31 August 2010

Aloo Simla Mirch

For some reason, whenever I want to eat more vegetables and less meat, I start consuming massive amounts of Indian food. I'm often happy with the simplest of meals: roasted cauliflower and a piece of toast with a fried egg; braised cabbage with carrots and a poached egg on top; chard sautéed and served with roasted chickpeas. However, my favorite simple meals that feature mostly vegetables are the foods of winter - brussels sprouts and parsnips, kale and endive.

I love braising, roasting, stewing, and making soup - it's a welcome temperature boost to our unheated home in the winter - but it doesn't seem appropriate for sultry summer days.

curried potatoes and peppers

Indian food, along with Thai and Mexican cuisines, seems to have been designed for hot weather (and it was, wasn't it?). In this case, I was inspired by a delicious dish at our nearest Indian deli counter, but I wanted something spicier and chunkier. Waxy potatoes and bright red peppers are married with a base of onions, garlic, eye-watering ginger and mouth-searing chilies. Add a homemade curry powder, and you have a nutrient rich meal nearly bursting with flavor.

I like my Indian food to be tearinducing, leaving my lips tingling, my face red, and my eyes streaming. Mike can take anything I dish out, but he prefers a more, ahem, even-handed approach. The serranos from my garden are much hotter than what I buy in the store, and three with seeds made a good layer of heat.

Mise en place, when I take the time to prepare, makes my time in the kitchen smooth and simple. I find that even though I often dirty more dishes in the process, I have enough time to wash many of them while cooking. For Indian food, I highly recommend preparing things as much as possible - you don't want to burn your onions while you are measuring or grinding spices.

curried potatoes with rice

Aloo Simla Mirch (Curried Potatoes with Bell Peppers)
Like many Indian dishes, there are a lot of ingredients in a single dish; however, once you have the spices, it's easy to make a wide variety of dishes. Also, you can make a bigger batch of curry powder and store in a jar with your other spices - feel free to use it as you would a purchased curry powder.

For the curry powder (makes about ¼ cup; you can downsize if you won't use the extra):

5 teaspoons cumin seeds
4 teaspoons coriander seeds
6 whole cloves
12 whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1 teaspoon ground ginger

For the dish:

1 lb waxy potatoes, such as white rose or Yukon gold, cut into ½-¾ pieces
1 lb red or green bell pepper, or a mix, seeded and cut into 1 inch chunks
½ large onion, diced (about 1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2-4 fresh serranos, seeded if desired, thinly sliced
1 ½ inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 tablespoons ghee, or 1 tablespoon butter and 2 of oil
1 tablespoon curry powder (above)
salt to taste
½ cup water
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optional)
¼ teaspoon amchoor (dried mango powder; optional)
1 ½ tablespoon garam masala

For the curry powder, grind the whole spices in a spice mill, clean coffee grinder, or mortar until well mixed and in uniform pieces. Add the turmeric, fenugreek, and ginger and mix well. Set aside.

Heat ghee or butter/oil mixture in a large heavy pot on medium-high heat. Fry the peppers until just cooked and beginning to blacken, 3-5 minutes; set aside. Cook the onions until translucent; add ginger, garlic, and chilies. Cook about one minute, or until the chilies make you cough.

Add 1 tablespoon curry powder, reserving the rest for another use. Cook about one minute, stirring vigorously; add the potatoes and toss well to coat. Add about 1 teaspoon salt, water, and cayenne; bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook - stirring occasionally and adding water if needed - until the potatoes are just tender, 15-20 minutes.

Add peppers, amchoor powder and garam masala and stir well to mix. Add water if desired to achieve the desired consistency. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit 5 minutes.

Serve with basmati rice, naan or chapati, and yoghurt.

Serves 4-6

28 August 2010

The meaning of local

Whenever I go to the farmers' market, I am struck by the irony of the "locavore" movement in Southern California. I try to eat local food when I can - I like to think that I cancel out some of my imported cheese, bananas, and wine by eating foods that are grown in the area.

