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The great thing about this time of year is that it encourages us to get together and spend time enjoying each other’s company, whether it is a nice dinner out or backyard barbecue.
One of the easiest ways to catch up is over a few nibbles and drinks. In this extract, Maria Zizka gives us some tips on how to create yummy, easy and great-to-look-at boards of our favourite nibbles.
Enjoying a meal on a board starts off with appreciation for the food’s beauty: ripe fruit cut into bite-size pieces begging to be picked up, crunchy seeded crackers peeking out from behind paper-thin slices of prosciutto folded like billowy linens, creamy dips with warm breads to drag through them.
The presentation of the board gives you flexibility in how you go about enjoying it. You can jump around from component to component, a bite of this followed by a bite of that, or home in on one element at a time. There are no rules to creating a board you can have dips and spreads, sandwiches and sliders, vegetables or fruits but in a well-crafted board, everything goes together. And boards are fun; you eat with your hands, not a fork and knife.
Putting together a board is cooking, for sure, but it often feels more like a combination of foraging, matchmaking, and composing. The hardest part is usually gathering all the delicious ingredients. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
We eat with our eyes first, so make sure to consider a board’s appearance. Arrange the multiple components in a natural way (i.e., composed but not painstakingly tweezered into place). Keep it real and let the food fall where it falls, especially if that happens to be a little off the edge. Whenever possible, choose a medley of colourful ingredients.
Part of the beauty of a good board is that it can sit out on your table for a couple of hours without wilting or getting cold. Most board foods aren’t too temperature sensitive, and if they are, you can always keep them well chilled by serving them on a bed of crushed ice, like oysters on the half shell.
Make it fun to eat
Boards are interactive and shouldn’t require plates or utensils. All you need are your hands or maybe a toothpick. And go for dips galore, because who doesn’t love dipping?
Embrace store-bought components
A board should have a variety of components — ideally three or more — but nobody has all day to cook everything from scratch. Assembling a board ought to be less time-consuming than cooking a multi-course meal. That’s where store-bought ingredients come in. Most avid cooks will tell you that homemade foods are superior to their supermarket counterparts. But there are countless exceptions to this rule: crunchy candied walnuts, spicy harissa, specialty crackers of all types (seeded, flatbread-style, whole-wheat), charred roasted peppers and berry jam, just to name a few. Many of these store-bought foods are right at home on a board. They might not be the centrepiece component, but they do help make a board more bountiful, without asking for hardly any of your time.
On the topic of store-bought ingredients, whether you’re buying fruits and vegetables or a bag of tortilla chips, always choose the highest-quality ingredients you can afford. Buy fresh breads, biscuits and patries from local bakeries whenever possible. Read the labels on packaged items carefully. Avoid stabilisers, artificial colours and chemicals with unpronounceable names. For tinned fish like anchovies and tuna, opt for sustainably caught fish packed in 100% extra-virgin olive oil. Buy cheeses and smoked fish from local shops, if you can, or consider ordering online.
Determining a board’s precise yield is tricky. Much depends on the eater(s) and the occasion. Sometimes, you might want to make a board as a complete meal. Other times, you might assemble two or three boards and serve them together to friends. Most of the recipes in this book serve two hungry people. All the recipes scale easily; you can double or triple the quantities for a single component, or you can fill out a board by including additional components such as a sliced avocado or a few bunches of grapes. If you're gathering with a group, check out the party-size boards for feasts to feed eight to ten people.
Please don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients. Make the most of gorgeous seasonal produce. And always follow your taste buds.
Serves 8 to 10
Tahini swirl brownies
12 Tbsp (1½ sticks/170g) unsalted butter
170g unsweetened chocolate, chopped into small pieces
2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
2tsp pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
½ tsp flaky sea salt
55g white chocolate, chopped into small pieces¼ cup (60g) tahini
Makes 2 cups
2 cups (280g) hazelnuts
¼ cup (60ml) plus 2 Tbsp hazelnut oil or neutral-flavoured vegetable oil
3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
3 Tbsp confectioners sugar
1½ tsp pure vanilla extract
½ tsp fine
140g bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Dark chocolate truffles
Mini milk chocolate peanut butter cups
Bite-size salted pretzels
1½ cups (175g) roasted salted mixed nuts
4 or 5 figs, cut into halves or quarters
2 or 3 plums, sliced into wedges
Bake the brownies
Heat the oven to 180degC. Line a 20cm square baking dish with parchment paper, allowing the paper to overhang the sides a bit so that you can easily lift out the brownies.
