Have you ever cooked a meal for a crowd? Planning a menu and figuring out the shopping list all comes down to basic math, larger pots, more time, and helping hands.
My friend Dharam Dev Kaur had asked me to plan and prepare lunch for 30 yogis at a day-long yoga intensive a couple weeks ago (I also taught a 90-minute segment talking about yogic foods). It was fun to go through my recipes and plan the menu. We finally settled on Potent Potatoes (one of the first yogic foods Yogi Bhajan taught us), my Santa Fe Special Soup, steamed beets, green salad, baked marinated tofu, and Golden Yogurt (also from YB). All so good!
Picking the recipes was the easy part. It took another hour or so to calculate ingredients for 30 servings and make the shopping list. I use Excel and let it do the math for me. I might be converting down (I have developed many recipes for large quantities) or up. When you are preparing a lot of food, instead of thinking teaspoons, tablespoons, and cups or ounces… you are converting to cups, quarts, and pounds. So you’ve got to understand how different measures convert. It’s also easier to use decimals than fractions. Decimals are especially helpful for compiling your shopping list for multiple dishes. When you’ve got your totals, round up as necessary or convenient..
Here is a simple conversion table that you may find helpful some day:
1 tsp. = .33 Tbsp.
2 Tbsp. = .125 cup
3 tsp. = 1 Tbsp.
2 Tbsp. = 1 ounce
16 Tbsp. = 8 ounces = 1 cup
16 ounces = 2 cups = 1 pint = 1 pound
32 ounces = 4 cups = 1 quart
16 cups = 4 quarts = 1 gallon
5 lbs. of chopped vegetables = about 4 quarts
Anyway, I got it all figured out, DDK did all the shopping, and when I got to her home Saturday morning I was pretty much ready to go. She had a helper there for me, a lot of the chopping was already done, and the tofu was already marinating in lemon and garlic. I had 2 1/2 hours to get everything done, and not a minute to spare, and still had to chop all the onions, more garlic and ginger, and a few other ingredients, and orient myself to an unfamiliar kitchen space.
First things first. I said an ardas, which is a prayer, to get myself centered and in a clear space. It is always a good idea to put out a prayer when you start anything, and especially when preparing food for others. I prayed that the Divine come into the food and that everyone who was to eat it would be uplifted and healed by it. I prayed to keep my ego out of the ingredient list and to to let light, love, and healing energy come into the food..
Then my helper and I got 20 big russet potatoes rubbed with olive oil and in the oven to bake, and began the rotation of tofu (we had 4 big roasting pans of tofu). I lined the aluminum roast pans with parchment. Parchment is great for roasting veggies and baking tofu because you don’t need to add any oil. I drizzled a little more lemon juice on top, some Bragg Liquid Aminos, and whatever herbs I could find in her spice cabinet. Sprinkled it all with some cayenne and it was ready to bake; each tray baked at 400 for about 30 minutes. If you try this, bake as long as it takes to get the consistency you like. Longer will give you a chewier, drier texture and crisper exterior.
Cooking for 30 isn’t as intimidating as it may sound (the most I’ve planned and cooked for is 1200), and you can probably get by with whatever assortment of pots and pans you have.. DDK had a 16-quart stainless steel stock pot, a 4-quart size wok, and aluminum roast pans for baking tofu and for putting salad.
She’d already steamed the beets whole, as I’d requested, and it was a cinch to slide off their skins and slice them up. I added a good drizzle of olive oil and about a half cup of lemon juice and those beets were ready to go. While the potatoes were baking I got started on the soup… a one-pot deal. I put the water on to boil and as the ingredients were chopped, added them to the pot… red potatoes, carrots, butternut squash, zucchini, onions, garlic, roasted green chiles, a few chopped tomatoes, red chile powder…. and let it all simmer.
Then it was time to cook up a spicy masala of onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, red chiles, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper for the Potent Potatoes.. With a masala, the more you make, the longer it takes to cook. This one took almost an hour, and was done with about 30 minutes to spare… I could have used 45.
Those potatoes coming out of the oven were very hot! And we had to quickly slice them in half, scoop out their insides, mix that up with the masala and chopped cilantro, and then restuff the potatoes.
When you are making any kind of stuffed potato dish, always buy some extra potatoes. I was making 30 servings (each a half potato) and had 5 extra potatoes.This way when you refill the potato shells, you can make nice rounded mounds of stuffing.
It was time to take all the food over to serve to the yoga students and we still had to make the salad. We put all the stuffed potatoes into 2 roast pans and sprinkled them with chopped green onions (if you like, try melting cheese over the top first, and then garnish with chopped onions).. Emptied bags and bags of baby greens and arugula into 2 other roast pans, added cherry tomatoes and some sliced onions, drizzled all with olive oil, and lastly added lemon juice. Perfect.
That was it. The tofu was done. Everything got loaded into the car… potatoes, beets, salad, soup, tofu, and the Golden Yogurt I’d made at home and brought with me. The food was on its way. All I had left to do was a quick splash of water on my face (would have loved time for a shower), change my clothes, and get over to join everyone at the course. Happily, when I arrived about 15 minutes later, they were just finishing up the morning yoga session. Perfect timing. Lunch was served! One of the yoga students asked me to take a snap of her plate of food… the colors of everything together were delightful.
After everyone enjoyed their meal, it was time to teach them about some of the food they’d just eaten…. turmeric, onions, garlic, ginger, and other spices. My husband taught the next segment, “From Worrier to Warrior”, and afterwards we went to Tuk Tuk Thai on Pico Blvd., in the neighborhood where we used to live, it’s become our favorite Thai spot. Cozy dinner, and then a 2-hour drive home to Bakersfield. What did I say? Yes, a very Great Day!
Here’s the recipe for the soup I made. You will also find it in my new cookbook, From Vegetables with Love: Recipes and Tales from a Yogi’s Kitchen, that will be coming out in Spring 2015. Here’s your preview!
Santa Fe Special Soup
This New Mexico-inspired soup is flavored with roasted green chiles, red chile, squash, corn, potatoes and tomatoes. Super nourishing, wildly full of flavor, and hearty as can be. I love it most made with butternut or kabocha squash, but you may use any winter or summer squash.
Yield: 10-12 servings (4 quarts)
¼ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. chopped garlic
2 cups chopped onions (2 medium)
3-4 stalks celery, chopped
10 cups water
½ tsp. cumin powder
½ tsp. oregano
½ tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. vegetable broth powder
1-2 tsp. red chili powder
1¼ lbs. red potatoes, peeled and chopped in bite size chunks
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 tomatoes, blanched, peeled & chopped (or 1 14-oz can)
3-4 long green or Poblano chilies, roasted, peeled & chopped
1 lb. butternut squash, peeled and cubed
8 oz. frozen corn or kernels scraped from 1-2 ears of corn
1 tsp. Salt (to taste)
Queso Fresco, Queso Blanco, or other fresh crumbly cheese
Heat olive oil in soup pot over medium heat. Sauté onions, garlic and celery until tender. Add water and seasonings. Raise heat to high. Bring to boil and then turn heat to medium-low Meanwhile, prep veggies and add to pot as they are chopped. Add salt. Adjust seasoning. Simmer, do not boil, until all vegetables are soft. Crumble fresh cheese over each serving.