Living in a metropolitan sprawl like L.A., though, leads to some pretty skewed views of "local". The surrounding area is filled with farms - but when I visit my local farmers' market, more than half of the farmstands are from the Central Valley - the long, fertile strip of land that runs for 500 miles through the middle of California. I understand the reason - according to my good friend Wikipedia, the Central Valley contains 1% of the country's farmland and produces 8% of its crops - but how, I ask you, is a farm 200 miles away providing "local" food?

With this in mind, I focus all the more on seasonality - my plums may not be truly local, but they're nothing like the Chilean plums I see in stores in December. I've had many people, my husband included, question the concept of seasonal eating. Do I really want to go six months without a tomato? Ten without a cherry? Well, no, of course not - the short season of cherries is one of the great cruelties of life.

prune plum tart

I pretty sure that the traditional method to deal with wanting all foods year round would be to suck it up - I think Laura Ingalls had more to worry about in November than a sad lack of fresh peaches - but my method is a little different. Basically, I gorge myself on my favorite foods until I don't want to touch them for six months. After that point, it's a short wait until they're in season again.

In this spirit, I offer you another plum recipe. I've been eating plums since they showed up in June, but I find the late-season prune plums the best for cooking. In this tart, plums are simply halved and baked with the simplest custard, resulting in a sweet-tart pastry that is ideal for breakfast, dessert, or an afternoon snack. The custard is lightly pink-stained around the plums, and the prune plums collapse, wrinkling their dusty, purple-black skin - finally they match their names.

tarte aux quetsches

Prune Plum Tart
Inspired by Molly's recipe at Orangette and Dorie Greenspan's "Crunchy and Custardy Peach Tart"

For the crust:
1 ½ cups unbleached flour
½ cups confectioners' sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, well chilled and in several pieces
1 large egg yolk

For the filling:
12 small to medium prune plums
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup whole milk
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

In a food processor, whiz the flour, sugar, and salt together. Add the butter and pulse until it is a oatmeal/pea consistency (this won't take long - just a few seconds). Add the yolk in a few drizzles, pulsing briefly each time, then pulse in 10-second increments until the dough just comes together - the processor will make a slightly unnerving rattling sound right before this happens.

Press the dough quickly into a 9 or 10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom, then transfer to the freezer until you are ready to assemble the tart.

Halve and pit the plums, then set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the cream, milk, sugar, egg, and extract until well combined.

Place the tart crust on a baking sheet. Arrange the plums, cut side down, in the tart crust. Gently pour the custard over the plums. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake, 45 minutes to an hour, until the custard has just set and the crust is nicely browned. Cool on rack.

Serves 8

26 August 2010

Grabbing summer while it lasts

It's hot. I love it.

sun tea

I'm not one to complain about the weather, but I do enjoy a little variety. After three and a half months of low clouds in the morning and hazy cool sunshine in the afternoon, we finally have some summer weather.

This is the heat I love: the kind that hits you like a wall when you step outside, that fills your lungs like smoke, that makes your legs tingle when you stand in the sun. Standing on asphalt, I could feel the heat shimmer.

Little feels more like summer than the first moments in a blistering hot car - we may not have leather seats to stick to, like my grandma's car, but we have no A/C, which is almost as good.


What could be more summery than drinking a frosty mug of sun tea (in a monogrammed Steelers mug, of course - it's almost football season) and eating melon? I typically eat my watermelon with chile & lemon and my cantaloupe with salt (a holdover from my grandpa's midwestern roots). However, lately I've been eating my watermelon and cantaloupe plain - they are too nectar sweet, bursting with flavor, to allow anything else.

summer refreshment

Before long, L.A. summer will start fading into L.A. fall, which is to say: warm sun instead of hot; fierce, dusty Santa Ana winds; and the occasional rainfall. Our sun tea may brew year-round, but I need to take advantage of the summer while it's here.

Huh - I've been spelling "cantaloupe" wrong my entire life. There goes my proofreading assumption that I'll know if a word is spelled wrong.

23 August 2010

Sneak peek

I could use a cake decorating book (and one of those rotating pedestals), but it didn't turn out too badly.

shoddy icing

This is the "Perfect Party Cake" from Nick Malgieri and Dorie Greenspan, published in Baking: From My Home to Yours. This is a tender, lemony white cake with four layers filled with raspberry preserves and lemon buttercream frosting.

four layers

I'm not normally a buttercream fan, but the tang of the lemon juice in this icing really lightens it up. I added some raspberry preserves to make the pink tinted icing.


