When invited to a neighbourhood potluck what is the best dish to woo the neighbours? I’m thinking nothing whispers “love me” all romantic-like quite like pressure cooker lentils; am I right? or am I right?
Erik and I are new to our neighbourhood – we moved in last fall. Little did we know that our new neighbourhood is extremely social. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a neighbourhood that was quite this social. There is an ASTOUNDING 12 couples in one square block who have children under the age of 6 – ranging from newborn babies only 1 month old, 3 months old, 6 months old (our little Parker), then everything in between, 18 months/1.5 years, 2 years, and about 6 preschooler/kindergarten kids. It is really impressive that so many children are in one square block alone, the fact that the parents all want to get together is pretty mind-blowing for us. I feel like we’ve won the lottery.
It is always kind of difficult transitioning into “family” friends, which doesn’t mean our friends who are our family. We are extremely fortunate to have siblings that are in similar life situations that we get together with often. What we’re talking about here are the other friends with families. Erik and I already have really wonderful friends that we have met mainly in University and we always enjoy spending time with any one of them or the whole group of them (because we have forced them together often over the years! Haha.) We were late to university and late to careers (really late in my case, I foresee), so we’re a little mis-stepping when it comes to friends with families. In spite of the amazing quality of the friendships we already maintain, we are never in exactly the same position as many of them. We are one of the few that had children, we are either a little (or a lot) older, or conversely friends within our age range can also have grown children. There are also a handful of friends who have children around the same age as us, and the general sentiment we all share is that raising children in Toronto is difficult and expensive. As such, many of our couples friends have moved out of Toronto because its housing market is…well, ridiculous. We are basically 30-somethings trying to make it in Toronto with children.
This does not even touch upon the other difficulty: once you have a family it is kind of difficult to get out there and spend time with people as small children act kind of like an air-raid siren enforcing curfew around 7pm. Not going out after 7pm is pretty significant in the realm of socializing. So, to find a group of people who are already actively socializing living within feet from you is like finding a leprechaun or his pot of gold or something beautiful at the end of a rainbow in East end Toronto. All this means that I will make something tasty for our first potluck.
I was so excited to be going out (which in reality is only one house over). I’ll just put that up front. I tried my best to play it cool, but inside I could have burst into song. I love groups. I love potlucks. I love groups of children at said potlucks even more! To show my love and appreciation I cooked an entire pound of lentils in the pressure cooker. (Good thing I was loaned a very large one!) I felt like also eating prawns, but a shrimp ring seemed kind of gross – why do the shrimp in rings always get kind of slick? So, I thought about a Caribbean-type lentil salad with prawns. I found what I was thinking about in Kensignton Market. Kensington has a wonderful West Indian grocery selection, and I settled on Kuchela.
Kuchela is amazing. Spicy amazingness. I’m not a HUGE fan of spicy, but Kuchela will turn even the mildest spice lover into a fan: it’s made from green mangoes, scotch bonnets and garlic in a kind of rough puree with oil and vinegar.
This blend is potently hot, meaning, whatever you choose to put it in (it works wonders with chicken and fish dinners), start small. For a pound of lentils, I decided upon one teaspoon and then kept adjusting for flavour. In the end there may have been one tablespoon in the entire salad.
As we arrived at the potluck, I realized that there were already 3 other grain salads. Uh oh. Then. Oh well, whatever. I started drinking some wine and promptly forgot about it as I became immersed in all manner of glorious adult conversations. Adult conversations! In the end, the Lentil Salad was a favourite – it was eaten up with nothing left to take home and three requests for the recipe. I heartily, as in with small beating pink hearts, recommend it for all your food wooing needs!
Roasted Corn and Lentil Salad with Grilled Prawns in Caribbean Vinaigrette
- 1.5 pounds of prawns , thawed and rinsed
- 2 cups corn (either off the cob or niblets out of the can)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 pound green lentils (4 cups)
- 2 small cucumbers
- 1 cup sliced cherry tomatoes
- 1 orange pepper sliced
- 1 yellow pepper sliced
- half a red onion diced
- salt and pepper to taste
Place all of the following ingredients in a food processor and blend to desired consistency
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 4 sliced green onions or a large handful of chives
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
- 1/2 cup fresh basil
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse pepper
Use half your vinaigrette as a marinade for the shrimp.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Blend Vinaigrette ingredients
- Let prawns marinate in half the vinaigrette for an hour in the fridge
- Stir corn, chili, and oil on parchment – place in the oven and roast for 15 minutes, watching to stir them up when needed. Let cook to room temperature before putting in the salad
- Cook your lentils. Let cool.
- Add all salad ingredients in a large bowl and combine.
- Grill your prawns (1-2 minutes on the bbq) and add to the salad.
- Add kuchela to taste
Serve. Woo. Smile.