Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Progressive dinner in Dubai

I don't quite remember which TV show put this idea in my head, but the concept of organizing a progressive dinner has been marinating therein for almost a year. Basically, it is a potluck spread across locations, with everyone a guest and everyone a host.

It turned out to be a challenge to organize, as people who can cook and live not too far away are scarce; after about two weeks of negotiations and rescheduling, I managed to rope in three partners. Kathryn Pepper, Phil Apaza, Annko Thari and I would contribute a course each towards our very first progressive dinner.

Kathryn took on the soup course, and, given my residential proximity, I volunteered to do the salad. Annko decided on dessert, which left the main course in Phil's capable hands. That much-anticipated evening, Phil and Annko rendezvoused at my place, from where we walked over to Kathryn's.

Our gracious host poured us cups of lovely hot ginger tea while we marveled at her wall of rural photographs and watched her kittens play.

She set a dining table with butter and freshly-baked homemade bread. It had a springy texture and brown color reminiscent of that seen on shelves of country bakeries, with sunflower seeds adding a rich nuttiness.

When time came for the course to begin, Kathryn poured us each bowls full of freshly-prepared celery and blue cheese soup.

The soup had a lovely creaminess to it, with the alkaline mouthfeel of celery complemented perfectly by the sharpness of the cheese.

After a hearty soup course, we walked over to mine for the salad course. I chose to make a beetroot and sweet potato salad. starting by peeling half a kilo each of medium beetroot and orange sweet potato, and cutting them into 2cm blocks.

After tossing the beet and tater blocks (separately) in garlic-infused olive oil, I laid them out on (again, separate) baking trays and popped each into the oven for about half an hour, until they had lovely caramelized edges.

Meanwhile I took about a cup of raw couscous, adding boiling water and breaking it into grains. Once it cooled, I threw on a half cup of roasted pine nuts, and tossed them together in a large salad bowl, after which I washed and threw in a couple of handfuls of rocket and baby spinach.

I prepared the dressing by mixing honey, lemon juice, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and crushed black pepper. All these were whisked together and served on the side.

The root vegetables, greens, couscous and pine nuts, made for a great combination of textures and flavors, enhanced by the sweet and tangy dressing.

I will most likely be making this again, as it was very easy to prepare and very tasty to consume.

After playtime with my own kittens, we taxied over to Phil's for the main. Phil offered us some freshly-prepared lemon iced tea to sip on while he put some salmon on the grill and prepared the vegetables and rice. In the meantime, we had a lovely view of SZR below and a moon rising over JLT to survey.

Despite my concerns about the amount of time the salmon spent in the pan, Phil was on top of things; the salmon fillets were cooked to perfection, with Phil's special sauce caramelized wonderfully on the outside.

We enjoyed a delicious - and carefully garnished - main course of the salmon, served with stir-fried rice and vegetables, along with fresh creamy spinach.

We ended the journey with dessert at the high-rise residence of Annko, who had prepared an Italian dessert.

And so we cleaned out cups of panna cotta topped with a strawberry layer, as we took in the breathtaking night view of the Palm Jumeirah and the coast hundreds of feet  below.

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