I made this Coconut Curry Carrot Soup with Cucumber-Peanut Relish to bring to a dinner party recently. Unlike George Costanza from Seinfeld, I have no problem with the expectation that people should bring something to a dinner party to show the host that the meal is appreciated.
ELAINE: These people invited us for dinner. We have to bring something.
ELAINE: Because it’s rude, otherwise.
GEORGE: You mean just going there because I’m invited, that’s rude?
GEORGE: So you’re telling me instead of them being happy to see me, they’re going to be upset because I didn’t bring anything. Ttst. You see what I’m saying?
JERRY: The fabric of society is very complex, George.
George may be socially awkward, but I do sympathize with him just a little bit. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to bring to a dinner party. So an invitation to dinner must always be followed by the question, “What may I bring?”
Coconut Curry Carrot Soup
It’s the host’s responsibility to answer that question in a straight-forward manner. In the case of the dinner party I recently attended the host answered by requesting that I bring something as a first course. I consider that a score. The first course is my favorite course. I made Coconut Curry Carrot Soup with a Cucumber-Peanut Relish. It’s a little sweet, a little spicy, and it has a gorgeous color too. All of these attributes are conversation starters. The first course is a great time to get the conversation rolling comfortably. So whether the guests think my carrot soup is surprisingly spicy, or just plain pretty– the party gets off to a great start.
The dinner party I just attended was hosted by very good friends and it’s easy to ask a very good friend to bring whatever you need for your party– even carrot soup. But what if you’re invited to a more formal occasion? Well, I believe the guest still should ask, “What may I bring?”
Be prepared however, the answer is often “nothing.”
“Hallelujah” may be your first impulse, but to me the idea of bringing “nothing” makes me feel conflicted. I’ll be honest my first impulse is to go ahead and whip up some carrot soup, or maybe a seasonal salad. The truth is we should listen to our hosts on these occasions. We may think we’re being gracious by bringing along our favorite side dish, but oven space can be at a premium during a dinner party. The extra chore of reheating your casserole could be a burden to the host. When someone says to bring “nothing” they usually mean it. Under these circumstances, it’s quite uncouth to waltz into your host’s kitchen carrying 6 plastic bags from the Piggly Wiggly, announcing with pride, “I brought pretzels and Pixie Sticks, why don’t we start with those and save your pretty soufflé for later?”
Even if you’re a better cook (and you know it), this is not your party, not your house, NOT your rules. Trust me. I have a lot of trouble dropping the culinary reins– I’ve learned the hard way.
But in truth, you can’t just bring “nothing” and that’s why they invented the Host Gift.
Lula Cellars Mendocino Rosato, 2013
Pairs well with spicy Asian dishes, tomato-y Italian food, arugula salad with lime-grilled prawns, pesto, soft cheeses.
The Host Gift can really be anything at all. Anything that feels right to you will be greatly appreciated. I’ve been known to bring a hand-carved wooden spoon. What cook wouldn’t like that? Flowers are also a common host gift. On the surface they seem the perfect choice. But let me give you a word of warning: handing the host a big bunch of flowers that need to be trimmed, arranged and put into a suitable vase just as the soufflé is coming out of the oven can be another one of those burdens I mentioned earlier. Sweetly intended of course, but a burden nonetheless.
Wine is the classic choice to bring to any occasion. In fact, even when I’m bringing food, I usually bring wine too. Taking a bottle of wine to a dinner party as a gift to the host is common, so make it memorable by bringing a bottle that reflects the taste of the host. You may ask ahead what is being served. That way you can bring something appropriate to the meal. However, don’t expect your wine to be served on this particular occasion. It’s completely up to the host’s discretion what wine to serve and when.
There are polite ways to encourage that your wine makes an appearance. I often say “I chose this wine with your menu in mind”. Most people are flattered by the extra care you took and are happy to serve your wine at the appropriate time. Sometimes, it’s even fun to have a tasting during the meal to compare one wine against another. However, if you know for certain that your Bordeaux is going to beat the pants off the Blue Nun chilling in the bucket, it might seem a bit pompous to suggest such a thing. Again do not become a burden to your host, or worse yet, embarrass them in their own home.
Coconut Curry Carrot Soup Paired with Lula Cellars Mendocino Rosato
That said, I’m a cook at heart and am most pleased when the host asks me to bring something to eat. Be it a sweet and spicy bowl of Coconut Curry Carrot Soup or George’s iconic Black & White Cookies– if you invite me to dine in your home I’ll bring something appropriate. And you’ll be glad I left the Pixie Sticks in the car. GREG
Coconut Curry Carrot Soup