The cake is tender, with an even crumb and delicate flavor. I'll be making some adjustments to the recipe for my party later this week; the frosting was a little thin and was a bit hard to spread. I'm already planning several variations on this recipe: coconut cake, spice cake, almond cake. The perfect cake, indeed.

lemon-raspberry cake

20 August 2010

A solution to dusty summer days

Plums may be the world's perfect fruit. Counting the dozens of tasty varieties, they have a long season, from the first blush of summer into early fall. Even the ripest specimen is sturdier than a tender peach, fragile strawberry or bruised-when-you-look-at-it raspberry, which allows me to load up a sack and walk home from the market without the results being fit only for preserves. And the flavor - oh, the flavor! My ideal plum has a juicy, almost floral, nectar-sweet flesh, juice flecked with red as it drips down my arm and off my elbow, and a slightly tart skin to temper the sweetness.

plum crisp

I knew Italian prune plums, or quetsches, would be late this season, and it was a happy surprise to walk into my grocer to find a box of them, firm but sweet, dusty blue-black with hints of red, small and oblong. It also didn't hurt that they were $1.79 a pound.

I'm trying to learn my lesson when it comes to the first of the season fruit, so I bought eight and tucked them away for safekeeping. I cooked dinner with speed and disinterest, only concerned with when I would be able to eat dessert.

crisp aux quetsches

When it comes to crisps and crumbles, I tend to fly by the seat of my pants, changing ratios as the mood hits, adding or removing spices as suits the season and the fruit. A few months ago I discovered Clothilde's crumble topping, and I now put my bowl on the scale before I start spooning out ingredients.

This crisp is light and refreshing, with a sweet-tart filling and a crisp-chewy crust, spiked with ginger. I've recently started adding ground almonds to my topping - I always have ground almonds left over, from a yoghurt cake or macarons or tart crust - and I love the nutty flavor and slight chewiness that they add.

Plum Crisp
Adapted from Marian Burros and The Wednesday Chef
I made this with only 8 plums, and as much as I love crisp topping, there wasn't enough fruit. Also, taste your ginger before you add it - someone needs to develop a Scoville scale for crystallized ginger.

For the filling:
12 Italian prune plums, washed, halved, and pitted
1-2 heaping T crystallized ginger, finely chopped
brown sugar

For the topping:
40 g ground almonds
60 g unbleached flour
80 g brown sugar
80 g rolled oats
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 t ground ginger
80 g butter, melted (about 6 T)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Toss the plums with the crystallized ginger and a big spoonful of brown sugar - you may need between 1 and 2 T (packed) brown sugar depending on the sweetness of the fruit. Place skin up in a small 9" pie pan or 8" square pan and set aside.

Measure out the ingredients by weight into a medium bowl. Add the spices and a teeny pinch of salt and toss to mix. Pour in the butter while tossing with a fork; mix until just combined. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden brown. Cool 10-15 minutes before serving. Serve with whipped cream, crème fraiche, sweetened yoghurt, or ice cream.

Serves 4-6

19 August 2010

Holding out

My cooking tends to perform like an old car - for several days I chug along, cooking and baking and washing the dishes every night. Suddenly one morning, the engine just won't turn over, and I spend a few days listlessly staring into the refrigerator, settling on ramen noodles or a peanut butter sandwich or salad.

Today I brought the following items to work: two tomatoes from my garden, one nectarine, cottage cheese, and vanilla yoghurt.

While I may regret it by the end of the day, I have a reason for the ennui: I'm holding out for the weekend. I am bringing a cake to a party next week, and I want to try the new recipe at home first.

I'm typically a baker who straddles the line between fearless and foolhardy - I adjust ingredients like a teenager changes clothes, and I usually don't hesitate to make a new dish for a gathering of family and friends. However, this party is celebrating two new weddings and an impending arrival of a baby - and I'm making the only dessert - so I want to make sure it's good.

