Cooking for Entertainment – Flavor Experiments

Indian food as so many undiscovered flavors and textures. Why do we seek them on foreign shores? Here’s a short piece that includes some food from the North East of India.

Last week’s subject was about setting up a table cluster and enjoying hours of fun around a table, without getting full too soon or spending too much time in the kitchen. This week, the subject is setting up a salad & sandwich bar and using different flavors when cooking for friends.

The salad and sandwich bar isn’t very different from a table cluster. We just arrange it differently and add some breads among other elements. You may want to have a good supply of bowls for example, in which guests can mix their own salad dressings. This means all the separate ingredients for salad dressings too will need to be on the table, the most basic of which are different types of oils, juices, seasoning and herbs among other components. Personally, I’d choose between the table cluster and a hot food buffet. The salad and sandwich bar has me running too many times to the kitchen for my liking.

Most cooks experiment with different types of cuisines these days. The bulk however, focus on foreign flavors. Khao Suey, Red Curry, Yellow Curry, Green Curry and Pastas seem to be quite in vogue. So fashionable in fact, that they’ve become boring! There are so many Indian flavors available that I wonder why we feel the need to overdo overused, foreign flavors. I’d be a little yielding if more of us stepped away from the beaten path and went beyond cliched dishes, which unfortunately is rare.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been fascinated by North East Indian food. I confess my exposure is lower than to food from other regions, but I’m a fan now! The cooking is simple, has divine flavors, is nutritious and is different enough to use as a food theme for a dinner party. Of course, I’m clubbing the cuisines of Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura here, and each one has it’s own distinct character. You could choose to mix and match with different dishes as they’ll go very well together for most part. The focus in most dishes is flavor rather than looks.

A simple yet varied menu would be Oying (Vegetable Stew, Arunachal Pradesh), Sana Thongba (Cottage Cheese cooked in milk, Manipur), Aloo Pitika (Spicy Mashed Potatoes, Assam), Wak Pura (Pork with Mustard Leaves, Meghalaya), Amerso (Chicken with Bamboo Shoot, Nagaland), Mosoden (Roasted Vegetables, Tripura) and Mai Kan (Fried Pumpkin, Mizoram). Add rice to the mix and you have a wonderfully unusual party menu, comprising dishes and flavors that most people this side of India wouldn’t have been fortunate enough to experience.

I may have ignored some cultural intricacies above, with respect to the order in which some dishes must be served. You’ll find most dishes can be cooked with five or less ingredients, mostly involve boiling as the primary method of cooking, do not involve complex procedures or preparation and can easily be prepared for a party of 15 or more people without a great deal of hassle.

What more could you ask for?