This is the first of an occasional series of offbeat, yet simple, recipes for your dining pleasure. It is written by offbeat, yet decidedly not simple, food and drink aficionado  Zahid Makhdoom, a bon vivant with a social conscience who lives in Vancouver.

 

An evening of camaraderie: some humble suggestions

Chef Zahid: "When a need is felt to see or to hug a friend or a loved one, we must bribe them with our thoughtfulness, with food being the most palatable expression of thought."

Inviting friends and loved ones to engage in a protracted evening of sharing is to me as inspirational as reading a fine couplet from Rumi or visualizing Omar Khayyam in a state of delirium pouring a glass of wine.

The mere smell of the ones we crave to have around us is magical. Truth must be told, when a need is felt to see or to hug a friend or a loved one, we must bribe them with our thoughtfulness, with food being the most palatable expression of thought.

It’s logical to infer that when a friend accepts an invitation, they do so, notwithstanding the myriad other opportunities for a fun evening, purely on the grounds that they desire your nearness and fellowship as well. I always get surprised when visitors tend to observe the strange yet thoughtful custom of bringing along some sort of “host gift”; they do not seem to realize there is no better present than the proximity of their being and the accessibility to their wisdom.

Humanity tends to follow celestial signs, such as the sighting of the moon or a star, to herald a coming event. A simple human like myself who has yet to fully appreciate and discover and love what’s around me, seeking celestial signs is far down the list. In my books, arrival of beloved friends heralds the beginning of festivities. For I consider organizing a soiree at my home as a labour of love in pursuit of togetherness.

Hence, assembling few canapés won’t do. We need an evening of togetherness to prolong slowly to get etched in your memories.

So here are the two startup items. In subsequent instalments, I shall recommend two, maybe three, main courses and a couple of desserts. If live in an apartment like I do with kitchen part of your living space, you may consider preparing the first starter in the presence of your friends.

The only prep is to wash and cut pear into thin lateral slices; other items listed below handily available. After getting hugs from your generous friends and supplying them with the drink of your choice, you can present them with an assortment of nibblies such as a variety of olives, cheeses, cold cuts, smoked salmon, dried fruits, etc. that you have already prepared.

Now you are set to start working on Starter #1.

 Zahid’s Almost Decadent Baked Brie

PROVISIONS

  • Double Cream Brie: One round (preferably triple cream if you are an adventurous person with clean arteries; size depending upon the number of people being served)
  • Pear: one (if you choose a larger size of Brie, a couple of pears wouldn’t hurt).
  • Walnut halves : Half a cup (depending on the size of the Brie round).
  • Brown sugar: Half a cup.
  • Mango juice or Orange juice: One cup
  • Grapeseed oil: One tablespoon
  • Cinnamon powder: One teaspoon.
  • Liqueur such as Cointreau or Triple Sec: Half an ounce (for a larger version try an ounce)
  • Nice old rum like Pyrat or Havana Club seven years old – Two to four ounces
  • A loaf of baguette or walnut bread.

PREPARATION

1. Put on some music. Since the dominant theme of this soiree is South Asian fusion, you may try some musical fusion gems such as Ragas and Sagas, a musical collaboration between the tenor saxophone great Jan Garbarek and Ustad Fateh Ali Khan, or collaborations between Shujaat Hussain Khan & Kayhan Kalhour, Ry Cooder and VM Bhatt, Taj Mahal & VM Bhatt, or some material from Yo-Yo Ma’s remarkable work on his Silk Route Music project, or music from Shakti (John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain et.al). If South Indian music is not your thing, try non-intrusive smooth jazz such as Miles Davis, Gato Barbieri, Cassandra Wilson or Dianna Krall. If you like Western classical composers, try Bach’s French Suites preferably the one played by Andrass Schiff or the great Glen Gould,. Since I have learned to stream music from my computer into my amp, I always make up a playlist for the evening inspired by the personalities and musical choices of my friends coming over, well that’s the reason I have sometimes included the somewhat intrusive, but hugely pleasant, tracks from the likes of The Who, The Cure, Pink Floyd or even Eminem, Snoop Dogg or Black Eyed Peas.

2. In a ceramic dish slightly larger than the Brie round (for a smaller Brie round of 125g you may find a ceramic ramiken dish useful) spread about a teaspoonful of brown sugar, unwrap Brie and place it in the dish. Take a few walnuts and shove them into the Brie, wiggling these slightly to make room for some brown sugar: use about a teaspoon of it now to spread over cheese. Leave the dish in your fridge until you are ready to bake.

3. Pour yourself a couple of ounces of rum, take a small sip marvel at its taste, appreciate the fact that your friends so incredibly beautiful, and then get to work (you may become error-prone if you drink all of it at once; a wee sip will suffice for now). Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

4. In a fair-sized heavy stainless steel frying pan or a wok mix juice, oil, cinnamon, walnuts and pear slices. Cook it over the medium heat reducing the liquid substantially then pour brown sugar to caramelize walnuts and pears. Time for another wee sip.

