Looking for ideas for meals which each diner can customise at the table.
September 27, 2012 11:51 AM   Subscribe

Looking for ideas for meals which each diner can customise at the table.

My Beloved is a picky eater and I am trying to find more meals we can enjoy together given that neither of us are great cooks and he would be happy eating cheese sandwiches for every meal. So far, I have had some success with meals which begin with a plain base and then allow each diner to add their own mix-ins. For example:

- pita pizzas
- pasta with tomato sauce (I added veggies to mine, he ate as is)
- plain rice (I added veggies to mine, he added peanuts and soy sauce)
- chili (I had rice with mine, he had chips and a ton of shredded cheese)

Looking for more stuff like this. He has vetoed tacos or anything tex-mex, and we are both vegetarian.
posted by JoannaC to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Pancakes or crepes.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 11:54 AM on September 27, 2012

posted by xingcat at 11:55 AM on September 27, 2012

Asian-style noodle soup!
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:55 AM on September 27, 2012

Also, fondue's cousin, raclette!
posted by xingcat at 11:55 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Almost anything sandwich-like is pretty easily customizable. Burgers are an easy option (you could even do different types of veggie burger patties, buns, etc. if there is one you like and one he likes).
posted by primethyme at 12:00 PM on September 27, 2012

Burgers. Salads. Really anything where stuff is thrown on at the end.
posted by theichibun at 12:01 PM on September 27, 2012

hot pot? pho?
posted by raihan_ at 12:10 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Miang Kum, though you'd have to find something to sub for the shrimp.
posted by straw at 12:14 PM on September 27, 2012

For breakfast, start with toast, oatmeal, or a bagel and add toppings.
posted by Red Desk at 12:18 PM on September 27, 2012

An old fashioned kosher Milk meal.

Tuna, lox, whitefish

Bagels and Cream Cheese

A simple salad

A plate with capers, tomatoes, onion, lemons, olives, etc.

Blintzes (cheese) with toppings like applesauce, blueberries, sour cream.

Great hot day, summer supper.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:23 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Second on the tacos. e.g. I make eggs, chicken and groudbeef, everyone just chooses the meat and then random cheeses and whatevers
posted by Blake at 12:29 PM on September 27, 2012

If you haven't already, you should invest in a couple of small non-stick frying pans (like these 7-inch nonstick versions, under $5 each). These make it possible to customize many, many meals. For instance...

It's really easy to cook up two separate batches of fried rice at once. Both batches get the basic ingredients (about a cup of leftover cooked rice, fried up and then mixed with 1-2 eggs + a bit of soy sauce), and then you can add all manner of other ingredients to each pan as you like. Veggies (carrots, peas, squash, peppers, whatever), protein (pork, chicken, sausage, tofu, seitan, nuts, whatever), flavorings (ginger, hot sauce, parsley, basil, lime, curry, whatever).

Or, you can make individualized tortilla española! Here's a basic recipe; it's just egg, potato, and onion (and you can actually leave the onion out if you don't like it). You can pile veggies & sauces of your choice on top, or bake them right into the tortilla. Mmm, good.

You can use those same pans to make custom omelets, stir-fries, and even custom pasta sauces (use a plain jar of tomato sauce, and add ingredients to make marinara, puttanesca, arrabiata, etc.).

Other than the two-frying-pan meals, there are many possibilities. My favorite meal in the world is breads & spreads -- it's basically any mix of breads/crackers/pitas/etc, plus a collection of things to put on them. Good choices: hummus, babaganoush, artichoke & white bean spread, cheese (especially spreadable cheeses like Boursin) or goat cheese, as well as toppers like fresh basil, roasted red peppers, olives, little tomatoes, etc. Great for leftovers, too.

Many soups can be approached the same way you're doing chili -- you serve them with lots of little plates full of goodies that can be loaded on top. For instance:
- Gazpacho with toppings: fresh basil, thin-sliced garlic toasts, goat cheese, parsley, etc.
- Black bean soup with toppings: grated cheese, baked paprika shrimp (if you eat shrimp), avocado, garlic croutons, scallions, sour cream, etc.

What about baked potato skins? They're a classic vehicle for all kinds of toppings -- here's a potato skins recipe with lots of variations linked in the sidebar.
posted by ourobouros at 12:30 PM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Baked potatoes with different toppings.

Stir fries. I find it easy enough to have 2 pans going as one as I have family members with food allergies. It's a bit more washing up but easy enough to cut up veggies as needed and add what sauces etc (soy, ginger, garlic) you like to each as you go.

Wraps of some sort.

A big tray of assorted roast veggies. If you do a mix and then just pick out the ones you like.

Crudite plates (raw veggies for dipping) with different dips. pita slices or whatever you fancy.

