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I am raised in Belgium, with the Belgian cuisine related to the French and (to a much lesser extent) the German. I'm having Indian friends over for dinner and I don't know what to cook for them.

Last time I had an Indian friend, I tried to cook something authentic, the way my grandma would have prepared it: lots of veggies, with very little spices and not too salty. It was not a hit. Indian people are used to very spicy food (compared to Europeans).

I don't want to try to mimic the Indian cuisine in front of Indian people. That won't work. But I still want to prepare something that they will like, based on our local culture. Can you give me any suggestions?

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Not meaning to state the obvious, but have you checked their dietary restrictions? I have several Indian friends who do not eat meat (obvious), eggs (less so), garlic or onion. I know others who chow down on beef big time. –  dave Jun 2 '11 at 2:43
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It may sound strange, but people from other nations have prejudices about "foreign foods" - they like the foods they are used to. Indians hardly ever eat out - when they do in India, they usually go to "Chinese" restaurants, but the Indian "Chinese" cuisine has a very heavy vegetarian bias. You could serve them vegetable curry and frites ... all Indians are accustomed to vegetarian cuisine, it is very high class to them, even if they are not vegetarians! Ice cream is also OK, if it doesn't have eggs in it - with fresh fruit, or just the fruit. Mulligatawny soup for starter? –  James Barrie Jun 2 '11 at 14:34
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In addition - whilst you might think it could offend Indians if you try to present them with Indian food, in my experience they are pleased that you are trying to provide food to accommodate their taste. Do not be afraid to attempt / "mimic the Indian cuisine". The food you make may not resemble what they get at home, but they will appreciate having "familiar food". Give them the delicacies of classical French cuisine, and they will start asking questions about the preparation and provenance of all the ingredients before consenting to approach the table! Remember it's all foreign muck to them! –  James Barrie Jun 3 '11 at 0:07
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11 Answers

up vote 19 down vote accepted

If Belgian food is anything like the Dutch food my Oma made, your best bet is to limit it to the dessert course and strike out in a different direction. Even there, throwing in an extra pinch of salt and a little fresh ginger or cardamom powder may help liven it up for your friends.

One area where you'll both be happy: Mediterranean/Middle-Eastern fare. If you pick a recipe with plenty of aromatic herbs and spices, and maybe yogurt, it'll have the rich flavors your friends are used to. However, they won't be the same dishes they have at home, so they can't compare unfavorably to their mom or auntie's cooking. Flatbreads, kebabs, braised lamb, goat, yogurt sauces... these will be familiar elements, but by using Mediterranean or Middle-Eastern versions, you'll give them a taste of the exotic too.

Using South or Central American cuisine will have similar results; dishes rich in pungent chilis, cumin, and coriander will combine elements of comfort food with something new. Indian chapatis and naan (flatbreads) are very similar to homemade tortillas. It goes without saying that beef is to be avoided. Depending on what part of India your guests are from, coconut milk and tamarind paste may be other familiar elements to play with.

Portugal also has a fine tradition of spicy foods, including the Vin d'alho which Indian adapted into the now-familiar vindaloo.

If you don't feel comfortable with these cuisines, you might do Indian, but with a fusion twist. I found that Saag Paneer with blocks of feta instead of paneer is absolutely divine. Halloumi cheese might work well too. In fact, I'd say it's better than the original dish.

A word on dietary restrictions: Presumably you know your friends' dietary needs, but if they're bringing new acquaintances it is wise to give some thought to dietary restrictions. Many Indians are Hindus, who do not eat beef, and another major fraction are Muslim. Muslims follow a dietary law called halal, which is very similar to kosher law, and likewise excludes pork and animal blood. It also excludes alcohol... which means a spicy tamarind-port pork marinade isn't viable. A sizable part of the Indian population is also vegetarian, so any meal should include a vegetarian entree.

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I'd say that having a vegetarian entrée is good advice for any large and/or unfamiliar group. There's almost always someone who won't eat the meat, whether it's an issue of religion (kosher/halal), life choices (vegan/vegetarian), health (fat/cholesterol), or plain old personal preference (I know at least one person who will only eat white meat). –  Aaronut Jun 2 '11 at 16:11
    
@Bob: note that halal not only excludes pork, but also any other meat that is not processed to be halal (that means that the animal has to be killed following a specific procedure, by certified butchers etc.). Depending on where you live it may be more or less easy to find halal meat. –  nico Jul 28 '11 at 6:38
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You can find recipes online for the following suggestions :

One thing you can try is to give a shot to Indian Chinese cuisine. I'm sure everyone must have tried some cooking some Chinese at some point. Basically they use spices to tastefully to fire up a Chinese dish. They are pretty easy to dish out.

Also you can try to mimic the Goan cuisine. Goa is a tiny part of India which had a huge Portuguese influence (The dish that BobMcGee mentioned Vindaloo, belongs to the Goan cuisine). Most Indians are unfamiliar with this cuisine, however they can relate to it. It relies heavily on seafood. The good thing about this cuisine is that it has this whole other branch of 'Hindu Goan cuisine' that has a variety of dishes for vegetarians. A lot of online recipes depict it to be spicy which is not true. This cuisine does not emphasize on heavy use of spices, rather it uses the spices in such a way that it enhances the flavour, rather than suppress it.

