We’re back with the second installment of our Entertaining Exchanges series. We are delighted to feature Louisa from Lucid Food. Check out her blog and her amazing cookbook! Also, as you’ll see below, she is an expert in Persian cuisine, so get excited for her book on Persian cuisine coming out early next year (2013).
Zokos: Think back to the most recent dinner party that you hosted or attended. What was the best part of it?
Louisa: The best part of my last dinner party was when my friend’s boyfriend went for round three on the food. I love it when people truly enjoy what I cook for them (although he had taken part in the five-borough bike tour that day, so maybe he was just really hungry).
Zokos: Explain how the most recent dinner party you threw was different than the first dinner party you ever threw. What has changed since you first started throwing dinner parties? Why?
Louisa: I have a few more serving dishes now, and I also know my limits. At my first party ever after I moved to NYC from Philly, we had about a dozen people over. By the time we got to dessert, there was barely anything left to eat with. Since there weren’t enough bowls to go around, we ended up passing around one big bowl of tofu chocolate pudding, and everyone took bites with their own spoon.
Zokos: What are the top two items – not ingredients- that you find yourself using over and over at your dinner parties?
Louisa: The Soda Stream — we like to make fancy water when people come over — and the ambient internet station Groove Salad. It’s like elevator music for young people who need to relax. I love it.
Zokos: Where is your favorite place to host a dinner party?
Louisa: Living in the city with no backyard, I’m a big fan of the picnic. On summer evenings when it’s warm enough outside to wear nothing but a t-shirt on top, I like to bring friends together at a park. Everyone brings their own plate, fork, glass, and napkin, and a dish or two to share. If we’re lucky, we find a picnic table to set up on, and that can fit about ten people. It’s such a good feeling to be outside breathing fresh air while you enjoy a meal with friends. There’s no big clean-up involved, and you get to taste lots of different creative dishes, you just have to make sure there’s enough for everyone. Be well behaved, and cops will even look the other way at your badly hidden wine bottles.
Zokos: You are writing a book about Persian food- what are a few words or ideas that sum up the Persian style of entertaining?
Louisa: A few rules:
Do not under any circumstances show up on time. That would be very un-Persian. It’s polite to be about an hour late for an invitation to a meal.
Leave your shoes at the door, it’s all about being casual and making yourself at home.
Prepare to eat a lot of food, all at once, in a couple of different rounds. There are no courses at a Persian meal, everything comes out at once and you just fill your plate with fragrant stew, rice, meat, yogurt, pickles, and tahdig: the crunchy, golden rice at the bottom of the pot that is the pièce de resistance of any Persian meal. After you inevitably overeat, you need to recover with a few glasses of black tea. After that, you’ll be ready for dessert. After more tea, you’ll be ready for another go at the food.
Don’t schedule anything else that day. A Persian meal, especially on a Sunday, goes all day long. Frankly, it’s unheard of to leave in under 6 hours. That’s because there’s a lot to do, between catching up with everyone, playing backgammon, chasing the kids, and eating, of course.
Zokos: Tell us about cooking for fifty plus people for Norooz! What made it so much fun?
Louisa: For Persians, Norooz (the New Year celebration that falls on the spring equinox), is connected to childhood memories, family, and the ancient traditions of Iran going back at least 2500 years. To talk about the customs of the holiday in front of this big group of New Yorkers — some Persian, but most not — and have people be interested and excited felt like a big hug, especially at a time when Iran is not exactly our best friend. It was also the first time in a long time that I’ve cooked a meal in a restaurant, and it was exhilarating to work with a team again, rocking out plates and courses under a time constraint and pulling it off (mostly) smoothly. Against all odds, we even managed to make perfect tahdig! Like at any good Persian meal, our guests rolled out the door, overstuffed according to the rules of hospitality.