Grazing Plates And Lazy Meals

Who doesn’t love a good platter? Cheese, fruit and meat platters in the West, the ubiquitous vegetarian and non-vegetarian platters in Indian restaurants on the home ground, the famous Lebanese mezze platters, the more exotic Ethiopian platter…there must be a version in almost every culture. A popular favourite for large groups at restaurants, platter meals have also become popular for dinner parties across the world. 

What is it that makes platter meals so appealing? Is it the conviviality that comes out of sharing a meal? Or the joy of having so much choice, and being able to nibble on a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, instead of being stuck with one dish for the whole meal? An easy way for hosts to organise a stress-free party, where everyone has something to eat, guests mingle and chat, as they pick stuff off the grazing plates, and the table looks sexy enough to ensure the party’s success? 

For me, it’s always represented a break from traditional meals. It’s also a chance to try out a bunch of different things, especially when I’m travelling. While we’ve had several cheese and meat platters on our trips, the one that I remember distinctly is the Lebanese platter we had one our last day in Paris in 2016, at Kaza Maza, a small restaurant near Gare de Montparnasse. It was in our budget, loaded with flavours, and perfect for that cold and rainy day. 

A cheese platter, with some fruits and nuts is one of my favourite accompaniments for a soirée arrosée. 

But platter meals aren’t just for restaurants and dinner parties. I love breaking away from  regular meals, and simply nibbling my way through the evening, while we read, or settle in for an evening of binge watching. 

Over the last few months, since the freedom of eating out was taken away from us, we’ve had to be more creative in the kitchen, and plan menus in a way that the ennui of constantly making three meals a day doesn’t kill us, before COVID does! But at the end of the week, after thinking of three meals a day from Monday to Friday, all I want to do is pour myself a glass of wine, put my feet up…and nibble! 

Our platter meals often comprise of several plates, which defeats the purpose of having just one large dish to wash, but we love putting together the various little dishes, from all that’s left in the kitchen at the end of the week. So, what goes into these meals ?

  • Cheese : gouda, cheddar, or edam.
  • Fruit : apples, grapes, figs, plums, or cherries
  • Cucumbers and carrots
  • Fritters, kebabs, or sausages
  • Chips, lavash, khakra or papads (to replace crackers)
  • Some kind of a dip or chutney

The meal above was an attempt to finish the odd bits and bowls in the fridge : some Baba Ghanoush (from the previous meal), a creamy mustard dip, some left over coriander chutney, and fritters, made with the lone sweet potato lying in my vegetable tray, and the cottage cheese I’d made with an extra packet of milk. 

Last weekend, we made Chef Thomas Zacharias’ Bihari Eggplant Chokha, put it in the mixer, and blended it into a lovely, smokey dip to go with sabudana papads, cucumber sticks and kebabs.

If you’re looking for a funky dip to jazz up your weekend, here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1 large aubergine 
  • 1 large or two small tomatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 5 (or more) cloves of garlic
  • Green chillies (optional)
  • A pinch of asafoetida
  • Coriander 
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil (I used regular sunflower oil)

Method:

Make tiny slits in the aubergine and insert at least 3 of garlic cloves into the slits, before roasting the aubergine on an open fire. When it’s nice and smokey, take it off the fire, and set it aside to cool. Meanwhile, repeat the process with the tomatoes. While they are cooling, finely chop the onions, the remaining garlic cloves and green chillies (if you’re using them). Heat the oil, and add the onions, garlic and chillies and saute quickly for 2 minutes before taking off the heat. Don’t forget to add the asafoetida powder to the onions! 

Peel the aubergine and tomatoes, and mash them lightly with a fork, or a potato masher. Put the mashed mix, onions & garlic, salt and some roughly chopped coriander and blend into a smooth paste.

Garnish with finely chopped coriander and serve at room temperature.

Bon appétit…et bon weekend ! 😊


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