Antipasta plates.
posted by wwax at 12:30 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fresh rice rolls. You can put almost anything inside rice paper and dip it in almost anything else (proof: I made BLT rolls once and dipped them in ranch dressing.) Lettuce, herbs, julienned cucumbers and carrots, and some sort of protein are the backbones, I'd say, but you can really do anything you want.
posted by punchtothehead at 12:31 PM on September 27, 2012

Because so many of our friends and family have dietary restrictions, I often serve dinner as a customizable [whatever] bar so each diner can pick and choose. Some of my greatest hits (and suggestions for what to put on them):

- baked potato bar: plenty of oven-baked jacket potatoes or sweet potatoes, butter, olive oil, creamed spinach, blanched & chopped broccoli, grated cheddar or parmesan, sauteed or caramelized onions, romesco sauce, scallions or chives, salsa, sour cream.
- salad bar: greens or lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, shredded carrots, potato salad, egg salad or hard-boiled eggs, croutons or toasted nuts, dried cranberries or diced apples, two or three choices of dressing. I usually serve this with garlic bread on the side.
- The sandwich platter is infinitely customizable: choose your favorite breads, spreads, assorted cheeses, sliced vegetables. My husband goes for classic sandwich veggies --- tomato, onion, lettuce --- while I prefer cucumber, avocado, or pan-seared zucchini. Build-your-own-sandwich dinners can also be built, then grilled or warmed in the oven.
- a not-very-authentic mezze platter: pita, hummus, baba ghanoush, tomatoes, red onions, olives, feta, spinach.
posted by Elsa at 12:36 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I would be remiss not to mention vegan bowls. These are hearty and delicious, usually made up of some wholesome grain, a veggie, a vegan protein, and some sort of sauce to bring it all together. They're also completely customizable -- you can prep the individual ingredients, then each assemble your own. Here are some examples -- customize as your heart desires, and google "vegan bowls" to find more.

Quinoa, Avocado, Nori, and Ponzu Sauce (cached)
Soba, Lentils, Roasted Cauliflower, and Miso-Tahini Dressing
Millet, Mushroom Gravy, and Kale
The Beauty of the Vegan Bowl (with more recipes & links)
posted by ourobouros at 12:49 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by bq at 12:54 PM on September 27, 2012

Seconding raclette and also putting in a good word for paninis.
posted by KathyK at 12:57 PM on September 27, 2012

To go along with the plain rice, you can get vegetarian pre-cooked Indian dishes like those discussed here at Indian markets very affordably (brands like MTR or Shan) and heat up several different ones at a time so that the diner has a choice, then there are lots of sauces and chutneys to add as condiments too. Similar things can also be bought at supermarkets in my area in brands tailored for the U.S. market, and online at Amazon and elsewhere, but they're usually more affordable at Indian markets.
posted by XMLicious at 1:01 PM on September 27, 2012

French fries! Make a variety of sauces. Easy side dish, and yummy when made from scratch.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:06 PM on September 27, 2012

Poutine! Can be made with different combinations of gravy and cheese, and you can add additional toppings like bacon, smoked meats, sausage, pulled pork, onions, peas, etc. I've even seen poutine made with curry sauce instead of gravy.
posted by keep it under cover at 1:48 PM on September 27, 2012

Oh dear, I missed the part about you being vegetarian. I'm very sorry! You can substitute vegetarian gravy for the meat-based gravy and use vegetarian toppings like mushrooms, peas, sauted or fried onions, green onions, really any veggie that goes well with potatoes and (vegetarian) gravy.
posted by keep it under cover at 1:52 PM on September 27, 2012

It's maybe not up your alley because it's pretty cook-intensive (granted, it's an all-day-in-the-oven-hands-off thing mostly, but you do have to call it re: when it's ready) but lots of Asian food is like this and of them all Bo Ssam is my favorite. It's pretty much caramelized pork butt whose exterior is crispy-candy-sweet with an interior like melting barbecue pork. The thing that sets it apart though is the zillions of potential garnishes you place on the table. Diners take a lettuce leaf, stick rice and pork on it, and then garnish with whatever they like best of the array (spicy and tangy sauces and pastes, kim chi, flash pickled goodies like tangy cucumbers, scallions, etc.) and wrap it up. Larb is similar, and saucy pork meatballs wrapped in rice paper rounds you moisten one by one at the table in hot water and then add modular fixings to (shredded carrot, pickles, sauces, cabbage, etc.), and of course Pho and similar soup/stew dishes.
posted by ifjuly at 3:48 PM on September 27, 2012

Baked potatoes
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:58 PM on September 27, 2012

It's probably a bit of a push, but if you can get your hands on a hotplate: Okonomiyaki
posted by MuffinMan at 1:05 AM on September 28, 2012

• Dumplings!

Make the actual dumplings on a weekend when you have some time: Make a few different fillings – say, mushrooms, edamame, and shredded cabbage and carrot. I'd season all of them with a little soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and chile paste. Now fill and fold 100 dumplings. Set aside the ones you want to eat immediately and freeze the rest flat on sheet trays. When they're frozen through, you can bag them up.

Now fry or steam (or my preference, steam for a few minutes, then fry to finish) your dumplings, and make your dipping sauces. I just whisk together the same stuff I season the fillings with – soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and chile paste. You could add mirin, peanuts, peanut butter, fermented black bean paste, miso paste, scallions, basically anything. I bet a cilantro peanut pesto would be great.

So you can customize the filling and the sauce and now you have enough frozen dumplings for 4 more dinners that will take about 10 minutes from freezer to plate.

• Risotto

Make plain risotto and then separate it into two portions right at the end. Stir whichever veggies and cheese you each want into your portions. Maybe he just wants parmesan and some sun dried tomatoes, and you want roasted squash and blue cheese.

• I second the two mini tortillas suggested by ourobouros

• Polenta – creamy or hard
posted by (Over) Thinking at 12:44 PM on October 1, 2012

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