Friday, August 6, 2010

Cooking for the Masses

A friend from Berlin sent me an email the other day asking if I had any tips for cooking for large numbers of people. He's making the food for a retreat for 30 or so people and is on a budget.

I love a good challenge so I put on my thinking cap to see if I could come up with some not so traditional ideas for how to feed 30 people in the woods in a non-traditional way. Given it's a fairly vegetarian heavy, non-traditional group.

Hamburgers und Wurst the usual go to foods for Summer BBQ were the first things to be stricken from my list. When you are cooking for a bunch of veggie-leaning, radical faeries in Wansee they just don't cut it. Also if you have more then 8 or so people grilling becomes a lot of smokey work and you need a damn big BBQ. Not to mention all the environmental questions that are raised by using toxic starters and all that charcoal.

So here's my idea: Indian Food.

It's inexpensive, easy to prepare, delicious and the perfect way to take advantage of all the bounty of the season.

A big pot of lentil stew can be made in advance and the left overs (if there are any) can be easily retooled several different ways.

Carrots, Potatoes, Kale, Tomatoes, Squash and Fresh Herbs are all at the market right now. Lentils come in many forms so feel free to go to a good Indian grocery store and pick out a selection and mix and match. One day you can make it without greens in it, the next you can add Kale or Spinach or Arugula. And just in case you need more than once recipe for Lentil stew, here's another.

You could even serve fried eggs on top of lentil stew for breakfast.

Spicy Chickpeas with tomatoes, ginger and Indian spices are a staple of every Indian restaurant, usually called Chana Bazi and served with puffed Poori bread. It's so easy to make and so delicious. Just remember that chickpeas if you buy them dried can take forever to reconstitute and cook so leave them to soak for at least 24 hours and then expect as much as 8 hours more on the stove top. Or better yet buy fresh beans like Cranberry Beans and make a more local and fresh version and not have to worry about all the bean soaking!

These stews are well suited to being made in advance. This means you have less to carry and once you get to the beach/country you don't have to spend all your time preparing food you can just reheat and enjoy!

It's probably cheating, but if you had a plug where you were going a rice cooker would be the one luxury to bring with you as a big bowl of Brown Basmati rice is the perfect base for all those lentils and cranberries. You might also want to buy some wonderful Indian breads like Paratha my favorite whole wheat Indian bread.

Cool cucumbers and yogurt are a perfect side to Indian Food - Raita recipes abound, but here is one of my favorites. I like to use lots of fresh mint and substitute Greek yogurt for the watery regular stuff - I love the thick richness it adds.

Lastly, no Indian feast is complete without chutney! I love Peach Chutney but feel free to swap out peaches and use plums, nectarines or apricots, whichever strikes your fancy. Here's me doing my best Martha Stewart impression from when I was in my video phase.

Cole Slaw is the perfect summer salad for so many reasons, it's got a nice crunch a wonderful balance of sweet and acidic and it keeps for days so you can reuse it. Also it's very forgiving, it doesn't need to just be cabbage and carrots, adds some green beans or kale! There are so many variations, but my favorite right now is this Asian Coleslaw with a ton of fresh ginger.

Pasta Salad, Potato Salad, are two traditional picnic items that really do deserve their place at the table. If you want to keep with the Indian theme it's easy to add turmeric and cumin to a potato salad to give it an Indian flare or you might want to just make your favorite grandmothers recipe to give all those in your group who might be looking for a break from Indian.

Corn on the cob, barely cooked green beans and simple smashed new red potatoes (skin on) with butter, also simple and easy crowd pleasers.

For dessert there is nothing better than Fresh Fruit, but if you feel the need to make a baked good the easiest and tastiest way to go is to make a Crumble. Use whatever selection of fruit is in season, apricots are great because they have that wonderful sourness to them. Crumble is another great way to use some of that Greek yogurt from the main course. A dollop on top and you've got yourself one tasty treat!

To save time buying a jar of lime pickle or mango chutney, which here in NYC come in huge jars and are pretty reasonably priced, is always a time saving option.

Just remember you don't want to spend your entire time away in the kitchen!

I hope these suggestions inspire you to rethink Summer cooking for large numbers and gives you some options that will allow you to break away from the hamburger and hot dog rut.

This is the logo for the event my friend is cooking for. Love it! Wish I could be there! Enjoy.

1 comment:

cocopierre said...

it is now early Sept and the "gathering" has come and gone and we indeed have some "indian" flava in the mix. Thank you for the recomendations.
My several proudest moments at the gathering were
1)make a HUGE vat of westindian rice(and beans) sucessfully without crushing/smashing the beans nor the rice. I'll need to retrace my steps and send my tips. a previous "helper" in the kitchen semi destroyed the an earlier batch (though he "seemed" confident as I delgated away responsibility)-it made the basis for a quick "Milchreis" reDo later that evening with sugar,honey,coconutmilk and wholemilk.
2)a HUGE amount of Seitan for a classic westindian recipe from haiti known as griot/ normally made as grillade of cubed pork (I announced a Seitan-making "workshop" the day before and thus had a good supply from my "students")
(more later)

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