5. When the liquid in the pear concoction is half way reduced, place the brie dish in the preheated oven.

6. Place your previously prepared Brie concoction in the oven, on the middle rack. Set bake timer to 10-14 minutes, depending upon the size. Do not let it become too watery.

7. At the time you put Brie in for baking, cover half of the baguette or walnut bread in an aluminum foil and stick it in the oven so that the bread is warm by the time your appetizer is done.

8. Nicely arrange the caramelized concoction over baked Brie, topping it with half an ounce of Cointreau or Triple Sec. Finish your rum and serve! You are tipsy, not intoxicated, so I am sure you won’t forget toasty baguette or walnut bread.

9. Serving Suggestion: Use a small serving spoon to scoop the stuff onto a quarter plate or directly on to the baguette/bread. Be nice and slice it, serving each friend; if your hands shake as mine do let your guests cut a piece of bread to their likeness. Hot bread is fun to slice but have a clean cloth napkin to hold bread in place.

Starter No. 2 should be prepared the night before and warmed up shortly before your friends arrive.

Zahid’s Stinky Nuts

A probable challenge for the olfactory senses but tasty on your palette, to warm up and raise deliciously the temperature at your soirees.

Let’s get started. You need something to facilitate your pursuit since you are working on this the night before your soiree. So first prepare a couple of glasses of Sindtini (affectionately pronounced Sintini). I have named this helpful item after my place of birth – Sind or Sindh or, as some Orientalists would call it, Scinde.

Sindtini from scratch

  • Four ounces of good cognac (brandy if you have spent all your money on books or music).
  • Two ounces of Cointreau (Triple Sec for the reasons enumerated above if you are using brandy).
  • One ounce seven-year-old pale Cuban rum (three-year-old or even still-born for the reasons above)
  • Two fresh lemons
  • One teaspoon of sugar (Splenda if you’re a diabetic like me)

Process

  • Obtain some long stringy zests from the lemons. In my usual lazy manner I wash lemons thoroughly, dry them with a clean cloth or paper towel and use a potato peeler to peel the top layer of skin. Sometimes I just set them aside, sometimes I let them soak in Cointreau and other times, when I am feeling somewhat alert, I caramelize them lightly with sugar (sadly Splenda doesn’t caramelize properly).
  • Squeeze lemons and mix these with all other ingredients. I pour all ingredients into an empty whisky bottle with a good cork lid and shake it vigorously.
  • Transfer a third of the ingredients into a martini shaker with lots of ice and shake it vigorously. Strain the beverage onto a chilled martini glass. Place the remainder in your freezer; you will need it real soon.

You are now ready to roast nuts  – and you guessed it right: really stinky nuts that may be served as an appetizer with cocktails at your soirees. I recommend serving these nuts with Pyrat Rum or whisky with distinctive spice such as Glenrothes 1994 (try finding the one distilled in 1994 and bottled 2006 or later), or Glenlivet 18 years old or, if you don’t want to spend lots of money, 10-year-old Glenmorangie will do just fine.

Once the room temperature gets too high, put on some Chet Baker to cool things off.

And now . . .  ZAHID’S STINKY NUTS

INGREDIENTS

  • Raw cashew nuts: Two cups. (I usually buy these from Persian grocery stores where one is likely to find organic and very fresh cashews).
  • Raw almonds: Two cups whole, unblanched variety.
  • Grapeseed oil: Two tablespoons (or more if you like really oily stuff).

STINKY STUFF (aka SPICES)

  • Allspice: Six pods.
  • Aniseed: Two teaspoons.
  • Black pepper: One teaspoon.
  • Cumin: Half teaspoon.
  • Dried red chili: One, or just half.
  • Green cardamom: Seeds from eight pods.
  • Nutmeg: Pinch.
  • Salt: One-half to one teaspoon (depending on your health needs)
  • Whole coriander: Two teaspoons.

PROCESS

Take a swig from your Sindtini, breathe, reflect upon how beautiful all your friends are family are. Take another swig. You are now ready to tackle the pressing pursuit of changing but not cracking the nuts.

Combine all spices and grind them to medium coarse state. Pour oil into a large, deep stainless steel frying pan or a wok. Heat it up at medium heat (the idea is to heat, not scald or burn.

Add ground spices and roast for about a minute. Add cashews and constantly keep turning and scraping them from the bottom of your pan for three to four minutes or until the cashews get a faint golden hue. Add almonds and continue to turn and scrap them, ensuring they are roasted only lightly and not charred or scalded. (I appreciate that working simultaneously on your Sintinis is challenging when you are busy scraping and turning nuts but, I’m sure you’ll develop the skill of performing these disparate but highly rewarding tasks).

Testimonials

“Great nuts, Zahid” — T.A. a great European scholar and author.

“Zahid, I love your nuts” — C.G. a Dutch art critic.