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Cooking | Magazine

Recipe: A complete menu for the perfect (small) outdoor dinner party

From the Barbados-inspired grilled fish main course to the Southern-influenced sweet corn pudding dessert, your guests will love this meal.

Barbados grilled fish with Bajan hot pepper sauce.
Barbados grilled fish with Bajan hot pepper sauce.Connie Miller/of CB Creatives

This summer, with big get-togethers out of the question, invite a few guests for a surprising yet straightforward dinner party that draws from the Caribbean, Middle East, and American South. Adapting a technique we learned in Barbados, grilled mahi mahi gets a flavor boost by saucing it twice — first with a bright lime and brown sugar rub before grilling, and then a fiery but fruity habanero sauce afterward. Warmly spiced quinoa and plump raisins offer textural and flavor contrast for tangy marinated avocado and zucchini. And for dessert, we take advantage of fresh summer corn for a sweet pudding with North Carolina sensibilities.

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Barbados Grilled Fish

Makes 4 servings

You can substitute swordfish or halibut, but if the pieces are thicker than 1 inch, they will take slightly longer to cook. If the fish you purchase was previously frozen or seems particularly wet, refrigerate it on a paper towel-lined plate for a few hours before marinating. This will remove excess liquid that will otherwise prevent the fish from browning.

Marinate the fish for about 45 minutes at most. If the fillets are left for too long in the puree, the acidity of the lime juice will alter the texture of the meat.

1 small yellow onion, roughly chopped

1 bunch fresh chives, roughly chopped (½ cup)

2 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

1½ tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

1 tablespoon grated lime zest, plus 2 tablespoons lime juice

1 teaspoon packed light or dark brown sugar

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

4 6-ounce mahi mahi fillets (about 1 inch thick), patted dry

Bajan Hot Pepper Sauce (recipe follows), to serve

In a food processor, combine the onion, chives, garlic, thyme, vinegar, lime zest, sugar, allspice, 1¾ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Process until coarsely chopped, about 5 seconds. Scrape the bowl and add the lime juice, then process to a coarse puree, about another 10 seconds.

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Place the fish in a glass or ceramic baking dish. Scrape the marinade on top, then turn to coat both sides. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill. For a charcoal grill, spread a large chimney of hot coals evenly over one side of the grill bed; open the bottom vents and the lid vent. Heat the grill, covered, for 5 minutes, then clean and oil the grate. For a gas grill, turn all burners to high and heat, covered, for 15 minutes, then clean and oil the cooking grate; leave the primary burner on high and turn the remaining burner(s) to low.

Place the fish on the grill, allowing the marinade to cling to the fillets. Grill, uncovered, until lightly grill-marked, about 5 minutes. Using a wide metal spatula, flip and cook until lightly grill-marked on the second sides and the center of the thickest piece reaches 130 degrees, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a platter. Serve with Bajan hot pepper sauce.

Bajan Hot Pepper Sauce

Makes ½ cup

This hot sauce gets its heat from spicy Scotch bonnet chilies. If you can’t find those, habanero chilies are a good substitute. To keep your fingers from being coated in spicy capsaicin, use the chilies’ stems as a sort of handle while slicing the sides from the center seedpod. A quick blanch in boiling water tames the chilies’ spiciness, but won’t affect their subtle fruity flavor. Refrigerated in an airtight container, the hot sauce will keep for up to two weeks.

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Dijon mustard is not a good substitute for the yellow mustard. Along with ground turmeric, plain yellow mustard gives the sauce its vibrant yellow color.

2 Scotch bonnet or habanero chilies

3 medium garlic cloves, peeled

3 scallions, roughly chopped

3 tablespoons white vinegar

1½ teaspoons ground turmeric

1 teaspoon packed light or dark brown sugar

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons yellow mustard

2 teaspoons lime juice

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Holding each chili by its stem, slice the sides away from the seedpod; discard the stems and seedpods. Add the chilies and garlic to the boiling water and blanch for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a food processor.

Add the scallions, vinegar, turmeric, sugar, and ½ teaspoon salt to the processor. Pulse until chopped, about 10 pulses. Scrape the bowl. Add the mustard and lime juice, then process until not quite completely smooth, about 10 seconds. Transfer to a small container, cover and refrigerate.

