Venison with red onion and beetroot relish


Mini dishes – or small or sharing plates as they are increasingly referred to these days – are a kind of international tapas, and they are much more interesting than your average canapés. Not so long ago I made a casual dinner at home for about 15 people and served 10 courses of mini dishes including some Asian, British and Italian plates and it was not only informal but great fun for all my dinner guests. You may well think that churning out 10 courses for just 15 people sounds like a nightmare, but with some clever forward planning you can make things considerably easier on yourself. If you're planning to have people over to celebrate New Year's Eve tonight, then the mini-dish recipes I have given you here are sure to impress. You can also try to re-create your favourite dishes and miniaturise them, or you could serve a range of classic mini dishes such as bangers and mash and mini fish and chips with mushy peas, and so on.

Venison with red onion and beetroot relish

Serves 10

I was sent some delicious venison fillets from Donald Russell ( before Christmas, which worked out perfectly for my mini dish party. These are the fillets from under the saddle which are also great in salads. You can serve these pre-cooked nice and rare and warm them through in the oven for a few minutes when you are ready to serve them.

300g venison under-fillets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little vegetable or corn oil for brushing

For the beetroot relish

2tbsp olive oil
1 medium red onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
4 juniper berries, chopped
1tsp fresh thyme or oregano leaves
2tbsp balsamic vinegar
250g beetroot, cooked, peeled and cut into rough 1cm dice

To make the relish, gently cook the red onion, thyme and chopped juniper berries in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add the balsamic vinegar and beetroot, season and cook for 3-4 minutes with a lid on, stirring every so often. Remove from the heat and keep at room temperature until required.

Meanwhile, heat a heavy frying pan or ribbed griddle and brush with oil. Season the venison fillets and cook on a fairly high heat for 2-3 minutes on each side, keeping them nice and rare.

To serve, spoon the beetroot on to small plates, cut the venison into thickish slices and arrange on top.

Scallop with dhal

Serves 10

Scallops work well with a bit of spice and at this time of the year, spiced-up yellow split peas in the form of dhal are a delicious combination with the scallops.

10 medium scallops, shucked and trimmed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little vegetable or corn oil for brushing

For the dhal

80g butter or ghee
2 medium onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 green chilli, trimmed and finely chopped (seeds and all)
1tsp cumin seeds
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp black mustard seeds
1tsp fenugreek seeds
1tsp ground turmeric
10 curry leaves
150g yellow split peas (dhal), soaked for 2 hours in cold water
350ml vegetable stock
3-4tbsp chopped coriander

To make the dhal, melt the butter or ghee in a pan and gently cook the onion, garlic and spices for 3-4 minutes without colouring.

Drain, rinse and add the split peas and stock, season and simmer gently for about 30-40 minutes, stirring every so often until the lentils are cooked and tender and the liquid has been absorbed and the consistency is risotto-like. Stir in the coriander and keep warm.

To serve, heat a ribbed griddle or heavy-based or non-stick frying pan and lightly brush with oil.

Season the scallops and cook them on a high heat for about a minute and a half on each side.

You can remove the coral and chop it up to scatter over the dish if you wish, or you can just leave it attached.

Spoon the dhal on to small plates and place the scallop on top.

Jambalaya with prawns, scampi and chorizo

Serves 10

You may have come across this tasty Cajun rice dish if you have visited New Orleans – as its name suggests, it does consist of a mishmash of ingredients, sometimes just using seafood and sometimes using a combination of meat and fish.

2tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 stick of celery, peeled if necessary and cut into 1cm dice
1 small green pepper, seeded, halved and finely chopped
1 green chilli, finely chopped
100-120g grilling chorizo, cut into rough 1cm dice
2tsp tomato purée
200g long grain rice
200ml chicken or fish stock
100-120g raw prawns
100-120g raw scampi tails
1tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan, add the onion, garlic, celery, green pepper, chilli and chorizo and cook very gently without colouring and with a lid on for 10 minutes, stirring every so often.

Stir in the rice, add the tomato purée and the stock and season, cover and cook on a very low heat (a simmer plate works well for this), stirring every so often until the rice is almost cooked.

Stir in the prawns and scampi and parsley and continue cooking for 4-5 minutes until the rice is just cooked and the liquid has more or less evaporated and the rice is still moist. If not, just stir in a little more stock. Serve immediately.

Chorizo with butternut squash

Serves 10

2tbsp olive oil
2 large shallots, peeled, finely chopped
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into rough 1-2cm chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
200ml chicken stock
1tbsp chopped coriander
2-3 large or 20 mini grilling chorizo

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan; cook the shallots for a couple of minutes. Add the squash, season; continue cooking for 2-3 minutes. Add the stock, simmer until the squash is tender, and stir in the coriander. Meanwhile, grill the chorizo. Spoon the squash on to small plates and if you are using large chorizo just slice it and arrange on top or leave the small ones whole.