Hawaiian Dinner Party

I love themed parties! In fact, I always try to create a theme around any dinner party I host. It helps me keep the menu together, try new recipes and make things interesting for my attendees. In the past, I have organized a game night, pool party, grill day, just tapas, wine and cheese, TV show finales, Moroccan, Mexican, Indian, Italian and much more. But this was my first time hosting a Hawaiian dinner party.

With the help of my friend Sonia Viteri, we decided on a menu for 15 people who were part of the group, Dinner with a Passport, a once a month dinner adventure meet up founded in Atlanta. We had less than 24 hours to plan, shop, prepare and host! With a few emails, phone calls, and shopping trips, we settled on a easy and light menu that would beat the heat of the summer (in Hotlanta) while representing the fresh ingredients used in Hawaiian cuisine. We found most of the recipes on the internet and adopted some of them as we went along.

The best thing about this menu is not much prep work is required. Only a couple of hours of marinating and chopping is sufficient. Everything is cooked and assembled just before serving. Good option for a last minute party thrower!

We greeted our guests with lei’s and offered Mai Tai’s and wine for drinks. The first course was a coconut fried shrimp. We used beer batter and unsweetened dry coconut (toasted in the oven) and deep fried the shrimp as guests started to arrive. Sonia whipped up a sauce with mashed pineapples, chillies and mustard to serve with the shrimp.

For the second course, we prepared three different kinds of salads. The tropical fruit salad was mixed cut fruits served in the shell of a watermelon. There were kiwis, watermelons, pineapples and papayas (pretty much all the fruit we had left over from making other dishes).

The papaya cucumber salad with a spicy dressing was a huge hit. Cilantro, ginger, sugar and red chili paste worked their magic on each other to create this flavorful dressing that made the fruits jump up and down with excitement. Papaya pairs well with spicy, tangy sauces in case you never tried it before. We served the salad over a bed of fresh lettuce leaves.

Next was a crunchy watermelon salad with cabbage, fried noodles and green onions. The black sesame seeds and chopped mint leaves added a lot of color to this already colorful meal. It was refreshing with the right balance of sweetness and crunchiness.

For the main course, there was Huli Huli Chicken, grilled drumsticks marinated in pineapples, white wine, soy sauce and ginger. We marinated the chicken for 2 hours and then kept basting it with the marinade while cooking so its nicely caramelized. The chicken was sweet, tender and juicy after being on the grill for 30 minutes.

It was paired with a short grain jasmine rice cooked with coconut water and sesame seeds. The rice was served in frozen pineapple shells. It’s sole purpose was to remind you of the tropics, so we named it Tropical Rice. There were also Hawaiian rolls for those who preferred bread.

Dessert was a simple Hawaiian banana fritters. Small variety of bananas (lady finger) were cut in half and fried with butter and brown sugar. We made a sauce from rum, water and dark sugar and drizzled it over the bananas and vanilla ice cream. If you plan to make this, make sure the bananas are fully rips, else they won’t taste sweet.

 

 

 

Green Papaya Salad

(serves 4-6)

A Thai inspired dish that is common at many restaurants. This is my version of a simple, easy to make, yet flavorful salad that can be had as a side accompanying meats, fish or rice.

1 small green papaya, unripe

3-4 cloves garlic

1 green chili

1 ½ tablespoon sugar

1 lime, juiced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

½ cup peanuts, roasted

Peel the papaya with a vegetable peeler and grate into fine shreds. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside. In a food processor, puree the green chili and garlic. Add to the shredded papaya. Mix in the sugar and lime juice until evenly distributed. Finally, add the tomatoes and peanuts. Toss gently. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

The salad can stay fresh for several hours and does well as left-over for the next day too.

Asian dinner party

I have hosted a good number of dinner parties over the years, ranging in many themes from Moroccan, tapas, global pizza to Hawaiian and game night. This past weekend, I decided to have an Asian inspired dinner party. Each couple brought a dish and I prepared a few things to round out our four-course meal.

We started with a cold Sake since it was a warm evening. It was something I had picked up on my last visit to Hong Kong, a light refreshing drink. The first course was Chicken Chow Fun, which is normally had as a main course. It is fresh thick noodles cooked with chicken and vegetables in a spicy black bean sauce.

The second course was a bok choy salad and a green papaya salad. If you have never tasted green papaya before (as I had not until now), I strong encourage you to try it.  You must buy a green unripe papaya for this recipe (which I have shared with you).

For the main course, I bought whole tilapias (cleaned) and marinated them with a seasoning of olive oil, cilantro and garlic. I let the fishes absorb the flavors in the refrigerator for couple of hours, before wrapping them in banana leaves and grilling them on an outdoor grill. The banana leaves do two things for the fish. They retain the moisture and juices of the fish and give it a steamy affect without burning the meat. Secondly, they release fragrance to the fish allowing for an extra dimension in flavor. I served each person their own whole fish wrapped in banana leaves along with orange infused sticky rice. We took part in communal fish wrapping which made the party even more fun and my guests actually learned something new.

Banana leaves are available at Asian farmer’s markets for about $2-3 per bundle. The bundle I purchased was more than enough for 8 fishes, plus I had a lot left over that I later used as table mats. The key to grilling banana leaves is that you first need to prep them. Either microwave each leaf on high for 1 minute or grill it on an open fire on both sides. The leaves will contract and becoming more flexible for folding.

Our dessert consisted of a coconut gelato with pineapples that were soaked in rum and gently grilled. We wanted to stay with a Asian theme and incorporated all the fruits from the tropics.