Three easy pieces
Keep your dinner-party guests - and yourself - relaxed with casual dishes prepared in advance
Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee
My entertaining style tends to be quite casual: I either have dinner parties where everything is served family-style, or I set out platters of food - home-made sausages that have been cooked on the barbecue and other dishes prepared in the kitchen - for a buffet type of meal. These recipes work for either type of party because most of the work can be done in advance, and they taste good at room temperature.
Thai lemongrass chicken in pandan leaves (pictured)
The hardest thing about this recipe is figuring out how to wrap the chicken securely in the pandan leaves. To learn how to do it, I interrupted my normal YouTube viewing of kittens and penguins, and searched "wrapping chicken with pandan leaf" - the WokkingMum video is a great tutorial. Once you start, you'll realise it's not that difficult.
500 grams boneless chicken thighs
2 red bird's eye chillies
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, minced
3 lemongrass stalks
80ml Thai fish sauce
20 grams oyster sauce
20 grams palm sugar or soft brown sugar
20ml fresh lime juice
A pinch of ground white pepper
About 15 pandan leaves
Oil, for frying
Thai sweet chilli sauce mixed with some fish sauce and minced bird's eye chillies to taste
Cut the chicken thighs into large-ish chunks and put them into a bowl. Slit the chillies lengthwise and scrape out and discard the seeds, then finely chop the flesh. Cut off and discard the rough, dry parts from the lemongrass stalks, leaving only their juicy cores, then cut them into 2mm-thick rounds. Put the chilli, garlic, shallot and lemongrass into a mortar and pound to a rough paste, then mix in the fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, lime juice and pepper. Pour this mixture over the chicken and stir to combine thoroughly. Cover with cling-film and refrigerate for several hours, stirring occasionally.
Wrap the chicken in pandan leaves, following the instructions in the video, then trim off the ends of the leaves to create a "handle" about 5cm long.
Pour oil into a wok to the depth of about 8cm and heat to 180 degrees Celsius. Carefully put the pandan-wrapped chicken into the hot oil and deep fry for about five minutes, or until cooked through. Drain on paper towels, then serve with a bowl of the sauce.
Moroccan eggplant salad
I had the pleasure of meeting cookbook author Anissa Helou a few years ago when she visited Hong Kong - we ate masses of dim sum and talked almost non-stop about food. This salad is based on a recipe in her book, Mediterranean Street Food.
400 grams Chinese eggplants
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
90ml extra-virgin olive oil
800 grams canned Italian tomatoes, well drained then roughly chopped
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp paprika
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
About 25ml fresh lemon juice
15 grams fresh coriander, chopped
Fine sea salt
Peel the eggplants and cut them into chunks. Place the pieces on a heat-proof dish and scatter the garlic cloves on top. Steam the ingredients until they're very soft, then use a potato masher to roughly crush them to a paste that's still slightly chunky.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the tomatoes, cumin, paprika and red pepper flakes. Season with salt then cook over a medium flame, stirring often, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the eggplant/garlic mixture to the skillet, along with the lemon juice and chopped coriander. Stir in some salt then sim-mer for about 15 minutes, mixing often. Cool the mixture to room temperature, then taste for seasoning and adjust as needed - it might need more lemon juice and/or coriander. Serve with pita bread.
Curried lentils with roasted garlic, petits pois and yogurt
This is a dish I make often, using different types of lentils depending on what I have in my cupboard. Sometimes I use red lentils, which cook very quickly and are tender; other times I use Puy lentils, which take longer to cook and have a firmer texture.
10 large garlic cloves, unpeeled, divided
10ml olive oil
350 grams lentils
1 bay leaf
250 grams frozen petits pois
20ml aged balsamic vinegar
1-2 tsp curry powder, or to taste
10ml fresh lemon juice
20ml fresh orange juice
60ml extra-virgin olive oil
70 grams whole milk yogurt, preferably Greek labne
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Put eight of the unpeeled garlic cloves on a square of aluminium foil and drizzle with the olive oil. Loosely wrap the foil around the garlic and bake for about 45 minutes, or until it is very soft. When the cloves are cool enough to handle, strip away the papery skin then shred the garlic into small pieces.
Rinse the lentils then put them in a sauce-pan and cover with water by about 2cm. Add the bay leaf, two garlic cloves and a sprinkling of salt. Bring to the boil over a medium flame then lower the heat, cover the pan partially with the lid and simmer until the lentils are just tender. Add the petits pois and simmer for 30 seconds. Drain the ingredients but do not rinse them, then put them into a bowl. Discard the bay leaf and garlic.
Quickly whisk the balsamic vinegar with the curry powder, lemon and orange juices and the extra-virgin olive oil. Stir this mixture into the hot lentils and petits pois, seasoning them to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the roasted garlic then leave the ingredients until they're just warm, stirring occasionally. Gently stir in the yogurt, then serve warm or at room temperature.