Summer Buffet Suggestions

The other Sunday, after a six-day working week, I was enjoying breakfast on the terrace with my beloved and looking forward to a lazy summer’s day with only minor bursts of activity, probably involving the fridge. My beloved, it seemed, had other ideas. ‘You know that bunch of eight Canadian cyclists who are over? Could we invite them to dinner tonight?’

Now I’d had plans, but ‘throw an impromptu dinner for ten people’ hadn’t been one of them. And these weren’t just any old guests, but a group of big-eating athletic types who’d spent the last eight days cycling over the Alps from Switzerland to the French Riviera.

As a keen fan of all grains, I usually have a well-stocked cupboard, and like to think I can always put a meal together with what I’ve got, so weirdly this didn’t throw me into the blind panic one might expect. I’m a big believer in buffet selections, and in keeping the meat grilled and relatively plain, while going to town on the vegetable and grain side-dishes. And in my opinion, the people who do veggies and grains the best are the Indians and Arabs.

Red Pepper & Bulgur Wheat Pilaf
Red Pepper & Bulgur Wheat Pilaf

I looked in the fridge to find four red peppers – which meant my red pepper and bulgur wheat pilaf was a goer. There were lots of potatoes, so a simple potato salad was do-able, and would satisfy those with less adventurous tastes. These days I’m losing interest in white rice, but still happen to have a storage jar full of the stuff, so I turned to lovely Nigel Slater’s 30 Minute Cook and his India-inspired Fragrant Rice. The joy of Indian food is that once you’ve stocked up on all the spices, you get an awful lot of flavour at really no additional expense. Suddenly that was three large portions of carbohydrates for very little trouble. I had three aubergines, two cucumbers and a load of carrots. That meant it was Madhur Jaffrey’s turn to spice things up. I decided on her very refreshing Yoghurt and Aubergines dish, her Spicy Cucumber Wedges and her Gujerati Carrot Salad – three old favourites, which are perfect for a hot summer evening.

I already had black and green olives, and just needed some salami to cut up as nibbles. Suddenly things were looking good – and at little additional expense. We made a dash to our Sunday morning supermarket and stocked up on meats, ice-cream and liquid refreshments, and it was party on down.

Madhur Jaffrey's Yoghurt with Aubergines

This is so easy it isn’t true. Peel and dice two aubergines, then steam them in boiling water for ten minutes. Once cool, whisk up a small pot of natural yoghurt and add a pinch of salt, a little black pepper, a pinch of cayenne pepper, a chopped-up spring onion and a tablespoon of chopped fresh mint. Stir in your cold aubergines and that’s it – a fantastically refreshing dish for a hot summer’s day.

Black mustard seeds add that extra oomph.
Black mustard seeds add that extra oomph.

Madhur Jaffrey's Gujerati Carrot Salad

Take a load of carrots and peel and grate them. Get a little oil nice and hot in a pan, and sprinkle in a tablespoon of black mustard seeds. After only a few seconds, pour the lot onto your carrots, add a sprinkling of salt and a little lemon juice. (I’d actually run out of lemon juice by then, so just grated some zest and put that in instead. It worked just fine.) A fresh and crunchy side-dish that has that extra zing!

Madhur Jaffrey's Spicy Cucumber Wedges

Blissfully easy, this.  Chop up two cucumbers into bite-sized chunks.  Just before serving, sprinkle on the following mix: ½ a teaspoon each of salt and cumin, a pinch of black pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper, plus the juice of a lemon.  It’s refreshing while having a certain kick.

Delicately spiced, this one's delicious.
Delicately spiced, this one's delicious.

Nigel Slater's Fragrant Rice

This portion was enough for the ten of us, including seconds.

Rinse 16oz (450g) long grain rice in a sieve under running water. In a large, deep pan heat a dollop of vegetable oil, and fry a couple of chopped shallots (or an onion) until golden. Add two sticks of cinnamon, two teaspoons of turmeric and two teaspoons of cardamom pods and fry for a couple of minutes, before adding the rice, four kaffir lime leaves and 24 fl oz (700ml) chicken (or vegetable) stock. Stir to mix, bring to the boil, turn down to low and cover the pan. Then leave it for fifteen minutes. As Nigel Slater puts it: do not stir, peep or fiddle.  After your fifteen minutes have elapsed, give it a stir. If it needs more liquid, by all means put some in.

But mine was perfect – thanks to the great Mr. Slater, I hasten to add, and not my culinary skills.

Potato Salad à la Tricheuse

This was a huge cheat which seemed to go down well.  I just boiled up a load of small waxy potatoes, skins on, then once they’d chilled, chopped them up and stirred in this wonderful French Dijon mayonnaise we get here.  Normally I hate mustard and am not wild about mayonnaise, either, but put them together like this and I love it.  I just added some chopped chives, parsley and spring onions and it got rave reviews.

My Tips for a Successful Summer Buffet:

  • People eat less than you think. Given a large choice, they tend to take a small spoonful of everything, so don’t worry about making tremendous amounts. (We lunched off the red pepper pilaf for several days afterwards).
  • One of the many joys of Indian and Arabic food is that once you’ve stocked up on the right spices, there’s really nothing you need to dash out and buy, so you get an exotic result without really going to that much trouble.
  • Keep the meat relatively plain and cut it into small pieces. Divide your chicken legs into drumsticks and thighs and you get twice as much – few people will take both immediately. Likewise try halving your steaks or chops – who really needs a huge slab of meat when there’s so much else going on? A few sausages and everyone gets three different pieces of meat. You really don’t need more.
  • Clean up as you go. (This could be a motto for life.)

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Comments 2 comments

Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 4 years ago from Jamaica

I am hungry! These all sound wonderful. Can I mix the mustard and and the regular mayonnaise for the potato salad?

Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 4 years ago from South of France Author

Hi Cardisa, I don't see why not, am sure that would work just fine. Enjoy!

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