Party starters

Published: Dec 17, 2011, 09:38 IST | Ritu Dalmia |

In the mood to throw a soiree? Up your social ante with these restaurant-style finger foods, courtesy celebrity chef, cookery show host, writer and restaurateur Ritu Dalmia

In the mood to throw a soiree? Up your social ante with these restaurant-style finger foods, courtesy celebrity chef, cookery show host, writer and restaurateur Ritu Dalmia

Cold Vietnamese spring rolls

I first tasted Goi Cuon in a restaurant called Wok Wok on Fulham Road, in London. Later, when I travelled to Vietnam, it became my staple snack right through the trip. Miles and miles of rice paper were drying in the sun on the roadside. My companion saw it as a part of the culture, while I saw it as my next snack. It is all about perception, after all. I think I tried every possible combination in the ten days I was there - Goi Cuon with crispy pork belly, cold glass noodles, basil, shrimps... I just could not get enough of it!

In a way this simple starter represents everything Vietnamese cuisine stands for: it is refreshing, more tropical and fragrant than Chinese food, and lighter and more delicate in its flavours than Thai cuisine. Here is the recipe for the wonderful dish for you to experiment with. The quantities mentioned are for four rolls.

15 gm dry fine glass noodle
4 sheets Vietnamese rice paper, sprinkled with water
40 gm lettuce or any green leaf
1/2 cucumber, seeds removed, cut into matchsticks
1/2 carrot, cut into matchsticks
A handful of mint leaves
A handful of sweet basil leaves
20 gm bean sprouts
1 tbsp peanuts, crushed
Soy sauce as dip
Hoisin sauce as dip
Thai sweet chilli sauce as dip

> Soak glass noodles in cold water for 20 minutes, then place in boiling water and cook for 5 minutes. Rinse under cold water, drain and set aside.
Place a sheet of rice paper on a plate. Brush it with some warm water to make it soft.
> Arrange lettuce, cucumber, carrot, mint leaves, basil leaves, bean sprouts and glass noodles on the rice paper, along the edge closest to you. Sprinkle some crushed peanuts.
> Pick up the two corners closest to you and roll away from you to form a neat parcel.
> Basically, you will roll it like you roll a spring roll.
> When you have finished making all four parcels, brush the rolls again with a bit of water. Rice paper dries up very quickly, and you'll want it moist, not chewy. The extra brushing just does the trick.
> Serve on a platter with generous helpings of hoisin sauce, soy sauce and Thai sweet chilli sauce. You could also serve it with a basic dipping sauce.
> For your non-vegetarian guests, you can add blanched prawns to the vegetable-and-peanut filling.

Watermelon and Feta Cheese Skewers
This is a version of a classic Greek salad, and the recipe is so simple that I am embarrassed to even call it a recipe! But it is always a super-hit when I make it for large cocktail parties as a revolving snack or serve it with aperitifs before a dinner.

200 gm watermelon, seeds removed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes 200 gm feta cheese or mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes a handful of basil leaves a splash of extra virgin olive oil Rock salt or sea salt to season

> Stick one cube of watermelon, one cube of cheese and a few basil leaves onto a toothpick.
> If you are using a satay stick, repeat it twice, so that you have two full sets per stick.
> Drizzle with olive oil, season with coarse salt and store in the fridge till you are ready to eat them.

If you are using a satay stick, this canape will be better suited for the buffet table.

Chicken balls with tamarind glaze
If you ask me where exactly I ate this dish first I cannot tell you because, honestly, I cannot remember. However, it has become a favourite in my restaurants over the years and has evolved into a really tasty and innovative dish. I just love the way the tartness of the tamarind combines with the gentle soothing aroma of sesame oil to make it fabulous comfort food -- but with a special zing to it.

If you are serving it as revolving finger food, make the size of the chicken dumplings small, as in a mouthful; if it is going on the table then the dumplings could be slightly larger so they can be cut into and used to mop up the glaze before your guests take a bite.

The dumplings
50 gm coriander leaves, chopped
20 gm garlic, finely chopped
300 gm boneless chicken breast, minced
1 tsp Thai green curry paste (optional)
1 egg, beaten
a pinch of cornflour
Soy sauce to season
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

The sauce
50 gm sesame oil or olive oil
100 gm spring onion, sliced
30 gm garlic, sliced
200 gm pak choi
100 gm Chinese celery, chopped
Soy sauce to season
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
50 gm tamarind paste
20 gm sesame seed

The dumplings
> Mix together all the ingredients for the dumplings.
> Form little balls with your hands.
> Steam or boil them for 3 to 5 minutes, until cooked. The dumplings should be firm and become white in colour. It is better for them to be undercooked than overcooked, since they will cook again in the sauce.

The sauce
> Heat oil in a wok over a high flame. Add the chopped spring onions, garlic and the rest of the vegetables and cook on high heat for one minute.
> Season with soy sauce and pepper. Soy sauce is salty, so do not add salt until you have tasted it.
> Add the tamarind paste and a little water. This will give it a good consistency.
> Mix well for a minute or so. Add the cooked chicken dumplings and toss them for a minute in the sauce so that they absorb all the flavours.
> Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve. If you want to add some colour to the dish, garnish it with chopped spring onions.

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