We wanted to have a potluck dinner at the house as an informal and belated housewarming. During these late winter months, it’s almost impossible to motivate myself to go out once it gets dark, let alone go do something exotic. I was laughing to myself about how diverse my group of friends are, and how I could bring them all together to hang out. They run the gamut from plumbers to fish wholesalers to teachers to tech executives, WA farmers, Persian wine experts, and Singaporean tech guys. We all love our food. We are serious about food and chilling out. Then I actually got my inspiration from their different backgrounds: let’s just do something totally different and diverse, instead of the usual casserole and dip. I decided to have an Indonesian “rijstaffel,” a spread of 10-40 different dishes, foods most of us have never even tried. Different people, different foods, in a house no one had been to yet.
When I lived in DC, I used to love to go to a little Indonesian restaurant for rijstaffel. It was like a private buffet of the most exotic flavors at our table! Everything from curries to coconut soups to fried bananas. It was simple food but to me, such a luxury! I also sought out rijstaffel while traveling in the Dutch West Indies. “Rijstaffel” is a Dutch word after all (means "rice table"), brought to the West from their days of colonial dominion in Sumatra. Wherever the Dutch are, there is a rijstaffel joint somewhere nearby! They used these spreads of “small plates” to show off the diversity and bounty of their outposts in what is now Indonesia.
Rijstaffels feature an array of dishes that revolve around, obviously, rice, as the foundation. The presentation includes not only flavors and colors and degrees of spiciness but also textures, something you don’t usually see emphasized on Western menus. Textures include crispy, chewy, slippery, soft, hard, velvety, gelatinous, and runny. There are also pickles and condiments (sambal, peanut sauce, soy-based dipping sauces). I asked our guests to bring one Indonesian or SE Asian-inspired dish that fit into the aforementioned flavor and texture themes, and to bring a beverage (they brought everything from Thai iced tea to bourbon). We had about 30 guests and at least as many dishes on our dining room table! I made some Malaysian hot wings on the grill, and some grilled mango marinated in brown sugar and cayenne). A day later, the house is still full of the intense and wonderful fragrance of garlic, turmeric, coriander, cumin and ginger! Kids were of course welcome, and were quite proud of the things they learned about and made with their parents. What more could you want?
I could want leftovers. And I learned that I must throw potlucks that feature food I will want to nosh on all week. This morning, I had a dilectible brunch of iced coffee, spicy noodles, sweet and hot stew of boiled eggs, cucumber salad, and fried rice. With a nice spritz of lime on top to cool down the chili heat. Suddenly, I don’t feel like it was the dead of winter anymore.
It was a hit and I’m just going to go ahead and throw a foodway-themed potluck every quarter! Something that brings my diverse and fun gang of friends together to do what we love: eat, drink, talk, and learn. Next up: Persian New Year (“Nowruz”), where we will welcome spring together and try a slew of fantastic new (to us) and symbolic dishes that have inspired our Persian cousins for centuries.
1 lb mangoes, diced into large 1 to 2 inch cubes
½ c dark brown sugar
Cayenne pepper powder, to taste
Heat grill to 375F. Put the mangoes on skewers (I recommend metal ones because the wooden ones tend to disintegrate into flame). Cook each side until lightly charred. Serve alone or diced on top of coconut ice cream (the latter is a great decision).
Anne’s Malaysian-style Hot Wings
A guy from Singapore told me these were the closest to the wings he had on the street back at home, so I can’t complain! I cobbled the recipe together from a few I read online, because I didn’t have all of the ingredients for each one. Then a beautiful food thing happened! I also imagine you could make a great vegetable, fish or tofu marinade out of this. Tell me if you do and let me know how it was!
3 lbs chicken small wings and legs (or grillable protein of choice). Can also use whole bird or breasts, etc.
5 cloves garlic, crushed
2 shallots, chopped
1 tsp ground coriander and 1 tsp coriander seed
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp coconut oil or canola oil
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 inches chopped fresh ginger or 2 tsp powdered ginger
2-4 hot chilis (I used Sanaam and bird peppers) or 2 tbsp Thai chili paste
2 tsp sea salt
Put chicken in a nonreactive dish and set aside. Put all of the other ingredients in a blender and puree. Pour over the chicken and coat thoroughly. Marinate for a few hours in the fridge.
Heat your grill up to 375F. Place the chicken pieces directly on the grill or in a grill basket. Grill chicken until golden and cooked through, 15 mins or so on each side. (Target internal temp: 170F). These tend to flare up so keep moving the parts but do it carefully. I lost my arm hair cooking these!
Serve with lime wedges and jasmine rice. If you want a little extra heat, have some sambal or chili paste at the ready!