Throw a casual dinner party that wows guests and keeps your effort to a minimum. Cookbook author and entertaining maven Alison Roman shares dishes from her new book, Dining In, along with expert tips for a memorable Middle Eastern-accented spread.
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Credit: Photo: Justin Walker

Make It: Crunchy Greens with Radish

"It's really important to offer a dish with fresh produce on the menu. Crunchy greens are a great way to bring life to a homey cold-weather meal, and the pomegranate arils offer even more crunch on top of that," Alison says.

Letting the raw shallots stand with the salt and vinegar pickles slightly mellows the harshness. Long spears of romaine make for a dramatic presentation. Once it's brought to the table, you can coarsely chop the lettuce for easier serving.

Credit: Photo: Justin Walker

Make It: Preserved Lemon Labneh

"You're giving guests something surprising to start the night off with, which is nice. It's a built-in conversation starter: 'What's labneh?'"

This is the ideal condiment: tangy, rich, salty, and lemony, all without trying too hard. It works well with Greek yogurt or sour cream if you can't find labneh (strained yogurt).

Credit: Photo: Justin Walker



Make It: Maple-Sumac Roasted Walnuts

"This snack doesn't require much commitment on your part, but it's something people can't get enough of—spicy, salty, and crunchy."

Here's a perfectly simple and delicious snack. A little sumac adds a bright piney-citrusy note. Look for it at specialty spice stores. A tablespoon of lemon rind can sub for sumac, if you prefer.

Credit: Photo: Justin Walker

Make It: Raw and Roasted Carrots and Fennel

"This side uses both cooked and raw fennel and carrot, so you get the different flavors and textures of each in one dish. I really believe less is more with cooking, and this is a great example of making the most of limited ingredients."

This salad demonstrates the magic that happens when you showcase both the raw and cooked sides of ingredients.

Credit: Photo: Justin Walker

Make It: Paprika-Rubbed Sheet-Tray Chicken

"Spatchcocking chicken is something I started doing when I began entertaining at home. It saves cooking time, it cooks more evenly, and it's easier to carve."

Roman also uses this paprika rub to smear on pork roasts or to marinate chicken.

Credit: Photo: Justin Walker

Make It: Brown Butter Cake with Cocoa

"I make a cake no matter how many people I'm having over. People are really impressed when they find out you've baked a cake. But it doesn't have to be a fussy experience. You don't have to make a layer cake or frost anything. And I'm not breaking out a stand mixer for anyone."

A good bit of salt enhances all the flavors here.

Credit: Photo: Justin Walker
Credit: Photo: Justin Walker

Modern Roman Feasts

Alison Roman's new cookbook, Dining In (Clarkson Potter, $30), showcases her knack for simple dishes that ingeniously mix pantry flavor bombs with fresh ingredients for food that absolutely dazzles.