The starting point of a party are the starters, and rightly termed so.
First impressions are lasting ones, which is why I like to start well.
Starters are the high point of setting the tone of a party. Among the basic things to bear in mind is to cater to various meal preferences – vegetarian, non-vegetarian and/or special categories like Jain vegetarian, gluten-free and so on.
At my parties, I tend to throw in a healthy starter or two even if not expecting health freaks. Quite frankly parties are, in my opinion, an excuse to indulge oneself which means that guests either eat well at a party or don’t attend one. No host is entirely pleased when their guests don’t pack in some of their food creations..
The next thing to note is to have starters of varying ingredients, shapes, sizes, colours, hot, cold. My preference is for bite-sized hot starters leaving the salads cold.
An appealing presentation is integral, at least if wishing to impress the guests. Coupled, no doubt, with lip-smacking taste. Serving ware, linen and ambience gives food presentations a lift. The look and feel do half the job.
I could go into detail on the subject of categories of appetizers and presentation, but let’s limit this post to one of a recipe and a step-by-step guide on how to get it right without having to attend a cooking session. Hopefully, even a beginner should be able to score well.
Let’s start with one of my easy-to-make recipes – CHEESE BALLS. Term it cheese burst, if you may.
List of things that go into it
- 250gm potatoes, boiled, peeled and grated
- 3 to 4 dark green chillies
- An inch-long ginger (or a teaspoonful)
- Cheese cubes (preferably Amul, cut into 4 smaller cubes)
- Three-fourths of a tablespoon cornflour
- Half a teaspoon pepper powder
- Refined oil for deep-frying
- Salt, as required
How to go about it
- Boil the potatoes. Peel and grate them. I use five or six potatoes as I often cope without a kitchen scale.
- Tip: Grate the potatoes, primarily to allow for quick mashing and to avoid potato lumps.
- Tip: Undercook the potatoes a tad, don’t let the skins crack lest the dough get too squishy for comfort.
- Tip: Store the boiled potatoes in the refrigerator overnight, if you may, for it could help set it better.
- Dry-grind the chillies and ginger giving it just not more than two rounds in a mixer. Use a small mixer jar, grinding in short spurts. Don’t let the coarseness of the outcome unsettle you.
- Tip: Coarse masala pastes help retain the taste and flavour of its ingredients over finer pastes.
- Tip: Dark green chillies lend a spicy kick, preferred over red chilli powder which can give the throat a hit.
- Mix this coarse ginger-garlic paste into the grated potatoes, soon adding pepper powder followed by cornflour and lastly, salt. Take it easy on the salt, remember that cheese has salt too.
- Tip: Add the salt at the end lest it combines with the potatoes rendering it too mushy for comfort.
- I went wrong here once when the cheese balls cracked open in the boiling oil owing to water that came from the salt.
- Mix the potato until the masala mixture has engaged itself nice and well into a smooth potato dough.
- Tip: If the potato dough should feel stickyish, rub in a few drops of oil to give it a smooth finish.
- Tip: If the dough is too sticky for comfort, add more cornflour. If this doesn’t help, a little bit of maida will do the trick.
- The next step is to take a portion of mashed potato mix to fit into the hollow of the palm, shaping it into a small round ball. Then flatten the ball between the palms, maintaining a circular shape.
- Then place a fourth of a cheese cube in the centre of this shape and slowly close in the potato mash around it.
- Once again form round balls, taking care to not press way too hard so as to avoid squeezing the cheese cube within.
- Tip: Ensure that the potato covering isn’t thin as it’s likely to split when frying owing to the cheese melting within.
- Tip: To get a perfectly round shape, cup the palm and swirl the ball around as one would while making a laddoo.
- Heat oil in a deep cooking pot, on a high flame. I use a small kadai to save on the amount of oil. Gently drop the stuffed potato balls one by one into the bubbling oil.
- Tip: Test if the oil is sufficiently hot by placing your palm a half foot away from the kadai.
- Tip: Bring the fingers close to the oil to allow the balls to slip into it, thereby avoiding a hot splash.
- Try to not let the balls touch the sides of the kadai while dropping them into the oil lest they stick to the sides and lose shape or break up.
- Give the balls some breathing space.
- Let fry for a minute or two. Avoid touching the balls with a spoon, at least not inside of the first couple of minutes.
- Tip: When the two minutes have elapsed, you may let the frying spoon swirl the oil in a bid to create waves to help the balls get fried evenly. Do not touch the spoon to the balls directly, simply let the oil waves cover the cheese balls. This is my trade trick for even frying.
- This swirling activity should take a few seconds to inspire a hint of a warm brown colour. Even a minute longer will change the hue to a murky brown.
- As they’ve already been pre-cooked the balls won’t need a great deal of frying anyway.
How to boil the potatoes
- Silly question? You’d be surprised at how many under or overcook a potato. An overcooked potato could be disastrous to the outcome.
- Around 250ml of water should be good enough to pressure cook 250gm potatoes. Keep the cooker on a high flame, turning to low after two whistles. Let cook for five to seven minutes. Give the flame a high spurt just before turning it off. Drain off the hot water soon after the potatoes are done.
- Tip: To not get the potatoes pulpy, you may want to steam the potatoes. Steam by placing them in a smaller vessel over a ring within the cooker.
- Tip: Use same sized potatoes, to avoid having to remove the smaller ones out of the pressure cooker sooner.
- Tip: Avoid peeling the potatoes when hot, or run them under cold water before peeling.
- I prefer new potatoes to old ones as the latter tend to be sweet.
- Tip: New potatoes have thinner skins.
- Steel cookers, in my opinion, are better than non-stick ones. Hawkins is the brand of my choice.
How to serve
Use white serving dishes as far as is possible. In this case, however, we want a minimum fuss so let’s simply place the fried cheese balls on a bed of potato wafers. Place whole stems of green cilantro alongside, to lend it some colour. Simply prepared, simply presented.
What does it taste like
Gooey. Nothing like a potato and melted cheese combo.