January 6, 2010

arabian nights feast

I haven't really talked about this on O Pistachio before, but one of my favourite things about cooking is putting together sumptuous menus and spending days planning, shopping for and cooking them, only to watch my friends eat everything in a couple of hours. I'm less interested in perfectly curated three/six/ten course meals, though they can be fun (and I admire people who can pull them off); I'm more excited by tables laden with food that everyone can help themselves from.

The kind of food I love to make for this kind of event is a mix of things from countries like Morocco, Spain, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria and Iran - anywhere with an Arab influence in the national cuisine. I love the way this food manages to feel extravagant and healthy all at the same time (perfect new year food), and it looks so beautiful on the table sprinkled with herbs and pomegranate seeds. It caters for all tastes, too - most of it's vegan, but you can include one or two meat dishes. And most importantly, it tastes fantastic.

So, over the next few days, I'm going to post the menu of an Arabian Nights dinner party I held recently, including recipes for Moroccan carrots with cumin and coriander, Turkish lamb meatballs with mint and cinnamon, and chickpeas with yoghurt and pomegranate seeds. And I'm starting with my go-to couscous recipe from the queen of this kind of cooking, Claudia Roden.

from Claudia Roden, Arabesque

This is Claudia Roden's method for preparing the precooked couscous that's available in most supermarkets. It's nice to make in the dish you'll serve it in, complete with its broth, but I also like to pile couscous up on a platter and sprinkle it with coriander (cilantro) and toasted pine nuts or almonds. This amount should serve about 6 people.

You always need the same amount of salted water as couscous.

Put 2.5 cups couscous in an oven dish. Gradually add 2.5 cups warm salted water, made with 1/2 to 1 tsp salt, stirring vigorously so that the water is absorbed evenly. Leave it to swell for about 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F.

After the couscous has swelled, mix in 2 tablespoons oil and rub the couscous between your hands above the bowl to air it and break up any lumps. That's the important part.

Bake the couscous for 20 minutes, or until it is steaming hot. Before serving, work in 3 tablespoons of butter cut into small pieces, or 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil, and fluff it up again, breaking up any lumps.


The Wind Attack said...

Wow, sounds like my kind of feast! I also love doing big dinner parties. The planning is so much of the fun, and it feels great when everyone has enjoyed the results of your hard work.

bigBANG studio said...

Absolutely fabulous. Can't WAIT for the lamb. And ditto about the planning stage. You might get a kick out of this- my roommates and I used to host a Burns Supper in honor of Scotland's greatest poet, complete with vegetarian haggis and the reading of Robbie Burns poems throughout the evening. And lots of really good whiskey:



Anonymous said...

Oh man I'm about to cook literally something very very similar - a collection of dishes for 9 for my boyfriends birthday next weekend. This should be very useful!

Cooking with Michele said...

I love seeing menus like this and creating multi-course meals. I did ten courses for 16 people to ring in 2010 on New Year's Eve and it was a hit! I posted the menu and pics but am still working on posting all the recips.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I have been invited to an Arabian Nights dinner party on the 13th Feb and I have been asked to bring the wine. What wine do you think is a good idea and is authentic for this theme.

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