Dear Misery Loves Cookery,
My fiance and I are introducing our parents for the first time. We (obviously) want this to be the start of a beautiful family relationship. What type of meal can we serve that brings people together?
Congratulations on the engagement! I hope you are soaking in all the anticipation and well wishes.
I love that you are already thinking about your in-laws and your parents as one big family. That will only serve you well as you venture forward, particularly if you decide to have kids. When everyone can be invited, and everyone can be happy together, holidays, special events, and even just simple weekend picnics become much less stressful.
You ask what you can make to bring everyone together. My gut response is, “Whatever you make well that isn’t difficult to prepare.” I don’t know what that dish (or those dishes) may be, but I will say this: if you are calm and enjoying yourself as the host, and don’t have too many fiddly kitchen tasks to which you must attend, you will be able to set a great tone for your evening. You can also spend your time pouring wine, which is never a bad idea.
My personal recommendation is a great big bowl of couscous, with a meat and veg component—either grilled meats and veggies with an accompanying sauce, or a meat and veg stew—piled on top. Sprinkle some freshly cut parsley or green onions on top to look cheffy.
Communal, family-style dishes, like couscous, bring people together naturally. Couscous can be made spicy or simply, which means that you can accommodate the taste (and adventure-level) of your guests. Couscous is very economical, and if you braise a cheaper (but tasty) cut of meat to go along with it, you will show off a critical skill for many newly married couples: how eat frugally, but still feel spoiled. Finally, couscous is easy, easy, easy, practically impossible to screw up. The last thing you want to do is burn a casserole for an event like this.
Actually, the last thing you want to do is say something that will make your mother-in-law blush, but that’s a whole other question worthy of a whole other letter.
I must confess, couscous is my suggestion for a personal reason, too. My husband and I served couscous as a side dish at the first meal we made for all of our parents together. My father-in-law had never tried it before, and when he asked what it was (while we were cooking it), my now-husband started to go into a lengthy description of how it was a semolina dish from African where the pieces are shaped into small circles and…well, my father-in-law looked highly skeptical. I interrupted, saying, “It’s a form of round rice [TOTAL LIE], and I’m making it with chicken broth and salt and pepper [TRUE, and necessary for this meat-and-potatoes eater to hear], you’ll love it.”
He did love it, which he declared at the table for everyone to hear…at which point I confessed it really was all those complicated things my husband had described an hour earlier.
Would I do that again? You bet I would.
Real Simple put together a nice collection of twelve tasty couscous recipes, which might make a good start. Feeling more adventurous? Consider this gorgeous chicken tagine with apricots and almonds from epicurious. Personally, I can’t wait to try this carmelized onion and chicken tagine from Saveur—caramelized onions won’t leave anyone’s breath unappealing, and are oh-so-tasty. Want something sumptuous with leftovers your guests will covet? This Moroccan lamb and vegetable tagine from Food & Wine might be calling your name.
Or, working from your strengths, if there is stew or a roast dish that you typically serve with rice, try it with couscous cooked simply with broth and aromatics, and see if that doesn’t make a statement for your special evening.
(Consider adding a tagine to your registry, by the way. Do you need one to make these dishes? No! Is it fun to have one? Yes!) Amazon Affiliate Link*
Whatever you make, I’m sure your family will be happy that you hosted them, and even happier to celebrate your impending nuptials. Keep the conversation light—no talk of wedding invite lists or potential future grandchildren—and keep the champagne flowing. Best wishes to you all!
*As always, should you make a purchase using my Amazon affiliate link, I may receive a small portion of the proceeds. Thank you!