Challenging Dinners/Diners; Guests with Requests

This is another long one – some reflections of the past as they impact today …

I grew up in a home that always was interested in other cultures, other people. In the early 50s, my father spent several months working in Japan. When he returned home, many if not all the Japanese engineers that subsequently worked in his company came through our home with their families. Several life-long friendships followed. Other foreign students or colleagues also became like family. I also vaguely remember that our parents would host occasional international visitors.

When I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, I became active with the local international visitors group. I helped arrange professional appointments for a number of State Department-sponsored visitors. I others accompanied on area tours. I also hosted dinners in my home. Better yet, during my second year in Tulsa, I was asked to chair the annual fundraising event – a Night in Greece. I got to meet many members of the Greek community who made the party happen. It was a blast! The best event they’d ever had. Better yet, I met my husband (Constant Companion) that evening!

Upon moving here, I again found the International Visitors group. They drew me into teaching a workshop for visiting museum professionals (see June 16 post). And we continue to open our home to host visitors for hospitality.

I learned from my mom to keep dinners simple, you never know what people’s tastes may be. On the other hand, I also try to tailor my menus tastes based on where our guests come from. Frequently we’re asked to host guests from Muslim countries. Their food restrictions allow them to eat kosher food. I don’t keep a kosher home, but it’s easy for me to get and prepare what is necessary. Constant Companion lived in North Africa and the Middle East and we enjoy the cultures of these areas.

Long introduction to a challenging assignment. Our group was young Indian filmmakers visiting US cities to learn about film as a medium for social change. The challenge started with India, probably a vegetarian meal – no problem; we often enjoy meatless meals. Then more; one guest requested no eggs (it turns out he follows Jain traditions), another requested “no carbohydrates.” This was the real challenge. Out came the cookbooks. Here’s what I had fun coming up with:

Note: When our guests arrived, Ms No Carbs apologetically explained that in the first two weeks stateside she’d been bombarded with pizza and needed a break! The request was not the result of dieting or religion!

Vegetable-stuffed eggplants;

Quinoa-stuffed peppers;

Chickpeas (garbanzos), kale, and leeks;

Salads – fennel and celery salad; cucumber and cilantro salad;

Desserts – orange-almond cake; and egg-free, gluten-free almond cake.

1 – Vegetable-stuffed eggplants. A combination of Turkish imam bayldi (the imam fainted) and Greek papoutsakia (shoes), maybe I’ll call it “the imam’s shoes.” Many recipes and varieties are found on-line; I usually combine the pieces I like best!

Cut the eggplants in half and cut out some of the flesh. Cut off strips of peel. Place in a large roasting pan and salt the interiors. Finely chop the interior flesh along with peppers, tomatoes, onion, and garlic. I also included one yellow summer squash. Sauté with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Fill the eggplants with the cooked vegetables. Add 1-2 inches of water to the pan. Bake in a pre-heated oven (375°F) for at least one hour (you can also cook covered on stove).

2 – Quinoa-stuffed peppers. This recipe came from The Middle-Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook. Cook the quinoa first. Tip: I have learned that if you rinse the quinoa first, the finished product is fluffy and soft. While it’s cooking, sauté chopped onions and chopped yellow pepper for a few minutes, add one can of drained chickpeas (garbanzos) and drained corn (I added this because I had it in the pantry). Salt and pepper to taste.

Claudia Roden is also the best.

Next make the sauce – in a frying pan, sauté chopped onion in olive oil, add one can of tomato paste. Add 3 cups of boiling water and cook for about 10 minutes at a rolling boil. Add a teaspoon of the following – allspice, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, fenugreek, and ground ginger. Taste and add a little sugar if it’s bitter.

Photo thanks to guest

Pour the sauce into a baking pan. Place cleaned pepper halves (I used three large red and one medium green) into the baking pan, add the cooked vegetables. Bake for 30-35 minutes in a 375°F oven.

Chickpeas, kale, and leeks. This recipe is for chard, potatoes, and chickpeas. Let yourself go and work with what’s in the fridge! Chop and clean the leeks, then sauté in olive oil. Next, add one can of drained chickpeas, follow with ½ tsp paprika and ¼ tsp cumin (you can also add ¼ tsp cayenne) to the pan. Mix well so everything is well covered by the spices. Add the chopped kale slowly, continuing to add as it cooks down. You’ll be surprised how a huge bag cooks down. I also added a box of thawed frozen spinach (again, I had it).

Salads. I thought I’d already shared the fennel/celery salad, but can’t find it in previous posts. Thinly slice about 4-5 long stalks of celery. Also slice a head of fennel. Mix one tablespoon of lemon juice with one tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Dress the vegetables. It’s done.

A very fresh salad.

Cucumber salad, use the smaller Persian cucumbers, cut in half lengthwise and julienne into thin slices. Add chopped handfuls of cilantro and three chopped scallions. Dress with 1 of tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 2 tsp of sesame oil, and salt to taste. Note: this is a really tasty salad; I think it did not go with the dinner.

Desserts – Orange-almond cake and Egg-free, gluten-free almond cake. I have a niggling memory of sharing the amazing orange-almond cake on the blog already, but I cannot find it. So here we go … and I’ll direct you to the internet link – https://jewishfoodexperience.com/recipes/blender-orange-almond-cake/. I made this first for the book club and everyone enjoyed. This time, I think because the oranges were so large, and their peel might have been a bit bitter; I recommend you blend the microwaved oranges first and taste to determine the level of bitterness. Add some sugar if needed. This is a nice, somewhat moist cake, yummy topped with crème fraiche.

I found the Egg-free, gluten-free almond cake with the help of our friend, Google. Lots of recipes appear, buy some actually include eggs or ingredients I don’t care for! Searching for the link again did not yield anything, so here’s the recipe (and I made additions, as my creativity moves me):

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease an 8×8 glass baking pan (I use Pam).

Mix ½ cup of unsweetened applesauce with 2 tbsp hot water for 2 minutes.

Add 1/3 cup of honey and 1 tsp of vanilla and beat.

In a separate bowl, whisk together 2 cups of almond flour (Aldi has a great price), 1 tsp baking powder, and ¼ tsp salt.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet and beat until incorporated, make sure everything on the bottom is mixed in. I added a bunch of poppy seeds (again, I had them) and grated lemon peel.

Bake at for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

Cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes.

I made a glaze of lemon juice mixed with confectioners sugar to top the rather thin and lonely looking cake.

What else can I say? Our company thoroughly enjoyed. Constant Companion and Daughter enjoyed. Me? The food was good, I also enjoyed the challenge. What’s next?

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