In November, we did a Silk Road themed dinner called Caravanserais. We thought it would make for an interesting menu to feature foods from some of the different countries that were prominent along these trade routes. A caravansary, or caravanserai, was an inn or a rest stop, where those traveling by caravan often stopped to feed and water their animals, feed themselves and get some rest. We thought of this dinner as a caravansary of our own, more modern and westernized, but an outpost for people to come eat and drink, nonetheless.
As guests arrived we served two passed hors d’oeuvres. The first was Kashmiri paneer– cubes of firm, fresh cheese coated in deep, Indian spices and then sauteed. The second was Kuku, an herb packed egg pancake that is baked and sliced. It’s part frittata, part crepe and all delicious!
Once all of the guests had arrived, they were asked to be seated and the meal commenced. Since the Silk Road began in China during the Han dynasty, we thought this would be an appropriate place to start our meal, with the rest of the menu featuring foods from different countries along the route.
The amuse bouche kicked off the dinner with a dish based in the food of Xian, which was not only the region of China where the Silk Road actually began, but also a region often referred to as the birthplace of dumplings. For this, we decided to do our own take on a Chinese dumpling. We thought a soup dumpling would be cool, and although the soup dumpling originated in Shanghai, we exercised a little artistic license and went for it anyway. Our version turned out to be a Chinese tea dumpling, a tender chicken dumpling that burst with a liquid black tea filling when bitten into. I’m pretty sure we invented this, as I’ve never seen anything like it before. We kept the other flavors in the dumpling simple, just a little bit of fresh ginger, garlic and cilantro, so that the tea flavor really shined through. The dumpling was garnished simply with chopped chives and spicy red pepper threads.
For the appetizer, we created a mezze plate served with flatbread and featuring dips and salads from different countries. The plate consisted of a smoky, Punjabi eggplant dip, an Uzbeki shredded radish and pomegranate salad, a Greek fillo pastry stuffed with feta cheese and leeks, topped with honey and sesame seeds, and a creamy, Turkish celery root dip topped with a sprinkling of sumac.
The soup course featured an Iranian pistachio soup and an Iraqi sweet and sour pumpkin soup. The two were served in one bowl, side by side, and garnished with orange scented pistachios and a swirl of yogurt.
The entree was an unusual, yet tasty mash up of foods from Italy and India. Adam made a batch of amazing, saffron infused linguine,
that was accompanied by Kashmiri spiced goat meatballs in yogurt sauce, a crispy vadouvan curry spiced granola and microgreens.
The dessert, a chestnut cream tart, also had its roots in Italy. For this we made a crumbly wheat germ-graham cracker crust that was lightly coated with a layer of very bitter chocolate ganache. That was topped with a luscious chestnut cream (more like a pudding, really) and the tart was topped with gorgeous little red wine poached Seckel pears. To cut through the rich flavors of the tart, it was accompanied by tangy, whipped creme fraiche and rosemary poached dried cranberries.
Most our dinners conclude with a small plate of delectables, and this meal was no exception.
For the mignardise plate, we decided to feature some of the commodities that were commonly found and traded along the Silk Route. We made a jasmine tea ice cream lollipop, a chocolate-orange gold coin and a gummy gemstone infused with cinnamon and bourbon. We added on a little black sesame brownie to represent the black death, or plague, that also traveled along these routes, and at certain times was rampant, and had a devastating impact. Thankfully, the impact of our dinner was more positive with stuffed bellies and sated palates being the worst of it.