Good luck. :)

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+1 for suggesting a cuisine I've never heard of, but which fits the bill precisely (Indian chinese) –  BobMcGee Jun 2 '11 at 14:47
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My understanding is that a true Goan vindaloo is nowhere near as hot as what's come to be the standard in American- and British-Indian cuisine. –  Joe Jun 2 '11 at 15:39
    
+1 on Indian Chinese. Hakka Chinese was one of my favorite foods when I lived in Canada –  Ray Mitchell Jun 2 '11 at 15:43
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@Joe - you're right, the vindaloo are quite mild. You have to remember that a lot of curry names are "styles" adopted in other parts of India and beyond - you can buy TINDALOO curry in Bradford, and that is the hottest curry you are ever likely to meet. –  James Barrie Jun 2 '11 at 18:24
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Well, considering neither French or German cookery makes much use of hot spices, that's a tricky one. Perhaps a beer casserole with chilli sausages if you can find them and plenty of black pepper, or moule frites spiked with lots of fresh red chillies?

If by some chance you like this answer please send me some of those purple cone-shaped jelly sweets you can only get in Belgium :)

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@ElendilTheTall You'll need to send me your snail mail address, then. –  Philippe Jun 1 '11 at 19:53
    
Lol. They're a good excuse to visit Brugge, one of my favourite places, but thanks anyway :) –  ElendilTheTall Jun 1 '11 at 19:58
    
FYI, those sweets are called cuberdons. –  Mien Jun 1 '11 at 20:52
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Nice idea, but sausages are not a safe bet with Indian guests -- Hindus and Sikhs don't eat beef, and Muslims do not eat pork. Finally, many Indians are vegetarians. –  BobMcGee Jun 1 '11 at 23:03
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Well, obviously I assumed Philippe will check that kind of thing! –  ElendilTheTall Jun 2 '11 at 6:48
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One thing that came to me - Speculoos, the Belgian cinnamon biscuits (praise the Lord, Lidl sell them all over Europe). I was having tea and a couple of speculoos (I'm addicted, or perhaps that should be verslavend), and it came to me that there are a lot of recipes about for cheesecakes with a broken biscuit base. The base is usually digestive biscuits, but a base of broken speculoos would be possible, and also add a spicing that would interest an Indian - while being Belgian!

I think I'm going to try it anyway, even if it doesn't help you.

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I second BobMcGee's suggestion about Mediterranean fare. Another item to consider would be Italian food. Pasta al arrabiata is a favorite amongst quite a few Indians I know because of the chillies used in the recipe. A more difficult dish is eggplant parmigiana.

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I think you have a point - but are these dishes popular with Indians because they are easily identified as vegetarian? –  klypos Jun 4 '11 at 2:54
    
@klypos -- It is possible. Also, in many places these are the only vegetarian choices they have. –  Avinash Bhat Jun 4 '11 at 19:11
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It might be too late for your friends, but one thing to consider is that Indian food tends to be very complex; it's not like the one-dimensional spicing that you get in other cuisines.

Now, I'm not as familiar wih Belgian cuisine, and although I did grow up in the Netherlands, the neighbors I hung out with the most (as their mom was the English teacher at the local high school), were Dutch-Indonesian, so I'd lean towards Indonesean food as a possibility ...

... but my next idea would be to take something that's basically a Belgian dish, but is typically served with a sauce on the side ... so you could then offer up a variety of different sauces, some of which lean more towards Indian food.

For instance, as James Barrie mentioned frites -- you could serve it with some european sauces (eg, schaschlik or the sauce for patatas bravas), but also make some other asian or indian inspired sauces that they could try instead. You could also use kroketten with different fillings instead of frites if you wanted more variety.

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Mexican food is a good way to go. Tacos are easy, and you can do bean tacos with all the veggies and fixings. I am not Indian, but I married in to an Indian family, who are vegetarian. You can make almost anything vegetarian, without using gross substitutes. I think we sometimes make it harder than it really is. I know I am guilty!

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Very simple solution would be to prepare a simple lentil stew (dal or dahl) to serve along with a menu in your comfort zone. It's simple, ubiquitous, healthy and delicious. It doesn't have to be terribly hot but is much better with fresh spices -- I get mine in small quantities from the bulk section of the health food store.

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I suspect a simpler, alternate strategy might be to focus on making some flavorful condiments: chili sauces, seasoned salts, powdered chilies, tsatsiki-like yogurt, compound butter prepared with a few spices, herb or spice infused vinegar, mustards, strongly seasoned roasted nuts that could be dropped onto a salad. Local pickles may go over well. Then serve foods in your comfort zone and allow your guests to adorn things to their taste.

At one party, I made a simple dish with deep-fried (non-battered) eggplant wedges tossed with freshly grated ginger and soy sauce, variations of which exist in China, Korea and Japan. It was quite a mixed crowd, but this particular dish was a big hit with the Indian guests, who told me it was an Indian dish.

If you have non-vegetarian guests, you might try offering dishes that are popular in your area but have more spices than average; in Germany, Zigeunerschnitzel was popular, for example. I'm also inclined to believe that Northern Belgium offers a few dishes that are a bit more intensely flavored, at least with vinegars or mustard.

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My mind immediately goes to Gumbo. It would be somewhat exotic to all of you (I would think), yet familiar as a spicy stew served over rice. Since the varieties are endless, you can satisfy any dietary restriction. Make it as hot as your Belgian sensibilities can enjoy, and pass hot sauce. This is a good basic recipe for a typical gumbo http://www.gumbopages.com/food/soups/chixsaus-gumbo.html, check out the whole website, it has a wealth of information about all things Cajun and Creole. This is my absolute favorite hot sauce for this or any similar application http://www.outsidertart.com/dry-goods/sylvia-s-xxx-hot-sauce

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Not all indian food is excessively hot, and they may enjoy trying the local cuisine. I would avoid the blander fare, though. Complex flavors and light textures would be the way to go. Moules-frites might be ideal, so long as you used a flavorful broth - Moules marinières, Moules parquées and Moules à l'ail all feature rich, strong flavors in a light seafood dish. A spicy remoulade would go well with the frites.

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