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Help me with my Saturday lunch menu?

I'm hosting a couple of friends for lunch on Saturday, and for some reason, my culinary brain seems to have atrophied. I seem incapable of guessing whether my plans will go together well or not. Any suggestions and feedback for the lunch would be greatly appreciated, especially in the areas I've put question marks.

There will be four adults eating, with the following constraints:

- no alcohol including for cooking
- no meat, only fish (including stock, gelatin, etc. Arranging good quality halal is too much hassle)
- one guest is pregnant
- rubbish electric stove, and not much time to prepare in the morning

I want to avoid hummus and the more usual Mediterranean/ Levantine mezze, as our guests lived for many years in London's little Lebanon and I am unlikely to be able to compete. Three of the four are of Pakistani origin, so I intend to both avoid Pakistani/ Indian food, while sticking to strong, bright flavours.

At present, this is what I'm thinking:

Starter: ??? [I'm strongly tempted by roasted mushrooms in garlic butter, with crusty bread, but maybe this doesn't fit the meal as a whole. I do love mushrooms, though]

Main: crispy skinned white fish on my favourite pomegranate and walnut salsa mixed with feta and smoky aubergine puree
and ??? [grilled asparagus, perhaps? Or have this as a starter? Or spinach and butter beans?]
and perhaps served on a herby ricotta hotcake??? [would this be a textural or flavour disaster?]
with green salad

Dessert: individual banoffee pies with tea

So.... what do fellow Chowhounds think? Any suggestions would be most welcome indeed.

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  1. You're not atrophied! Your culinary muscle is flexing just fine!
    Since you're going pesce, I think it would be lovely to start with a bagna cauda served with crudite.

    1 Reply
    1. re: monavano

      That's an interesting idea, monavano! I'd not thought of bagna cauda, but of course it would be both easy and delicious. I'm a little worried what the pregnant lady might think of anchovies, though. I'll mull...

    2. I think this all sounds lovely, tavegyl. The only thing I might do differently is to serve the ricotta cake with the bread as a starter (the mushrooms would go nicely with, as a dual starter). I do baked ricotta in individual cups, and eat it with bread quite happily.

      And this: "crispy skinned white fish on my favourite pomegranate and walnut salsa mixed with feta and smoky aubergine puree" sounds incredible.

      3 Replies
      1. re: onceadaylily

        Thanks, onceadaylily -- the pomegranate and walnut salsa is this beauty by Ottolenghi. I make it with feta and charred aubergine instead of halloumi and chicory.

        http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyl...

        Interesting idea, about baking the ricotta. Does it become gooey, like a baked brie? I was thinking something like an airy ricotta-based pancake with garlic and chives in the batter, to make up for not having rice or bread.

        1. re: tavegyl

          And thank you for the link.

          No, it isn't gooey at all, at least the recipe I use (which has eggs as a binder). But now that you've said 'pancake', especially with garlic and chives, that sounds *perfect* for the fish, honestly.

          1. re: tavegyl

            tavegyl, I actually adore that idea of an herbed ricotta hotcake! I was just thinking about making (for breakfast) ricotta hotcakes this weekend. What a great great idea for a savory accompaniment.

            This meal sounds great. You could also play around with herbed popovers and some snazzy butters.

        2. Eek, can I step in here and say that fish isn't something most pregnant women should eat?

          6 Replies
          1. re: ChampagneCocktail

            Huh? Isn't that only raw fish?

            Oh dear. I had better check at once. Thanks for alerting me!

            1. re: tavegyl

              I was going to say the same...you will definitely want to ask your guest about it. Fish, raw cheeses, lunch meats, etc. are iffy.

              1. re: tavegyl

                I thought well-cooked fish was actually recommde. But, yeah, check with her.

                1. re: tavegyl

                  No, it seems cooked fish is just fine. Phew!

                2. re: ChampagneCocktail

                  The only fish that need to be avoided are those that tend to be very high in mercury. Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish are the usual suspects.

                3. Thanks to all for the input. It turned out a lovely meal. The ricotta hotcakes, which I was worried about, went very well - I seasoned them heavily, with parmesan, chives, a small amount of dried chile and parsley in the mix, as well as some garlic left overnight and allowed to infuse the ricotta mix. Highly recommended as an easy, quick side that you can do most of the prep for early on. I ended up skipping a starter altogether, and instead had the mushrooms with sourdough bread as a side. Banoffee pies - I like whipping the cream with cognac, but for this no-alcohol meal I used a hint of maple syrup and fresh raspberries whipped into the cream. Not quite banoffee, but the tart raspberries helped cut the extreme sweetness.