Passport to Partying
Kick your summer get-together up a notch with a little international flair,
be it from Hawaii, Mexico, or Thailand
By Phyllis Segura â€¢ Photographs by Michael Nelson
One of summer’s happy pleasures is having friends over for a backyard barbecue. Why not spice things up this season by choosing a memorable theme to create an exotic “getaway” that you don’t have to leave home to enjoy. Set the mood with vibrant colors, and pay attention to the details: good food, drinks, music, dÃ©cor, and lighting. Dress the part, too. Do yourself a favor and choose recipes that don’t require hours in the kitchen. Better yet, ask your guests to bring a dish or two.
To inspire you, here are three party themes that should keep everyone smiling.
Thai-ing one on
For a thai-inspired party, obtain lots of long-stick or spiral incense to perfume the air (and keep pesky mosquitoes away). Decorate with wooden carvings and bamboo trays, bowls, and baskets. Find some masks — or make simple ones out of paper — to prop up in front of large votive candles. The rhythmic, percussive sounds of katak, monkey chants, and gamelan will soothe your spirits. If you have a gong, hang it on a tree or pole and it hit gently as each person arrives. Top the table with a centerpiece of bananas, coconuts and other whole fruits piled up high as an offering of edible art.
Design your feast-for-the-senses buffet to include the flavors of sweet, sour, salty, and hot. Offer an array of platters for a salad to be made on the spot: include grated carrots; sliced cucumbers; bean sprouts; peanuts; chopped scallions; Thai basil; young spinach; julienned red, green and yellow bell peppers; cilantro; and sesame seeds. Provide a dressing of scallions, chilies, fish sauce, brown sugar, vegetable oil, and lime juice. For a delectable dessert, try some grilled bananas with a dusting of cinnamon. Offer some whisked-together coconut milk and heavy cream on the side.
Thai-style Lettuce Wraps
Serves 6 or more
1 lb chicken breast, beef, or firm fish, cut in 1-inch cubes
2-3 Tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
1-2 Tbsp roasted sesame oil
1 can coconut milk
Juice of one lime
1⁄4 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
12 wooden skewers, soaked in water
1⁄2 cup hoisin sauce
1⁄2 cup peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
Juice of one lime
2-3 Tbsp water
1 head of Bibb or other lettuce, washed, drained,
leaves separated and dried
Garnish: dry roasted peanuts, cilantro leaves,
Tabasco, or other hot sauce
For the marinade: Blend or process together the oils, coconut milk, lime juice, salt, and cayenne. Put the meat or fish in a plastic bag (separate bags if using all three), pour in some marinade to cover, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. When ready to grill, take out and dry off by dabbing with a clean dish towel. Make the kebabs by threading chunks onto the soaked skewers. Place on the grill for about 3-4 minutes each side.
For the sauce: Mix together equal quantities of hoisin sauce and peanut butter, then stir in the lime juice and enough water to make a paste that is not too runny.
To serve: Pile the grilled kebabs on platters or stick the sharp ends around a grapefruit. Separate the lettuce into individual leaves. Pour the sauce into a bowl garnished with dry roasted peanuts and cilantro. Let your guests make their own wraps, or prepare individual packets to pass around on trays.
Lei of the land
Tempt the carved wooden gods of your choosing with a Hawaiian luau. Traditionally, these feasts are potluck and begin at sunset, so have plenty of votive candles and tiki torches on hand. Make a big pitcher of rum punch, then pour it into coconuts topped off with paper umbrellas. Put some ukulele music on the CD player, cover your tables with orchids and seashells, and aloha! — you’re off to the islands.
Grill marinated pork tenderloins and fresh fish rolled up in packets of grape, corn, or banana leaves (or aluminum foil, if you prefer). Ask friends to bring tropical fruits, whatever looks good at the market that day: melon, starfruit, kiwi, mango, papaya. Cut it up and arrange it on platters. Ask others to bring assorted fruit sorbets, hearts of palm and green salads, or a cold rice salad.
Lomi Lomi Salmon
Lomi Lomi means “massage” (as opposed to mixing or tossing), and is traditionally made with raw fish. This Hawaiian Salmon Salsa is adapted for simplicity.
1 lb Nova lox or smoked salmon, cubed
12 tomatoes, chopped
1 Vidalia or Maui onion, chopped
1 cup green onion, thinly sliced
1⁄4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 lime, juice and zest
2 Tbsp macadamia nut oil (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
Gently toss the ingredients together with your hands. Taste, and add more seasoning if you like. Keep well refrigerated until ready to serve. Serve in a decorative dish or scooped-out pineapple halves.
Hooray for olÃ©
Amexican theme can bring out your more seductive and flamboyant side. Hanging “red pepper” lights throughout the yard will help set the tone and allow you to party past twilight. Set out large pots of flowers and fill your pitcher with Mojitos or Margaritas topped with some cooling mint. Use music — mambo or salsa — to enhance the flavors of the food.
A super-sized bowl of fruit or heaps of red and green chili peppers in the center of the table will look enticing. Serve lots of cantina-style foods: guacamole, of course; popcorn with chili salt; bean and corn salad; corn and flour tortillas heated on the grill. Prepare plenty of red and green salsas, made from tomatillos or tomatoes; onion and garlic; cilantro, serrano or jalapeÃ±o chilies; and salt, all chopped together. Dollop these onto grilled beef, chicken, and vegetables.
Roasted Corn with Ancho Chili, Lime, and
For the corn: 6-12 ears fresh corn with husks
Pull the husks back, but leave them attached. Remove the silky threads, then pull the leaves back into position over the corn. Soak the cobs in cold water for an hour. Drain and place the corn on the grill for about 15 minutes, turning frequently.
For the butter:
8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter, salted or unsalted
1 Tbsp ancho chili powder, or to taste
1 garlic clove, mashed
2-3 tsp lime juice
Zest of 1 lime
Pinch of coarse salt (if using unsalted butter)
Mash all ingredients together until smooth. Put into plastic wrap and shape into a sausage-like package, one inch by five inches. For additional color and texture, add a couple of tablespoons of green salsa to the recipe. (This can be made up to three days in advance. Keep refrigerated or frozen until ready to serve.)
To serve: Remove hot corn from the grill and pile onto a large platter. Let each person turn back the husks to use as a handle. Cut slices of the flavored butter to smear on the corn. Leave a shaker of sea salt — and lots of napkins — on the table. ■