Bring about 2.5cm of water to a simmer in a small saucepan. Set a large heatproof bowl over the pot (make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water). Place the butter and unsweetened chocolate in the bowl and heat gently, stirring occasionally, until melted and well combined. Remove the bowl from the heat, taking care not to splash any water into the chocolate. Leave the pot with the water on the stovetop.
Add the sugar, vanilla and eggs to the melted butter and chocolate mixture and whisk vigorously for several minutes until very smooth. Stir in the flour and flaky salt. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly.
Bring the water in the saucepan to a simmer once again. Set a clean bowl over the pot (again make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water). Place the white chocolate in the bowl and heat gently, stirring occasionally, until just barely melted. Be careful not to overheat the white chocolate or it might thicken. Remove the bowl from the heat.
Dollop small spoonfuls of the melted white chocolate on the surface of the brownie batter in about 10 different places. Use a clean spoon to dollop the tahini in 10 different places. Using a skewer or toothpick, swirl them to create a marble pattern.
Bake until puffed and just barely set, 50 to 55 minutes, depending on how done you like your brownies. They will look slightly domed in the pan (and may have cracked or bubbled across the marble surface) and will feel set, not liquidy, when tapped lightly with your finger. A toothpick inserted into the centre won’t come out clean; the brownies will still be gooey immediately after baking but will set a little further as they cool to room temperature. Let them cool in the pan, then remove them using the parchment paper and cut into bite-size squares.
Store leftover brownies, tightly wrapped or in an airtight container, at room temperature for up to three days.
Make the chocolate-hazelnut spread
Heat the oven to 180degC.
Place the hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in the oven until they’re fragrant and lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Wrap the nuts in a clean kitchen towel and rub them to remove as much of their papery skins as possible.
While the hazelnuts are still warm, use a food processor or high-speed blender to grind them and ¼ cup (60ml) of the hazelnut oil to a smooth hazelnut butter, stopping the machine and scraping down the sides every minute or so, 4 to 10 minutes total, depending on your machine. Add the cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla, fine salt and the remaining 2 Tbsp hazelnut oil. Blend until fully incorporated. The mixture will be a little looser and more rustic than Nutella, but that’s to be expected because it doesn’t have any of the added emulsifiers. Transfer the spread to a 480ml jar or two 1-cup (240ml) jars. Enjoy right away or store, covered, at room temperature for up to two weeks.
Make the chocolate-dipped strawberries
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Rinse the strawberries and dry them very well. It is important there are no droplets of water clinging to the berries; otherwise, the chocolate will slide right off.
In a small saucepan, bring about 2.5cm of water to a simmer. Set a heatproof bowl over the pot (make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water). Place the bittersweet chocolate in the bowl and heat gently, stirring occasionally, until melted. Remove the bowl from the heat, taking care not to splash any water into the chocolate. Hold a strawberry by the stem and dip it into the melted chocolate, rotating the berry to coat all sides evenly. Set the chocolate-dipped strawberry on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the other berries. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator to chill until the chocolate sets, about 15 minutes.
Assemble: Arrange the brownie bites and chocolate-dipped strawberries on a large board along with the dark chocolate truffles and chocolate peanut butter cups. Serve the chocolate-hazelnut spread in a bowl, with pretzels alongside for dipping. Place the mixed nuts in another bowl and nestle the figs and plums in the spaces.
Spicy herby kofta
Serves 2 to 4
These lamb meatballs on skewers are boldly flavoured with cumin, sumac, and harissa. The accompanying dipping sauce is both spicy and cooling fresh green chili brings the heat and creamy yoghurt balances it. You will have some sauce left over, but its delicious served with all kinds of grilled meat or cooked vegetables, especially the Cauliflower Pakoras.