Quinoa and avocado salad with almonds and mint.
Quinoa and avocado salad with almonds and mint.Connie Miller/of CB Creatives

Quinoa and Avocado Salad With Almonds and Mint

Makes 4 servings

White, red, or rainbow (tricolor) quinoa works in this recipe, so use whichever you prefer. Most quinoa sold in grocery stores is pre-rinsed to rid the seeds of the naturally occurring, bitter-tasting saponin coating; check the package and if it does not indicate that, rinse and drain the quinoa first.

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The simplest way to remove the seedy cores from the zucchini halves is to scrape them out with a spoon; this keeps the moisture of the seeds from diluting the dish.

1 cup quinoa (see headnote)

1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

2 ripe avocados, pitted, peeled, and thinly sliced

1 medium zucchini or yellow summer squash (about 8 ounces), halved lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced

1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup golden raisins

1 cup chopped fresh mint

½ cup salted roasted almonds, chopped

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together the quinoa, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and 1¼ cups water. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low until the quinoa absorbs the liquid, 13 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss the avocados and zucchini with the vinegar, oil, and ¼ teaspoon salt.

When the quinoa is done, remove the pan from the heat. Scatter the raisins over the quinoa, then drape a kitchen towel across the pan and re-cover. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Using a fork, fluff the quinoa. Transfer to the bowl with the avocados and zucchini, then gently fold to evenly distribute. Gently stir in the mint and almonds, then taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Sweet fresh corn pudding.
Sweet fresh corn pudding. Connie Miller/of CB Creatives

Sweet Fresh Corn Pudding

Makes 6 servings

This is our adaptation of a recipe from Vivian Howard’s Deep Run Roots that transforms sweet summer corn into a light, elegant dessert. Fresh corn is best, as the kernels are tender and succulent; you’ll need three ears to yield 2 cups of kernels. Frozen corn kernels work, too, but fully thaw them, then pat dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture. For convenience, the prepared but unbaked, sugar-sprinkled soufflés can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 hours before baking.

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Thoroughly clean the bowl and beaters you use to whip the egg whites. Any residual oils will prevent the whites from attaining the proper airiness.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, cut into 8 pieces, plus more for ramekins

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (135 grams) white sugar, divided, plus more for ramekins

4 teaspoons grated lemon zest, divided

½ cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour

2 cups corn kernels (see headnote)

1 cup heavy cream

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

2 large eggs, separated, plus 2 large egg whites, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Powdered sugar, to serve (optional)

Heat the oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the middle position. Generously butter six 6-ounce ramekins. Sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon sugar and gently shake to coat, then tap out the excess. Place the ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet; set aside.

In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons (27 grams) white sugar with 1 teaspoon of lemon zest. Using your fingers, work the zest and the sugar together, then set aside.

In a large saucepan, whisk together the flour and ¼ cup (54 grams) of the white sugar. In a blender, combine the corn, cream, and salt, then puree just until smooth, about 15 seconds. Whisk the puree into the flour mixture, then set the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula, until the mixture reaches a boil and forms a thick, shiny paste, 5 to 7 minutes.

Remove from the heat, then stir in the butter 2 tablespoons at a time until fully incorporated. Transfer to a large bowl and cool to room temperature, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the egg yolks, the remaining 3 teaspoons zest, and the vanilla.

In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium-high speed until light and foamy. With the mixer running, slowly add the remaining ¼ cup (54 grams) white sugar, then continue to whip until the whites hold soft peaks when the whisk is lifted, 1 to 2 minutes; do not overwhip. Using a silicone spatula, fold about a quarter of the whites into the corn mixture until just a few streaks remain. Gently fold in the remaining whites, taking care not to deflate them.

Divide the mixture evenly among the prepared ramekins. Run the tip of your thumb along the inside edge of each ramekin to create a small channel; this gives the soufflés better rise. Sprinkle with the lemon sugar, dividing it evenly.

Bake the soufflés until golden brown and well risen, 20 to 22 minutes; they should jiggle slightly when the baking sheet is gently shaken. Do not open the oven door during baking; that will cause the soufflés to deflate. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack. Dust the soufflés with powdered sugar (if using) and serve right away. Serve with fresh blackberries, raspberries, and/or blueberries if desired.


Christopher Kimball is the founder of Milk Street, home to a magazine, school, and radio and television shows. Globe readers get 12 weeks of complete digital access, plus two issues of Milk Street print magazine, for just $1. Go to 177milkstreet.com/globe. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.