I have high hopes for this cake - a four-layer lemon cake with raspberry filling and lemon buttercream - and I've already scribbled down for or five different cakes that could be easily developed from the base recipe.

As if that weren't enough, I stopped by my grocer yesterday and found the first Italian prune plums of the season! After a foggy, (relatively) cold summer in L.A., we have warm weather and delicious stone fruit. I am trying to decide what to make: cake, crumble, or tart.

How long can a person survive eating nothing but dessert?

16 August 2010

A sink of dirty dishes and a bowl of boozy fruit

There's little better than spending all Sunday in the kitchen, but when no dishes get washed it can make for an annoying Monday night. Imagine my happiness when I came home from work and found a sparkling kitchen waiting for me - thanks Mike!

Yesterday afternoon we lunched on panini of goat cheese and roasted red & yellow peppers. I've sometimes wished that I had bought a square grill pan so that I could get the matching panini press, but MacGyver would have been proud - I just plopped my 10" cast iron skillet onto the cooking panini and they pressed into gorgeous, golden-brown ridges.

I also experimented with my first bread baking in months - just in time, I think, as my bread flours are probably getting a bit old. I cooked up some similarly-aged wheat berries and made a oatmeal-wheatberry half-wheat bread; chewy, nutty-sweet, and brown, it made a great afternoon snack toasted with apricot preserves.

For dessert, I fell back on one of my favorites: cold fruit. I bought some peaches at the market on Saturday that got a little bruised on the walk home, so I had spent the morning preparing a sorbet.

peach bourbon sorbet

I think I love this sorbet because it doesn't taste as aggressively of peach as many things do. The peach flavor is there, certainly, but it is tempered and complemented by vanilla, brown sugar, and a touch of bourbon. I like adding some booze to my frozen desserts, especially sorbets, as it helps keep them a bit softer. Bourbon, heady and rich and slightly smoky, is the perfect match for a juicy yellow peach.

It's nice to know that instead of washing a sink full of dishes, I can put my feet up and enjoy a bowl of boozy fruit.

peach-bourbon sorbet

Peach-Bourbon Sorbet
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop
If you don't like the taste of bourbon, you may want to halve the total amount in the recipe - it's not terribly strong, but it is an assertive flavor.

2 lbs fresh, ripe yellow peaches (freestone are easiest to deal with)
1/2 C water
1/2 C granulated sugar
2 T packed dark brown sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract
1 T good-quality bourbon

Blanch the peaches in boiling water for 10 seconds, then dunk in ice water to cool. Slip off the skins and cut into large chunks. Bring to a boil in a medium saucepan with the water, then cover and simmer until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add more water by tablespoonfuls if the fruit sticks.

Remove from heat and stir in the sugars. Taste and add more granulated sugar if desired. Let cool completely, then purée in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add vanilla extract and bourbon, then transfer to the refrigerator to chill completely.

Freeze in your favorite ice cream freezer, then transfer to the freezer to solidfy completely.

Makes about 1 quart

14 August 2010

A bumper crop

I can't get enough of fresh tomatoes.

early spring tomato

When I was a kid, fresh tomatoes were a real summer treat. Living in Alaska, I called the tomatoes that showed up in the winter "snow tomatoes", for both their consistency and their color. Come summer, my paternal grandfather would send a box of newspaper-wrapped tomatoes up to us twice a week; even if a few got squashed along the way, the price of shipping was still less than we would have paid for grocery-store tomatoes.

Later in the summer, when we would travel to Washington and Oregon to visit my grandparents, I would pluck juicy, crimson tomatoes from the vines every day, eating them like apples with breakfast, cutting them into wedges for a snack, slicing and peppering them with dinner. One summer my grandma grew over 25 plants in her garden-for-two, making tomato sauce, drying them, and gobbling them up as fast as possible.

jubilee tomato

We only have five tomato plants in our little patio garden, but I still have plenty of chances to experience the sublimity of biting into a homegrown tomato. My homegrown tomato. I picked eight tomatoes off the vines just yesterday, and I can see dozens more waiting to be devoured.

