When a group of culinary professionals was asked to name the most important ingredient for a successful party, their unanimous answer was: Guests should have a good time. For most of us, good times are synonymous with casual ones. Gathering friends in the backyard around a flaming grill is a relaxed and fun way to entertain. But when a theme is added, success is guaranteed.
Call your friends and invite them to this Middle Eastern style barbecue, as you always do. Or, mail an invitation written on brown paper with burnt edges requesting they lift off on their magic carpet for an Arabian Nights barbecue. You might even browse through your local import store for a small genie bottle and roll the invitation up and insert it into the neck. Guests will know they are in for an extraordinary evening when they receive an invitation in a small box in the mail.
Add sparkle to the table by strewing costume jewelry -- necklaces, bracelets, pins, jeweled belts -- from ornate boxes or bowls, or use copper or brass trays or plates. Drape colorful Oriental, Indian or Arabic fabrics down the center of the table and nestle shimmery trinkets in the folds.
The menu for this affair is filled with recognizable flavors in new combinations. The appetizer shrimp are marinated in three citrus juices -- lime, lemon and orange -- with a touch of garlic, tarragon and Pernod. They are grilled on skewers and at the last minute, coated lightly with a sprinkling of feta cheese. They are great accompanied by thin, crunchy slices of garlic toast.
When lamb is marinated overnight in yogurt and creme de menthe, it becomes melt-in-your-mouth tender and very mild. When you purchase a boned, butterflied leg, it may remind you of a hilly road in need of repair. But when grilled, the bumpy terrain results in varied degrees of doneness, ensuring that your guests receive their choice. The lusty, fig-studded sauce is a bonus to further dress up the meat. It can be made ahead and frozen.
Couscous, a granular form of semolina wheat popular in the Middle East, is among the fastest grains to prepare. To mold into timbales, pack the mixture into small paper cups, refrigerate them until firm, then turn out onto a plate and heat in the microwave.
Serve this menu with a refreshing salad. For the sweet tooth, make or purchase baklava, and offer sliced dates mixed with summer fruits and melons topped with a sprinkling of pistachios.
This dinner is designed to serve eight, but can be doubled to serve 16. Note that during these dog days of summer, none of these recipes need to be baked; the kitchen chef remains cool, while the grill chef feels the heat.
To further ensure your guests' good time, serenade them with Scheherazade or In a Persian Market.
with citrus and feta
Makes 8 servings.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Marinade time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Grill time: 3 to 5 minutes
1 1/2 pounds extra large or jumbo raw shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails left on (about 32 extra large or 16 jumbo)
3 tablespoons orange juice
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Pernod
2 teaspoons dried tarragon
freshly ground pepper to taste
about 1/3 cup feta cheese, finely crumbled
lime wedges for garnish
Using 8 skewers, thread 4 large or 2 jumbo shrimp on each. (If using wooden skewers, cut them to fit.) Place skewers in a shallow non-metal dish. To make the marinade, in a small bowl whisk together the juices, oil, garlic, Pernod, tarragon and pepper. Spoon over shrimp, turning to coat both sides. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Turn and marinate at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes more.
While shrimp marinates, soak mesquite, apple or other wood chips for 1 hour before grilling. Prepare coals. Add wood chips. Grill shrimp 3 to 4 inches from hot coals, covered, for 3 to 5 minutes on one side; timing will depend on the size of the shrimp. Turn, sprinkle with feta, pressing it in lightly, cover and cook for 3 to 5 minutes longer or until cooked through. Do not overcook. Serve from skewers or on small plates. Garnish with lime wedges.
The lamb marinates overnight, so be sure to plan accordingly.
Grilled leg of lamb
' with cabernet fig sauce
Makes 8 servings.
Prep time: 40 minutes
Grill time: 16 to 20 minutes
Advance prep: Marinate lamb overnight. Sauce can be refrigerated up to 2 days or frozen.
FOR THE LEG OF LAMB:
1 boned and butterflied leg of lamb (4 to 5 pounds net weight)
2 cups plain low- or non-fat yogurt
3/4 cup light creme de menthe liqueur
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
salt to taste
FOR THE CABERNET FIG SAUCE:
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 bay leaf
1 medium leek, diced into 1/4 -inch pieces (about 1 cup)
1 cup dried figs, stems removed, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces (figlets preferred)
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
2 cups cabernet sauvignon
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water
salt and pepper to taste