My Biggest Lunch Box EVER!

My husband's Rotary Club is hosting a cultural exchange group from India this week. "On Friday afternoon we need someone to fix them all a picnic in the park. They're all vegetarian. Volunteers?"

My husband eagerly piped up. "Why, my wife wrote a cookbook all about vegetarian lunches! I'm sure she'd love to do it! She'll make something fantastic!"

Thanks a lot, dear. Lunch for twenty, coming up!

My first thought was to panic. What could I possibly make for a group from India, where they make some of the most amazing vegetarian dishes I've ever had? It wouldn't be Indian food, that's for sure. Anything I made would only be a dim shadow of the brilliance they are used to at home.

I settled on one of my favorites from Vegan Lunch Box: Tofu Apple Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce. I increased the heat to grown-up levels with extra cayenne and chili oil.

Next to the Spring Rolls is a large green salad with a mini-salad bar of toppings to choose from (hearts of palm, baby carrots, celery, chickpeas, sugar snaps) and Yumm! sauce or vinaigrette for dressing.

I also decided to feature some local Mid-Columbian produce: fresh asparagus from a produce stand down the road mixed with snow peas fresh from our garden, lightly blanched and tossed with a simple soy sauce dressing ("Ted's Asparagus" in my cookbook). And the first picking of Chelan cherries was at the Farmer's Market this week; not as sweet as Bings, but close.

For dessert I made an enormous dish of Thai Baked Rice Pudding (the reviewer is right, it's fine without the eggs...darn, I wish I had taken the plastic wrap off before taking the picture!). I put a little dish of extra coconut milk on the side to sprinkle on top. I thought this baked version would be easier to transport and serve than my more liquid version. It was fine, but after tasting I've decided that I prefer the flavor of my runny, more traditionally Thai version.

Not pictured: lots of juice, lemonade and water to drink, and the crackers and cheese my husband insisted on bringing.

Verdict: After my initial disgruntlement at having been volunteered without my approval, I actually did get into preparing and serving the Big Lunch. It was fun meeting these men and women from India and hearing about their trip. There was a language barrier, but I got the impression that they were enjoying their tour of America. Some of them weren't sure what the tofu was (do they not have tofu in India?), but they all seemed especially taken with the black rice, and a few even asked for the recipe.

One of their American hosts looked over the spread with trepidation. "When I heard you were making the food I just knew it would be healthy." Sorry! Have some crackers and cheese...