My favorite way to eat them is quartered, with a little salt and pepper and a drizzling of olive oil, but lately I've been eating (and talking about) panzanella at least once a week. Panzanella is kind of like a raw, deconstructed pappa al pomodoro, and it's delicious for the same reasons. While good bread is a must, it largely serves as a filler and a vehicle for the fresh tomato flavors - good, ripe, flavorful tomatoes are absolutely necessary.

As a bonus, it's about the easiest dish out there, it really doesn't require a recipe. Tear up some bread and toast it with olive oil. Cut up tomatoes and toss with more olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper, one or two lightly smashed garlic cloves, and some torn up basil leaves. Toss with the hot bread and let sit for 10 minutes. Remove the garlic & eat. Lick the plate... oh, is that just me?

You can add or change things depending on what you like and what you have: replace the balsamic vinegar with red wine vinegar or lemon juice; toss in some capers or red onion; Adam from the Amateur Gourmet puts ricotta salata on his (I'll be trying that before the end of the summer). In smaller portions, panzanella makes a great side dish, but I find it a satisfying, rustic one-dish meal that's great on a summer weeknight after a run and a cool shower.

I have a few other ideas for tomato dishes in the coming weeks - roasted, stuffed, braised ... and I'm holding out for the end of the season to make some tomato jam to hoard in my cupboard until winter.

12 August 2010

The best thing about Oregon...

My mom grew up in Oregon, and my grandparents moved back there when I was four. One of my favorite things about summer vacation, along with my annual doses of sugary cereal and cable television, was marionberry season.


A few weeks before our trip to Juneau, my mom had been down in Eugene visiting my grandfather, so she bought about 12 pounds of just-picked, frozen marionberries and brought them home with her. Rather than cart them home with me, I decided to make jam right away so I could share it with her.

The idea for the candied lemons was inspired by Christine Ferber's Strawberry-Lemongrass Jam, and it adds a subtle, interesting flavor to the berries. Using the pith of the lemon instead of just juice also helps to add pectin to what would otherwise be a very low-pectin jam.

candied lemons

I made the mistake of continuing to boil the jam during my last freezer test, which resulted in a more firmly-set jam than I prefer, but blackberries and their relatives are very forgiving - I just stir up the whole jar when I open it and it's just fine. As my mom says, "that just means you have to spread it on more thickly".

marionberry jam

Marionberry Jam with Candied Lemons
(inspired by Christine Ferber)
Due to a naturally low pectin level, blackberries and their kin need longer boiling than some fruits. Luckily, the flavor of these fruits holds up very well to longer cooking times.

7 C granulated sugar
1/4 C lemon juice
1/2 C water
2 lemons, very thinly sliced (preferably unsprayed)
6 lb marionberries, fresh or frozen

Mix the sugar, juice, and water in a large pot over medium heat. Stir gently and occasionally to prevent the mixture from caramelizing.

When the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture has come to a boil, add the lemon slices and reduce the heat slightly. Boil until the lemon is candied, about 5 minutes.

Add the berries and bring the mixture back to a low boil. (If desired, you can now let the mixture cool and set aside to finish the following day.)

Boil at medium or medium-high heat, stirring regularly to prevent scorching, 25-45 minutes (I cooked mine about 40 minutes and got a nice firm jam - firmer than I usually prefer). Test the set according to your favorite method and can as desired.

Makes 10-12 half-pints

marionberry jam with candied lemons

10 August 2010

A deep breath of fresh air


perseverance trailhead

A week with no TV, no email, and minimal telephone usage (I never even remembered to bring it with me) does a body good.

Alaska, as always, reminded me of two things: how much I love it, and that I couldn't live there full time. Six dollars for a pound of Tillamook butter? Sheesh.

ebner falls

On the other hand, I am rubbing my hands with glee at the sight of my freezer full of Juneau goods: 15 pounds of halibut and sockeye fillets; 10 cups of hand-picked wild blueberries and huckleberries; and 57 (!) spring rolls from my favorite Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall. I also came home armed with seven half-pints of marionberry jam with candied lemon. Due to a lack of space, I had to leave behind an additional six pounds of frozen marionberries and a pint of crab dip.

