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In Japan, there is shabu-shabu. In Malaysia, look for “steamboat.” In China, it’s Mongolian hot pot. And in the West, we call such communal meals “fondue.” Clearly this way of eating has made its global mark, and for the American home cook, it’s high time to welcome the fondue meal back to the dinner table.
Note: The nutritional analyses are for the fondue portion of each recipe only and do not include suggested accompaniments, which depend upon your taste. Serving sizes are for small gatherings, but you may serve each fondue at parties as part of a buffet.
Counted as a big American entertainment statement in decades past, fondue cooking fell victim to evolving American tastes, only to re-emerge in the new millenium with growing popularity, because a fondue meal symbolizes both hospitality and conviviality It also offers friends and family the chance to cook and eat at their own pace. Indeed, fondue cooking is so versatile that it can double as cocktail fare or entrée, then reappear at meal’s end as dessert—the ultimate no-fuss meal for today’s busy cook.
If you have never eaten fondue, however, you may need to learn a few rules of the game: The classic Swiss fondue—which presumably is the granddaddy of today’s Western fondue meal and may have originated in the Swiss Alps—is made with cheese, preferably Emmenthaler and Gruyère cheeses, melted in wine. But you can use nearly any cheese in the fondue pot, including soy, cheddar, Camembert and Brie cheeses. And because most cheeses melt in a hot liquid, you can select almost any liquid, from wine and beer to milk or rice milk.
Bread is the traditional fondue dipping medium, and slices of crusty French baguettes are classic accompaniments. Look for a very crisp crust or a dense texture. Such breads, when cubed, will stay on your fork when you dip the bread into the molten cheese. Also consider rye, pumpernickel, seven-grain and Italian breads. And don’t overlook bread sticks, pita breads, pretzels and flour tortillas. Fill a basket with several bread selections.
While vegetables are not customary fondue dippers, they taste great with most cheeses. Consider all raw or cooked vegetables, such as baby carrots. Boiled or roasted bite-sized baby red or Yukon gold potatoes are ideal, especially with the Classic Cheese Fondue. Artichokes look lush, and their leaves are easy to pull off for dipping. Blanched broccoli florets are handy also, as are compact Brussels sprouts. For eye appeal, arrange several smaller bowls or baskets of mixed vegetables at the table rather than one large one.
If you are a vegan, you can also enjoy a fondue meal, for soy cheese fondues and vegetable- and tofu-based fondues are easy to concoct. In the latter, silken tofu helps keep the mixture creamy as well as adding texture. Ground nuts in any fondue add richness and flavor. You may want to create your own vegan recipe using the Cashew and Carrot Fondue recipe as a guide. Tofu and tempeh are not typically served with fondue but are ideal accompaniments for vegan fondues. Look for a flavored tempeh for extra appeal. If you decide to use tofu, select the very firm baked tofu, which is sturdy enough to stand up to dipping in a heated fondue mixture.
Dessert fondues are usually sweet sauces served with fresh fruit. You may want to include some of the delicious dried fruits available in markets, including pineapple, apricots, mangoes, papaya and prunes. Fresh seasonal fruits are also welcome additions.
Besides fruit, augment dessert with cubes of firm cakes, such as angel food or pound cakes, and such cookies as shortbread or butter cookies, whole ladyfingers and almond or coconut macaroons—all of which may be dipped in chocolate or caramel fondue, as well as other sweet sauce mixtures. Select a variety of cakes and cookies for a stunning dessert.
Arrange accompaniments in baskets or serving dishes and set out fondue forks, always a necessity. But remind guests that picking up foods for dipping by hand—though a bit messy—is acceptable as well. Enjoy!