Both my husband, Martin, and I came from homes where our mothers ruled the kitchen and our fathers hardly ever attempted to cook anything.
We followed a similar pattern early on in our marriage. I enjoyed cooking, especially when we had company for dinner. So, Martin was basically just another guest who sometimes helped set the table.
But, in 2010, Martin decided to try something new. He had developed an interest in cooking and was eager to explore new themes and types of cuisine. He also wanted to share the cooking tasks with others. So, he invited two other couples we were friends with for dinner, with the proviso that only the men do the cooking. Those men, Bruce and Larry, were already accomplished cooks. Martin called the occasion The Men’s Dinner. He’s been doing it ever since, once or twice a year.
It’s been wonderful! Not only do we wives get to sit back and relax, we also get innovative, creative, delicious, and exotic food. The quality of these dinners has consistently been five stars.
This year’s men’s dinner was held in March and Martin invited his brother, Alan, to join the kitchen staff (with his wife, Marsha, joining the guest list, which made the total number of diners eight).
Here’s what the menu looked like:
THE MEN’S DINNER
March 11, 2023
Martin’s Watermelon Agua Fresca
Bruce’s Stuffed Mushrooms
Alan’s Fennel Plus Salad
Martin’s Roasted Wild Cod with Charmoula, Preserved Lemon, and Red Lentils,
Martin’s Roasted Green Beans with Garlic
Larry’s Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache
Notes on the dishes:
Dinner began with a refreshing drink of watermelon aqua fresca, which Martin made by combining 4 cups of cubed watermelon, 2 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice in the blender.
The hummus: This flavorful dip was made with roasted red peppers which gave it a reddish color. Other ingredients were sumac, red pepper flakes, olive oil, a sprinkling of Aleppo pepper, and diced red jalapeño peppers.
The stuffed mushrooms: These delectable morsels were stuffed with finely diced mushroom stems, artichoke hearts, garlic, thyme and goat cheese.
The salad: Alan said it started out as a simple fennel salad. Then he started adding more and more ingredients, such as gnocchi, tomatoes, olives, walnuts, red cabbage, Granny smith apple, and shallots. It ended up being a wild, wonderful melange of flavors and textures, bathed in a luscious dressing made from tahini, lemon juice, garlic, miso, and maple syrup.
The wild cod with charmoula sauce, preserved lemon, and red lentils: The mild fish was perfectly cooked. The preserved lemon added a welcoming tang. (Recipe below)
The roasted green beans with garlic: The crisp/tender beans had lots of umami flavor because of the addition of anchovy paste after roasting. (Recipe below)
The chocolate cake with chocolate ganache: Although Larry said this was the first cake he ever baked, it was hard to believe - this cake was perfect!. Just chocolatey and moist and not too sweet (he said he cut the sugar in half).
Roasted Red Snapper with Charmoula and Red Lentils
Jewish Cooking for all Seasons - by Laura Frankel
For the Charmoula (A North African sauce that combines fresh herbs, chiles, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil):
5 garlic cloves
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Fresh ground black pepper
4 skin-on 7-ounce red snapper fillets (Martin substituted wild cod fillets, as red snapper was not available at the fish market that day)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Red lentils (recipe follows)
Suggested garnishes: Thinly sliced preserved lemons, chopped fresh parsley, chopped fresh cilantro
Make the charmoula. Place the garlic and 1 teaspoon salt in a mortar and pound to a paste. Transfer to a small bowl and whisk in lemon juice, olive oil, chili flakes, paprika, cumin, parsley, and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper.
Place the fish fillets in a shallow container and cover with the charmoula, reserving about 1 cup for garnish. Marinate for 1 hour at room temperature or covered overnight in the refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 450°F and lightly oil a baking dish.
Place a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Remove fillets from marinade and pat dry. Season both sides of each fillet with salt and pepper and place in the sauté pan, skin side down. Cook the fish until the skin is nice and crispy, about 2 minutes. (Martin skipped this step because his cod fish was skinless.)
Transfer the fish to the baking dish, skin side up. Roast for 10-12 minutes, or until fish is cooked through and flakes easily when pressed with a fork.
To serve, remove fish from pan and place atop a bed of lentils. Drizzle with reserved charmoula and top with your choice of garnish.
1 small onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, finely diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced small
1 and 1/2 cups red lentils
2 cups water
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and lightly coat the pan with olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until lightly brown, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and carrot and sauté until lightly brown, about 5 minutes.
Add the lentils and water, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover the pan and simmer the lentils over medium-low heat until they are al dente, about 20 minutes. Remove pan from heat and drain off any excess water.
Toss lentils with parsley and extra-virgin olive oil, and adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.
Roasted Green Beans with Garlic
The 100 Best American Recipes of 2006 - Nancy Verde Barr - Food and Wine Magazine
1 pound green beans, trimmed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, smashed
3 thyme sprigs, each cut in half
3 anchovy fillets, mashed
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2-3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 450°F and set a rack in the upper level.
Toss the beans with the oil, garlic, and thyme in a large baking dish. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the beans out in a single layer and roast, tossing occasionally, until tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
Discard the thyme sprigs and transfer the beans to a bowl. Add the anchovies, lemon zest, and lemon juice and toss well to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature.