I love to have company over for dinner, but, and this might surprise you, I don’t really like to cook for company, especially for large groups of people. I much prefer the idea of people coming together sharing great food – others made.
That’s why catering is very appealing to me. I have this fear that I’ll spend all my time in the kitchen and I won’t be a proper host. Being a proper host is something that has been ingrained in me since I was a little girl. My parents were diplomats and diplomats host parties – lots of parties – but, in my parent’s case, they had servants. No wonder I like the idea of having a party, and then food magically appears.
One very nice thing about my Eat Planet project is that I’m becoming fearless when it comes to cooking, even for large groups. However, dinner at my house has become a spectacle these days and maybe that, in itself, has taken the pressure off. When I invite people over for one of my ethnic meals no one has any big expectations, it’s all about the adventure.
Curanto is the traditional food of Chile. It’s the perfect thing to cook for large groups of people. But it’s a dish that one must cook outside, in a rather primitive form. It is prepared in a hole dug in the ground. If I had more guts – and a bigger yard – I might have tried it. But instead, I cooked pulmay, the indoor version. You buy massive amounts of food but the dish practically cooks itself.
The first thing I had to do was buy a very large pot, like the kind you see in soup kitchens. I then layered the pot first with vegetables, then sausage and chicken pieces, then clams, mussels, shrimp and scallops (if you have a really big pot throw in whole crab). I covered each layer with cabbage leaves and then poured a bottle of white wine over the top. The aroma of wine mixed with garlic, onions and seafood is heavenly.
When I invited guests over to help us eat the pulmay I had plenty of food and I was not trapped in the kitchen.
But if you’re interested in cooking a traditional curanto, here is what you do: You dig a hole, 1 foot deep, 5 feet wide (hopefully your neighbors won’t think you’re burying a dead body in your backyard). You then start a bonfire in the middle of the hole. Spread wood coals evenly on the bottom, then stones on top of the coals and then cover the stones with leaves. Rhubarb leaves are the best to use. Then put on the layers of food. Seafood (best to use shellfish) goes on the bottom, then meats and then the vegetables. Cover each layer with the rhubarb leaves. When all the food layers are down, cover it again with leaves and then lay down a thick cloth over the top of it all. Now shovel dirt on top of that. It will cook for one to two hours.
So, if you’re like me when having friends over, and you want to cook something interesting, but you don’t want to be a slave to the kitchen, try pulmay, and if you’re really brave, curanto.
2 green bell peppers
1/2 cup chopped parsley
4 onions, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
5 potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 head of cabbage, with leaves separated
1 1/2 lb pork loin, cubed
1 1/2 lb pork sausage, sliced
1 chicken cut into 8 pieces
10 sea scallops
10 large prawns
7 blue crab and soft shell crabs and any other seafood available
1 bottle of white wine
You will need a very large pot. Spread the peppers in the bottom of the pot, sprinkle with parsley and salt, follow with onions, garlic, and potatoes. Spread a layer of cabbage leaves and follow with pork loin, sausage, chicken pieces and salt. Spread a layer of cabbage leaves and follow with seafood and cover with cabbage leaves again. Pour wine over the layers. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 25 to 35 minutes until cabbage is tender. If needed add water.
In my experience the seafood may be done much sooner. We ate our pulmay in sections. I’m not sure this is how it is done, but it worked for us. Also, you’ll want to eat it with fresh bread so you can use the bread to soak up the wine and garlic juices.