled eggs – 2 (optional)

  • Heat the oil in a pan.
  • Add the onions and cook on low for about 10 minutes, until cooked down
  • Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat. Process the cooked onions, garlic and ginger in a food processor, until it becomes a fine paste.
  • Add the paste back to the pan and continue with the cooking.
  • Add the berbere powder and sauté for one minute.
  • Add the tomatoes and incorporate into the mixture.
  • Add the chicken. Cover and cook on low for 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.
  • Add the boiled egg during the last five minutes of cooking, so that it will absorb the flavors.

Misir Wot – Red Lentil Stew

Oil or niter kibeh (spiced clarified butter or ghee) – 3-4 tbsp

Red lentils – 1 ½ cups, cleaned until water runs clear

Onion – 1 medium, chopped finely

Garlic cloves – 8, peeled and minced

Berbere powder – 1-1/2 tbsp

Tomatoes – 2, chopped

Salt – 1 tsp

  • Heat a pan with oil.
  • Add the onions and cook on low for about 10 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the berbere spice powder and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and cook them until incorporated with the contents in the pan.
  • Remove from heat and process them to a fine paste.
  • Add the paste back into the pan and bring the contents to a simmer.
  • Add the lentils to the paste. Mix well, and add  3 cups of water.
  • Cook on low heat, until lentils are soft, about 15-20 minutes. Add more liquid as needed, but the consistency of the lentil stew should be thick such that it can be scooped up with injera.

If you do not want to make all the accompaniments, make one meat or lentil dish with berbere spice and keep the rest of the accompaniments easy – such as a simple steamed greens or salad.

Suggested Accompaniments:

Red Lentil Stew

Ethiopian Green Salad

Marinated Beet and Potato Salad

Collard Greens

Steamed Kale

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Note: This time I used store-bought injera for convenience. I am planning to include a recipe as part of a series on fermented breads.

 

I was introduced to the three communal meals, the inspirations for the last few blog posts, by my friends (cheese fondue and shabu shabu) and relatives who had lived and worked in Ethiopia (injera). I would love to hear from you about your personal favorite communal meals.

Shabu Shabu: Communal Food (Part 2)

I seemed to have lucked out with friends who entertain at home, as I am able to enjoy a cultural and dining experience right in their kitchens! In my last blog, I recalled my Swiss friend’s cheese fondue. This week, I thought about my Japanese friend’s tabletop communal meal, Shabu shabu. Several years later as I replicate the dish, I replaced some of the red meat with more vegetable options that is just as delicious. Similar in style to cheese fondue meal, Shabu shabu has a central pot that uses hot broth instead of cheese. Shabu shabu is also surrounded by a variety of side dishes.

Shabu shabu broth is made easily with water that is flavored with dried seaweed (kombu) and fish (bonito) flakes or powder. I shopped at my local Japanese market for the more traditional accompaniments such as chrysanthemum leaves, nori and kombu seaweed, but most large supermarkets carry dried seaweed, tofu, and enoki and shiitake mushrooms. Instead of investing in a bottled version of the dipping sauce, ponzu, I made my own version with soy sauce, mirin, orange juice, lemon and chili flakes – ingredients that I had at home.

Communal meals can be cobbled together quickly and stretched if more people are going to share the meal. Shopping and preparation can be done ahead of time. There are no measurements involved, and the meal can be an impromptu dinner if you have some of basic ingredients such as cabbage, mushrooms, and carrots in the refrigerator.

For the Broth:

  • Bring 3 cups of water to boil, lower the heat and add ½ sheet of kombu
  • Let the water simmer and then add 1 ½ tsp the bonito powder. Simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • Strain the broth and discard the seaweed.
  • Keep the broth on slow simmer.
  • Add the vegetable such as carrots that take the longest to cook into the broth.
  • Bring the broth to the table and each person dips the meat into the broth.
  • Once the vegetables and meat are cooked to your desired level of crispness, remove them.
  • Serve with the dipping sauce and bowls of cooked rice.

Suggested Accompaniments:

  • Sirloin beef, sliced thinly and flattened further (press the sides of the knife on the thin slice of meat)
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Enoki mushrooms
  • Napa cabbage leaves
  • Cubed tofu
  • Strips of carrots
  • Chrysanthemum leaves
  • Cooked sticky rice
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Cheese Fondue: Communal Food (Part 1)

Many years ago, a casual remark to a new friend about my dislike of the taste of cheese prompted an immediate invitation to a cheese fondue dinner. A Swiss native, my friend simmered Raclette in the fondue pot, and paired it with trimmings of fresh and pickled vegetables, cubes of bread, and spiced meat. This memorable meal made me a cheese convert, and it also highlighted the potential of a fondue dinner as a collaborative meal.

When A. and N. wanted to taste some of the foods they had missed but saw written up in the blog, I thought about that fondue dinner. Fondue is a good example of a communal meal that showcases a variety of different textures and flavors. Pickled pearl onions and balsamic compound butter can be worked in as accompaniments alongside chunky bread pieces and bite-size sausages to scoop or dip into melted raclette cheese. There is plenty of room for innovation and collaboration when many hands are involved. Some of our new favorites included new potatoes brushed with cumin and coriander and crisp black radish drizzled with melted balsamic butter. These side dishes, along with firm red pickled onions, were a perfect textural contrast to the semi-firm cheese.

For the Fondue:

  • Heat 1 lb of Raclette or Gruyere in a ceramic fondue pot or in a pan.
  • When the cheese has a runny consistency, remove from heat and serve.
  • Continue to stir while warm.
  • Add more cheese as needed.

Suggested Accompaniments:

  • Grilled asparagus spears with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  • Strips of colorful bell peppers.
  • Green beans drizzled with melted balsamic compound butter.

The beauty of a communal meal lies in the variety of ideas that are presented on the table. I would love to hear about your traditions or thoughts on some of your favorite side dishes.

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