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Dinner Party Menu Ideas – The New York Times



Having friends over for dinner tomorrow? Do yourself a favor and make everything today.

More and more, I cook today for tomorrow, for any number of reasons. After a night in the fridge, many dishes improve, deepening and intensifying in flavor. Soups and stews of all sorts are usually better if made in advance. And having much of the meal already prepared makes life easier and less stressful in the long run.

All of the dishes in this menu qualify. Which is not to say you couldn’t prepare this meal from start to finish in one go, but it will only taste better if cooked ahead.

First off are herb-smeared flatbreads — inspired by manaqueesh, a savory flatbread popular in many Middle Eastern countries — which can be a snack or appetizer with (or without) a little labneh or feta. Or they can accompany the main course. The dough is easy to make by hand, preferably several hours, or a day, in advance of baking, to let it hydrate and mature and allow gluten to develop.

Za’atar, the traditional spice blend containing wild thyme, sumac and sesame, makes an ideal topping. Though you can mix your own, it’s worth a trip to a Middle Eastern grocery where many different regional versions are sold. Some are heavier on sumac, others have more wild thyme, which I prefer.

Though flatbreads are commonly baked one by one on steel griddles throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, the recipe here lets you make them in the oven. If you do bake them in advance, pull them from the oven when they’re still pale, then brown them while reheating.

For the main, this spicy lamb pot roast — a sort-of hybrid, somewhere between a Western pot roast and a North African tagine — definitely develops for the better when it’s allowed to rest in its juices for a while.

It’s a fragrant stew, redolent of cumin, coriander, ginger, allspice, fennel and cinnamon, slowly simmered to tenderness. A lamb shoulder roast makes the most succulent stew, but thick bone-in shoulder chops are sometimes easier to find and work just as well.

Besides the spices and a touch of tomato, the key ingredient here is onion. A significant amount, chopped and long cooked, infuses the pot roast with sweetness and acts a natural thickener for the broth. Give the stew the time it needs; it shouldn’t be rushed.

Then, it’s fine to let it for rest a day or two in the refrigerator., after which the complexity of the spiced broth is revealed. I like to serve the stew with a pile of plain steamed vegetables to contrast with the pungent juices. At the table, grab a warm flatbread and get to dunking.

Finally, to finish, is a light, tender walnut sponge cake, risen with egg whites and without any wheat flour, just finely ground walnuts.

It’s hard to go wrong with this gluten-free cake — even if it falls, it still tastes good. But for the best texture and rise, keep two things in mind. First, make sure your beaten egg whites are properly stiff with shiny peaks (you don’t want loose, barely stiff whites or overbeaten, dry, sudsy-looking whites). Second, when folding the beaten whites into the batter, it’s OK to have a few streaks — just work quickly and don’t let the mixture deflate. Once baked and cooled, the cake will keep well for up to a few days in a covered container. (Serve it with softly whipped cream and a few berries.)

Preparing tomorrow’s dinner today has other perks, too. Relax, take tonight off and let someone spoil you.

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