You step through the archway into a courtyard garden. Flowering trees shade the flagstone paths, and small fountains trickle and bubble here and there, filling the whole space with the soft sound of running water. At the center of the garden stands a circle of comfortable chairs, each with its own tiny table.
This is an informal meal, so there’s no ceremony and no concern about seating order. A buffet table stands to the side, and several guests have already served themselves. You move around the circle of chairs, pick up a bowl from the end of the buffet, and begin filling it.
A massive pot of stew holds pride of place on the table. It smells of coconut milk, curry, and other strong spices. As you ladle it into your bowl, you spot chunks of chicken, green melon rind, and tender bamboo shoot. Beside the stew pot stands a row of bowls, each holding a different type of vegetable so you can choose what to add to your curry. You heap eggplants, mushrooms, bitter-melon, and white radish into your bowl.
Claiming a second bowl, you pile it full of flatbread, plantain chips, and honeydew melon before returning to your seat. The host passes around a bottle of pineapple wine, and everyone fills their own glass. For a few minutes, everyone chats lightly while eating, but after a while the conversation breaks into small groups. At the far side of the ring of chairs, a few people move their chairs and tiny tables into a smaller circle so they can talk privately. The people to either side of you turn their chairs to face toward you so none of you have to turn sideways to converse.
When everyone has eaten their fill, the host steps inside and returns with a tray filled with dessert bowls. Everyone rises to take a bowl, and you return to your seat admiring the delicate confection. The bottom layer is pale, creamy pink, with a smaller layer of translucent pink on top, and several scaly lychee fruits sit to one side. You peel one of the lychee to reveal the pearly white flesh and nibble the fruit away from the seed, then scoop up a mouthful of the gelatinized dessert. The rich taste of coconut milk is balanced by a light peach flavor and the faintest hint of citrus.
The host ducks inside again and returns with a steaming pitcher this time. The evening is growing cool, and you gladly accept a mug of what turns out to be rich sweet chocolate. You lean back in your cushioned chair with a sigh of contentment, nibbling at the light jelly between sips of thick chocolate.
1 (15 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 cups coconut milk
1 1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 ½ teaspoons minced fresh ginger root
2-3 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tsp paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups melon rind, chopped
2 cups fresh bamboo shoot, chopped
2 pounds chicken, chopped
- Place a large pot on the stove at high heat and pour in tomatoes, milk, yogurt, and lemon juice. Stir well.
- When the liquid approaches a boil, reduce to medium heat and add onion, garlic, ginger, cilantro, and spices. Stir well. Simmer until onions turn translucent, stirring occasionally.
- While broth simmers, sear chicken in a pan. Add melon rind, bamboo shoot, and par-cooked chicken to the stew pot. Continue simmering until chicken is fully cooked and melon rind is softened. If the broth begins to thicken too much, add water and stir well.
2 Japanese eggplants
2-3 cups whole white mushrooms
6-8 inches daikon radish
salt and pepper to taste
- Cut the eggplants into small pieces. Slice the bitter-melons lengthwise and scoop out the pith with a spoon. Peel and chop the daikon radish.
- Cut the bitter-melons into small pieces and salt liberally. Allow to sit 5-10 minutes, then par-boil 2-4 minutes and drain.
- Prepare a small pan with about 2 tsp oil and 1/2 cup water. Add the par-boiled bitter-melons and season to taste with curry, salt, and pepper. Fry until the water has evaporated and the vegetables are softened and beginning to brown.
- Set aside the bitter-melon in a bowl. You may want to place the bowl in the oven on low heat to keep it warm. Prepare the pan the same way as before and fry the eggplants.
- Repeat this process with mushrooms and daikon, keeping each type of vegetable separate for the buffet-style meal.
4 cups flour
1 cup olive oil
2 tsp salt
1-2 cups water
- Mix flour, oil, salt, and 1 cup water. If the batter is too thick to pour, add more water a little at a time until it reaches the consistency of pancake batter. Optional: add herbs such as rosemary or oregano.
- Heat a griddle or pan and pour small flatbreads, about 1/2 cup of batter per round of bread.
- When the edges begin to bubble, flip and fry the other side. Serve with curry.
Coconut Peach Jelly
2 packages peach Jello
3 cups coconut milk
1 cup flavored water (citrus or tropical fruit)
- Bring 2 cups of coconut milk to a near boil. Do NOT allow to reach a full boil. Separate into 2 bowls, 1 cup of hot milk per bowl.
- Pour a Jello packet into each bowl and stir well until fully combined with no lumps.
- Mix 1 cup of cold coconut milk into one bowl and 1 cup of flavored water into the other.
- Pour each Jello mixture into a muffin tin and refrigerate until firm.
- In each serving bowl, place a piece of coconut milk jello on the bottom and a piece of flavored-water jello on the top. Serve with lychee fruit.
1 can coconut milk
1 can Cream of Coconut (sweetened condensed coconut milk)
1 cup almond milk
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2-3 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
- Pour coconut milk, cream of coconut, and almond milk into a small pot and stir together on medium heat. Do not allow to boil.
- Once the liquid is hot, add cocoa powder, vanilla, and cinnamon. Stir constantly until powder is fully dissolved. You may want to use a whisk, as cocoa powder tends to form lumps.
- Remove from heat and add chocolate chips. Continue stirring until chips are fully melted and incorporated.
- Pour or ladle into cups. Serves 5-6. Add more almond milk if the mixture is too rich or too thick.