alpine meadow

Juneau's weather is always a bit of a crapshoot, but we experienced the whole range of summer weather. Flanked by several days of constant drizzle were three days of glorious sunshine - on two of those days, it was actually warmer than at our home in L.A.

backside of mt. juneau

We hiked - two nine milers and the blisters to prove it; we ran (well, Mike did - passing a deer that stood and watched him from about 18 inches away at one point); we were eaten alive by mosquitos; and we ate. Oh, boy, did we eat. I inexplicably accompanied each breakfast with buttermilk bread, toasted and practically dripping with warm butter & jam. We fried chicken, we ate King Crab (more butter, of course), we feasted on filet mignon with roasted Yukon Golds and zucchini casserole...

granite creek

On Saturday, we left Juneau early in the morning and met my sister & her stepdaughter in Seattle, where we navigated Pike Place like salmon swimming upstream and despite a week of meat overload, enjoyed a charcuterie-filled lunch at Le Pichet. Even the twelve-year-old agreed that the veal tongue was pretty darn good - and then proceeded to text all her friends to tell them that she had just eaten tongue. I took a deep breath and ordered my first ever boudin noir. Amazing.

...and then we came home to a patio garden bursting with ripe tomatoes, so we celebrated with yet another panzanella Sunday night. Back to reality.

juneau sunset

06 August 2010

Berries, the way they're supposed to be

Remember this?

berry fingers!

wild berries

10 cups on Tuesday, another 8 or so yesterday.

All is right in the world.

03 August 2010

Refrigerator blowout

I've been in the process of clearing out my fridge prior to a short trip. Sometimes I think I should have taken that archaeology class; it might help me as I sift through the layers of foodstuffs, in a vain attempt to determine what can be frozen, what needs to be tossed, and what I can throw together into an edible meal before I leave. Everything from grits to mint to egg whites are waiting to have something done with them.

The egg whites - intended for a batch of macarons that I don't have time for - will have to go, but given the lovely summer vegetables, I fixated on my old standby: Indian feast.

Indian food is one of my favorite cuisines. I was first introduced to South Asian food at college, where a Bangladeshi student in my house cooked her meals in our communal kitchen almost every day. I followed my nose to the source of the spices, and pretty soon I was eating two or three simple meals of dal and rice a week.


Under her tutelage, I learned about different dishes and developed a real taste for South Asian spices. I find Indian food to be some of the most satisfying vegetarian food available; the warmth and roundness of the spice combinations makes for a very satisfying meal.

As a bonus, it doesn't really matter what is in my fridge - I can find a meal in there.

smoked eggplant purée, Indian style

Baingan Bharta (Smoky Eggplant with Yoghurt)
Adapted from Lord Krishna's Cuisine

2 medium eggplants
2 T ghee or vegetable oil
2 serrano chiles, seeded and minced
1/4 t hing (a.k.a. asafoetida)*
1 1/2 t cumin seeds
1 1/2 t ground coriander seeds
1 t salt
2 T finely chopped mint
2 T finely chopped cilantro
1/2 C yoghurt (full fat is best but not necessary)
1 t garam masala*
smoked salt (optional)

Cook the eggplant on a grill or under a broiler (that's the way I do it), turning regularly with tongs until blackened all over and very tender inside, about 10 minutes in the oven. Let cool, then scoop out the pulp, coarsely chop, and set aside to cool completely.

Heat the ghee in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chiles, hing, and cumin seeds and stir until the cumin seeds are browned. Add the eggplant, coriander, and salt, and cook until any firm spots are tender and the mixture is very thick, 10-15 minutes. Set aside to let cool.

Stir in the fresh herb, yoghurt, and garam masala. If you would like a more smoky flavor, stir in a small pinch of smoked salt. Serve warm, cold, or room temperature (I think room temperature or slightly warm is best), with warm flatbread for dipping.

*Available at Indian markets, or online. The hing is optional, but the garam masala is a must. Many people make garam masala at home, but I love the mixture at my local Indian grocery; for a quick substitute in this recipe, use 1/4 t each cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and coriander, plus a grind of pepper if you'd like.

Serves 4 (with additional dishes to round out the meal) or more as a dip