[ vegetarian improvisational peasant fusion cuisine for the 22nd century ]

Thursday, September 28, 2006

cooking can be god through Nash's Farmshare Recipes, September 29th 2006

Nusrat and the New Moon conspire in mutual adulation to bring you another week of pure organic goodness, this time under the sign of Ramadan. Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, marks Islam's commitment to social justice: it's a time to give to those who have been less fortunate (whether it be in money or joy), to cherish one's family, and to honor those who cannot afford food by fasting in solidarity.

Traditionally, observers let nothing – neither food nor water -- pass through their lips during the daytime. Devoted believers, from what I could tell, have the hardest time with cigarettes. Fasting starts at the break of day, when you can “discern a black thread from white”. The evening prayer call at sunset signals the nightly breakfast: al-iftar. While Mohammad is noted for breaking his fast with a glass of water and a couple of dates, the modern faithful tend to be more expressive, preparing huge feasts each night of the month, replete with stewed lambs, walnut-stuffed eggplants, and suicidally sweet desserts. Pinenuts, the symbol of generosity, abound.

If you can hack an early fall day without food, water, gum, or cigarettes, I would highly recommend the experience. I remember a nightly sense of overwhelming thanks, identification with the poor, and general dizziness. All of which melt away by the third or fourth course – which is why they do it for a month, I suppose.

-- for your iftar: A lebanese lentil soup --

as many dried lentils as wet potatoes
olive oil
one medium onion for every large potato
a couple tablespoons of whole cumin seeds
salt and peppercorns
some parsley, lemon, and arugula

Inspect your lentils carefully for stones, twigs, and other indications of bad mojo. Rinse well and repeatedly before setting to cook. You can set them on high heat and simmer to finish (another half hour, perhaps) when the water hits a boil. Or you can give them one and a half whistles in a pressure cooker. Selon Sartre, the choice is yours. Either way, a little asafatida with the lentils will help digestion.

As the lentils aromatize your kitchen, wash your potato(es) well and dice them to a thumbnailed cube. Set aside and wait to inject until the lentils are over half-way done, perhaps ten or fifteen minutes after you've turned the heat down. Turn your attention back to the knife, board, and your onions. They merit a mediocre dice and a frypan of their own – a couple tablespoons of healthy green olive oil on medium-high heat. When you can smell the oil, slide in the onions, stirring and frying for a few minutes as they lose what little color they could once claim. By the time the onions have softened, you can add them (along with the potatoes) to the lentils.

Leave the burner on and clean the small frypan with a spare piece of bread or tortilla and dispose of it with appropriate ardor. Add your whole cumin seeds and watch them brown. It's a warm process, a fragrant mirror of the leaves outside and the family dog and young women and everything else pretty and fragile in the world. And they'll burn if you try to do something else. When they've turned three shades browner and whoever's mowing the lawn gets a waft of earthy cumin now and again, you're ready to grind. Mortar and pestle, coffee grinders, rolling pins, and wine bottles will all do the job. Crack in some black pepper with living flavor and add to the soup alongside some salt.

When the lentils have grown into softness and the potatoes are losing themselves in the starchy richness of the whole, you're ready to serve. Mix in some finely chopped parsley and finely juiced lemon at the end of the affair (only adding a hint of lemon peel if that precious commodity hasn't been reserved for cocktails), and serve. With fresh bread and a few grains of salt, enjoy in thanks and appreciation of your daily slows and fasts.

After your soup and soggy breads, you're going to want some crunch. With a little hustle (stay off the phone) you can have this, too, prepped while your lentils boil:

-- arugula pesto adorning roasted/raw vegetable tray --

a tray
potatoes and beets
tomatoes and celery
all your arugula
a few cloves of garlic
as much parmigiana as you want
olive oil
walnuts or pinenuts

Turn your (l)oven on to 350 degrees. Peel the beets and wash the potatoes. Slice them both into wedges (of six or eight) and cut again in half, the wide way. Toss briefly with olive oil, salt, and some red chile flakes if you can find some. Place on your tray, add a naked clove of garlic, and bake.

Start the lentils and all that jazz. Instead of wasting time, wash your remaining vegetables and slice the tomatoes into wedges (don't half them) and the celery into dippable strips. Set aside to wash and de-stem the arugula. Just trim the ragged crusty ends: we'll be using the rest.

Get our your robot (food processor). Give him a test drive. Good. Roughly grind the walnuts (or pinenuts if you're Lebanese or generous). Add the garlic and zap again. Roughly chop the arugula and add about half of it. It's probably not going to mix well without some lubrication, so drizzle in olive oil until it does. Add a tasty amount of cheese, grind, and explore the balance. Too much arugula will be too much bitter. Too much cheese will curdle your smile. When you've hit it almost right, add the rest of the arugula, lubricate with more olive oil, and mix in some more cheese. It should be perfect with a hit of salt and fresh black pepper. If the pesto is too thick for your liking, thin with water, cream, yogurt, or olive oil, depending on your mood.

If there's any time left, transfer the pesto to a bowl and wash the robot before the green specks dry in an expressionistic crust partout. Exit the tray from the oven, arrange the wedges in alternating circles (raw, roasted, raw, roasted...) with the pesto as their focus.

Lastly, I wanted to introduce “Malus and Two Brassicas: a modern love story” but we're out of space for the week. The main players were (red) kale and (green) cabbage, with intrigue provided by some rogue apples. Maybe next time.

recipes by local explorer ankur shah (mangolandia@gmail.com), who welcomes your comments. reprints available online at http://www.somethingconstructive.net/jamanta