Small plates are hot, hot, hot. I don’t mean temperature of course. I am talking about the small portions of food you get at a multi-course dinner at restaurants.
Tapas. Kaiseki. Meze. Call them what you wish in other food cultures, they’re right here in the States and more and more places are offering this kind of meal.
Recently I read an article in which the author considers the possibility that entrees as we know them are a thing of the past.
Well, maybe. Maybe not. Food trends come and go. Some day restaurant goers may get bored with eating two nibbles of this and that and long to go back to the days when you could get an actual roasted duck quarter or beef rib to eat.
Small plates were also popular back in the day, long ago when I was a kid. And then the trend disappeared.
At least those small plates were popular in some of the places my parents took me to.
Like Hotel Helferd, in Lakewood, New Jersey, where we would go for our winter holiday, like so many other lucky Jewish families. My family couldn’t afford the grander Laurel-in-the-Pines, and actually preferred Helferd’s because Mrs. H was Romanian and so were our forebears and therefore, all assumed, the food would be to our liking.
And so it was.
Small plates at every meal, but especially dinner. A couple of appetizers, including, I always hoped (at about age 7 or 8), those wonderfully tender sweetbreads in brown gravy. Mushroom ragout. Stuffed derma. Matzo ball soup often. A little fish. A little meat.
So, small plates are nothing new in my life.
I like them now too and sometimes when I entertain I make a multi-course meal and serve little portions. It’s a lot of work.
But if you make the right sort of things you can make the usual big portions and save the leftovers for the next day when it’s just you and your significant other and maybe your kids and you can eat them as entree and side dishes, the way it used to be.
Tomato Soup is one recipe you can serve in regular portions or in small shot glasses or espresso cups. Plain or topped with yogurt. Hot or cold. It’s a versatile recipe.
Fresh Tomato Soup with Yogurt and Chili Pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large clove garlic, chopped
6 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 serrano pepper, deseeded and chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
4 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon harissa
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup plain yogurt or soy or coconut milk, optional
Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook for 2–3 minutes or until the pieces have softened. Add the garlic and cook briefly. Add the tomatoes, serrano pepper, parsley and mint. Turn the heat to low, cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes. Add about 1/2 cup of the stock to the vegetables and puree the vegetables in a blender or food processor (or use a hand blender). Return the ingredients to the saucepan. Stir in the remaining stock and bring the soup to a simmer. Stir in the harissa and season with some salt and pepper. Cook for 5–6 minutes. Add the optional yogurt or milk, whisk them in and serve the soup hot. OR, let the soup cool and blend in the yogurt or milk with a whisk. Makes 4 servings.