Christmas comes, and with it the exhaustive selection of ideas for festive entertaining in every food and lifestyle magazine. But between getting the Christmas shopping done, seeing everyone you know and all those pub-snug drinks, there’s a lot of non-negotiable events to cram into a fairly tight three or four weekends, meaning not much time for anything, let alone lengthy party prep and fiddly canapé filling.
But there’s no need to run yourself ragged in the kitchen if you’re entertaining this December. First of all, don’t plan your event for dinnertime – many people will be secretly trying to squeeze an extra event into their evening, and they may not make it to yours at all if you plan it for 7pm. [That said, consider it the ultimate compliment if they decide to spend the ‘8pm onwards’ part of the night at your festive bash.]
Next, no one really expects proper plates of food at this time of year – everyone will have had a big lunch, or something in a pub, or a rake of mince pies and mulled wine by the time they make it to your do. That said, everyone does expect nibbles, and nibbles galore, so that’s what you need to provide.
If you’re expecting a crowd, it’s easiest to stick to a loose theme of three or four favourite dips (see below); a bread of some sort (warm is best – either make a couple of batches of No Knead bread or set out some good sourdough with a bread board and toaster for people to warm their own); some crunchy raw veg; and then two or three random choices – ie, some very good cheeses and chutney; cocktail sausages; a cold ham, or some smoked salmon – to give the (not incorrect) impression of a real spread.
On the subject of those dips, make big helpings of just a few classic crowd-pleasers, like smoked salmon pâté, baba ganoush and that great party staple houmous. If you’re going to be making quite large quantities I’d recommend giving Yotam Ottolenghi’s method from Jerusalem a go, as it’s handy to make and always gives excellent results. Indeed, with its beautiful, creamy, tahini-laden taste and texture, it’s everything that that reduced fat budget tub of houmous you might have bought on the way home isn’t.
What’s so nice about Ottolenghi’s houmous is that it’s essentially a blank canvas for whatever flavours and colours you want to put on it, which, along with the usual slick of olive oil, could mean vibrant pomegranate seeds, chopped pistachio nuts, toasted sesame seed, fresh thyme, or spice roasted chickpeas, making it far and away the most festive dip out there.
This version involves cooking the chickpeas beforehand, but as long as you remember to soak them in cold water the night before, it’s really no biggie.
1&1/4 cups dried chickpeas
1tsp baking soda
2/3 cup light tahini
Juice of half a lemon
4 garlic cloves
4tbsp olive oil
6.5tbsp cold water
Soak the chickpeas in a big bowl of cold water and leave overnight. Drain, combine with the baking soda and cook over a high heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 6 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil. Cook at a simmer, skimming off any foam and any skins that float to the surface, for about 30 minutes, or until tender, breaking easily when pressed between your thumb and finger. Drain them again, and blitz in a blender or with an immersion stick. With the machine still running, add the tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic and 1& 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Add half the olive oil and the cold water. If you want a looser texture, add the rest of the olive oil and whip gently. Spread the hummus onto a couple of lunch plates, leaving a pool in the middle. Cover them with whatever additions you like, along with a generous swig of olive oil in the centre. Serve with the warm bread and crunchy veg.
…AND SOME MORE DIPS
Finally, if it’s BYOB, make up a big batch cocktail that’ll give everyone at least a welcome drink, if not two. It’ll take just a few minutes to make, and, seeing as it’s Christmas, you’ll be glad you made the outlay.