By J.M. Hirsch, AP Food Editor
Entertaining should not be about fuss or pomp. I want my focus to be on my company. And on making sure the food packs tons of big, satisfying flavor. Not much beyond that matters.
Which is why I tend to gravitate to a particular version of family-style dining when I have guests. It’s not just a matter of having shared dishes, though that’s certainly a start. My approach is more about how the food is presented and consumed, delivering the message that this meal is about comfort and friendship.
Here’s how it works. I start with a base. The base should be something easily spread. Hummus is a great choice. Many salads and roasted vegetables work, too. Savory yogurt dips work, particularly if you’re going for a Greek menu. Whatever you opt for, this base is spread thick over a large serving platter.
Next, you decide what to top that with. I love roasted or seared meats that have been cut into bite-size portions. Roasted vegetables would be a great vegetarian version. Same for beans and cheese. Whatever you go with, this is heaped on top of the base layer. You finish with a sprinkle of something that ties everything together, such as chopped fresh herbs or crumbled goat cheese.
Now set the platter in the center of the table and give your guests something to scoop with. Could be flatbread. Could be lettuce leaves. Could be tortilla chips. And that’s it. Get everyone to dig in, quite literally.
Some of my favorite versions of this have included a Frito pie (a layer of corn chips topped by grilled and sliced flank steak, cheese and other taco toppings); a garlicky hummus topped by ground beef browned with onions and served with flatbread; and tzatziki topped with roasted root vegetables and crumbled feta cheese.
Lately, I’ve been making this version, which is both unusual, yet familiar and comforting. It starts with a base of carrot hummus (made as you would regular hummus, but substituting cooked carrots for the chickpeas) topped with seared leg of lamb seasoned with cumin and topped with crumbled soft goat cheese. Sound like a lot to coordinate? It’s actually quite simple and comes together in no time.
CARROT HUMMUS WITH CUMIN LAMB AND GOAT CHEESE
Start to finish: 45 minutes
2 pounds carrots, trimmed and cut into 2-inch chunks
1 cup water
5 tablespoons tahini
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 1/2-pound boneless leg of lamb
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1/2 cup white wine
2 ounces crumbled soft goat cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Pita bread, warmed, to serve
In a medium saucepan, combine the carrots and water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high. Cook until the carrots are very tender and there are only a couple tablespoons of water remaining in the pan. Transfer the carrots and liquid in the pan to a food processor. Add the tahini, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Process until smooth, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Trim as much fat as possible from the lamb, then cut it into 1-inch cubes. Season the cubes with salt and pepper.
In a large skillet over medium-high, heat the canola oil. Add the lamb cubes and sear on all sides until nicely browned but not quite cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. You may need to do this in batches, adding a bit more oil with each batch. Transfer the cooked lamb to a plate. Return the skillet to the heat and add the onion and cumin seeds. Saute for 5 minutes, or until the onion is tender.
Add the wine to the skillet and bring to a simmer, stirring and scraping the bottom to deglaze the pan. After 1 minute, return the lamb and any juices on the plate to the skillet, stir well and heat for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.
To assemble, use a large spoon to spread the carrot hummus over a serving platter, creating a slight depression at the center. Spoon the lamb and onions over the hummus. Sprinkle with crumbled goat cheese and mint. Serve with pita bread.
Nutrition information per serving: 430 calories; 190 calories from fat (44 percent of total calories); 21 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 65 mg cholesterol; 470 mg sodium; 29 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 27 g protein.
AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch is on Twitter and Instagram as @JM_Hirsch. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org