Next time you're thinking of serving your tried-and-true chicken casserole to a welcome group of dinner guests, try thinking outside the (recipe) box. Gathering for a meal with family and friends is a tradition that transcends cultures, from Italy to Guatemala. Consider your next dinner party an opportunity to explore another culture and plan around an ethnic theme.
Creating an exotic menu allows you to cook and eat foods you may never have tried before. Maybe you've always wanted to try some Caribbean-inspired dishes, or you're just sick of paying for your Chinese takeout. Either way, cooking it yourself will bring you closer to the culture that you are trying to emulate.
More importantly, giving your party a theme suddenly turns it into an occasion. Here are a few elements you'll need to make your dinner party out of this world â€“ or at least out of this neighborhood.
First and foremost is the food. Surf the Web, or check out some cookbooks to find yummy traditional appetizers, salads, main courses, side dishes and desserts that you can mix and match depending on the number of guests or type of meal (i.e. sit-down, cocktail, etc.) you're having. To really appreciate a new cuisine, the more dishes, the better (Psst: Check below for ready-made menus from the Canadian Living Test Kitchen and our sister site, Homemakers.com).
Add a few visual clues and allow your guests to guess what part of the world they'll be dining in tonight. It doesn't take much. Use a Mexican blanket for a tablecloth, or play a CD of traditional Indian music. Even easier: Decorate in the colours of the region's flag â€“ ie: red, white and blue vertical stripes for Thailand, solid red and stars for Morocco.
Your cultural exploration shouldn't end with the menu planning. Do a little background research on the area where your meal originated, and wow your guests by serving up information along with the first course. Look for interesting or quirky facts, not just population statistics. Let your dinner companions get up from the table having satisfied their bellies and their minds.
With a little planning your party will be a huge success, and soon they'll want to return the favour. Why not make it a monthly event. Start a 'Cultural Cuisine Club' and have one member host each month. Soon, Tunisian stews and Balinese satays will have a place in the recipe box, right beside the long-forgotten chicken casserole.
To help you get started, check out some easy ethnic menus from the Canadian Living Test Kitchen:
• A taste of the Caribbean
Take your taste buds to the sunny south with our Jamaican dinner party for six.
• Cayman Islands menu
Celebrate the arrival of Canada's own "tropical" weather with this menu, inspired by Cayman chefs.
• Antipasti for eight
Enjoy the flavours of Italy with our antipasti party menu.
• Forza Italia!
Go Italian with our dinner splendido for six.
• Rome at home
Make a classic Italian meal that'll be the envy of professionals
• Chinese takeout at home
Wok away from a Chinese restaurant with money in your pocket -- by cooking it yourself.
• Tuscany-inspired dinner party
Stage your next dinner party in the most popular room in your home -- the kitchen.
• A sunny taste of Tuscany
To mark the onset of spring, treat your guests to a fresh Tuscan menu.
• Unveiling Morocco
Enjoy exotic recipes from our Moroccan-inspired menu.
• Cantonese feast
Traditional recipes make New Year's -- or a cultural cuisine party -- a great affair.
• French country dinner
Enjoy the pleasures and warmth of the season with this leisurely summer meal.
• Irish fare for St. Patrick's Day
Get a taste of Ireland with three traditional recipes. And why wait for St. Paddy's Day?
• Thai for you
Enjoy the irresitible blend of exotic flavours that make up this menu for six.
• Southern comforts
Warm up your weeknights with southwestern flavours.
• An Armenian feast
Celebrate the exotic with this modern take on ancient flavours.
• Pan-Asian party food
Three easy recipes to make your pan-Asian dinner party a success.
• A British bash
Invite your friends for a truly royal treat.