It’s amazing the inspiration you can get from sharing food with friends. And the good times and great conversation are just as much a part of a shared meal experience as the food. And when better to share food with friends and family than over summer? Or even on Australia day?
I am a huge fan of Jamie Oliver: he would be my food mentor. I wrote about my observations of him last year, but my new favourite thing to do, that I learnt from Jamie, is food sharing. By that I mean creating a platter of food and placing it in the middle of the table for everyone to share from, especially when everyone gets to use fingers. It’s something my husband fully embraced because of his background, where food sharing is the norm, but its something that I’ve not noticed a lot of in the West until recently. Share plates are popping up all over the city, so why can’t we also do share plates at home?
I grew up in an Aussie household with European influences, although I reckon the food was more European influenced than Australian (i.e. I think I only had a traditional English/Australian ‘roast’ twice in my entire childhood). And while the pots of food would be placed in the middle of the table for all to share there were definite rules around not sharing utensils nor using your hands to eat. At friends’ places I would be given a portion on a plate and I used to think this was strange. How would they know what I liked to eat more of, or what I hated the most?
In the Middle East and India its traditional to use your fingers to eat, but the trick is to use the bread to pick up your food. The bread helps your fingers stay clean and you don’t pass around your germs by licking fingers and then double dipping. In my husbands culture there is also the rule that you eat only from the section of the platter in front of you, thus everyone has their own section and there’s no issues. That seems like a pretty smart idea and one that appears contrary to the stereotype of uncivilized provincial people that I was fed through my western education.
I feel like a bit of a rebel these days when my husband and I share platters of food using our fingers. We have entire breakfasts without utensils now, and more often than not dinner is going that way too. I can just picture my father shuddering at the thought as he reads this. But it’s something I love to do because of the connection it brings to those around you. And it makes dinner time so much more fun!
“Oops, did I just steal your potato?”
“Hey! Give me that back! That was my chicken wing!”
“Do you want the rest if this rice?”
“Hmm, this tastes soooooooo good!”
“Hahaha! Sorry! Didn’t mean to throw noodles at you. I can’t work these chopsticks!”
You see? Lots of talk and plenty of giggles happen over a meal where you’re sharing, and just might be using something other than the utensils you’re used to.
Often I feel that human connection is missing from the modern western lifestyle so the chance to share a platter of food with someone is just one way in which I’m trying to make a genuine connection. And so far it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve had some really great conversations around the table.
Most of my meals are either from Jamie Oliver’s 15 or 30 Minute Meals cookbooks or are ideas I’ve gathered from reading cookbooks from Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries. I’ve been trying them out mostly on my hubby, but I’ve also created shared platters for my parents, my uncle and aunt, friends from overseas and friends from nearby.
My best memories are the ones where everything goes wrong! I made a shared platter for a friend from overseas and her family and we just had too much food, it was all ready at different times, the sleeves of the little kid were covered in cheese and sauce, the table was littered with crumbs and the table cloth will never be white again. But it was the best night. Oh, and I almost burned down the house cause the baking paper touched the top element in the oven and caught fire!
Don’t be put off! I’ve had plenty of shared meals where everything went well and the dinner was more successful. And because I’m a creative person I enjoy the mess and craziness, but I’m not suggesting that that’s what you want to do.
Having shared my enjoyment of this concept it’s about time I shared some of the meals with you.
Here are my favourites
Pizza is the easiest thing to share. Just make a whole bunch of big ones and they come from the oven one after the other. Dinner lasts for ages, you get to chat between pizzas and you can try a piece of everything. Its great fun with kids cause they can make their own too.
Jamie Oliver’s Rosemary Chicken and Polenta
See photo above. I’ve made this one several times and it always looks different cause I use different vegetables each time.
(Or any rice dish really) can be made on the stove and served with the grilled meat on top. Below I did both a risotto (the first picture) and a rice pilaf (the second picture).
These are great for when people come over, but my hubby and I have these occasionally as a lunch or a really light dinner when we don’t feel like a big meal. Just add in extra fruit and vegetables to make it healthier or to stretch it (either for more people, or for a less expensive meal). You really can add anything you like, and its great to use up everything and anything you have (cheese, dips, fruit, veg, dried fruit, nuts, etc).
This is the easiest and quickest meal to make. Just chop everything into small pieces and add it all to a board, add the tortillas and let everyone eat they way they like. Its cheap, healthy and really can be satisfying for everyone cause its so easy to make your own. Kids love to make their own as well, so let them get dirty and don’t worry about what the table looks like at the end of the meal. Have fun with it!
Several times I’ve made us breakfast where I place everything on a board and then let each person make whatever combinations out of the foods they like. My hubby will eat cream cheese and jam with scrambled eggs, but I want my cream cheese and jam with a croissant – you see what I mean, everyone can get what they like.
I’m sure there are plenty more meals out there that can be turned into share platters. Think of salads where the meat and the grains are all incorporated with the vegetables, or slice some meat on top of the salad for something different. Anything goes really, and its all up to your imagination.
Have a go, have some fun, and make a few genuine connections while you’re at it.
P.S. Here’s a couple of other shared platters I made. 🙂