Yoghurt mint sauce
Makes 1.5 cups
1cup (250g) plain whole-milk yoghurt
2 cups (40g) fresh mint leaves
1 small, fresh hot green chile, stemmed and seeded
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp light or dark brown sugar
½tsp fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Makes 10 small meatballs
1 garlic clove
1 tsp cumin seeds
225g ground lamb
¼ cup (5g) fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1 large egg
½ tsp fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Stack of pita bread, warmed
¼ cup (5g) fresh mint leaves
¼cup (5g) fresh cilantro leaves
½ a lime
Make the yoghurt-mint sauce
Spoon the yoghurt into a shallow serving bowl. In a blender or food processor, combine the mint, chile, lime juice, brown sugar, salt, and several grinds of pepper. Pulse until very finely chopped. Spoon the mint mixture on to the yoghurt; you can leave as is or stir the two together. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Make the kofta
Using a mortar and pestle or the side of a large knife, crush the garlic into a paste. Mix the cumin into the garlic paste and smash the two together until the cumin is coarsely ground. Transfer the garlic-cumin paste to a medium bowl and add the lamb, cilantro, harissa, sumac, egg, salt, and lots of pepper. Mix well to combine (your hands are the best tool for this step (they will help distribute the seasoning evenly throughout the meat), then shape into 10 golf-ball-size meatballs. Pierce each meatball with a little, flat wooden skewer, then mould each into an oval shape around the skewer for the classic kofta look. (If you don't have little skewers, don't worry, the kofta will be just as delicious.)
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Swirl in the oil, then cook the meatballs until browned on one side, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and cook on the other side until just cooked through, another 4 minutes or so.
Cauliflower pakoras and friends
Serves 2 to 4
These gluten-free cauliflower fritters are fantastic dipped into a duo of complementary sauces. The yoghurt-mint sauce doesn’t take too long to make, but if you don’t have the time or desire, simply stir some finely chopped mint leaves and a big squeeze of lime juice into thick Greek yoghurt and season with salt and pepper for the simplest (and maybe best) dipping sauce.
960ml vegetable oil, for frying
¼ cup (25g) chickpea flour
¼ cup (30g) white or brown rice flour
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp garam masala
¼ tsp fine sea salt
5 to 7 Tbsp (75ml to 105ml) sparkling water
¾ small head of cauliflower (455g), cut into bite-size florets
Flaky sea salt
½ cup (125g) yoghurt-mint sauce
Masala cashews or other roasted nuts
1 lemon, cut into wedges
Make the cauliflower pakoras: In a heavy-bottomed pot, pour the vegetable oil (enough to fill your pot with at least 7.5cm of oil) and heat to 180degC.
Use a probe-style instant-read thermometer to test the heat of your oil. If you don’t have a thermometer, stick the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil; if bubbles form around the wood and float to the surface, the oil is ready. The oil usually takes somewhere around 10 minutes to heat.
While the oil heats up, whisk together the chickpea flour, rice flour, baking soda, garam masala and fine salt in a large bowl. Gradually pour in the sparkling water, 1 tablespoon at a time, adding only as much water as needed for the batter to have the consistency of unwhipped heavy whipping cream. Add the cauliflower to the batter and mix well.
Line a plate with paper towels or a clean brown paper bag and set aside. When the oil is ready, carefully lower about half of the cauliflower florets into the hot oil so that they are not crowded in the pot.
Fry without stirring for 2 minutes or so, until the batter sets. Then give the florets a stir and continue to fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes total. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pakoras to the prepared plate. Season generously with flaky salt.
Repeat this process to fry the remaining cauliflower, checking the temperature of the oil in between batches and adjusting the heat as needed to keep the oil at a steady 180degC.Assemble: Arrange the cauliflower pakoras on a board with the masala cashews. Set the lemon wedges alongside for squeezing on the pakoras. Serve the yoghurt-mint sauce and mango chutney in separate small bowls next to the pakoras for dipping.