Saturday, 15 February 2014

Even More Cheap Chow

Tomato and cucumber salad, mujaddara with crispy fried onions and a fried egg slathered with chilli sauce.

February, called by Stephen Fry 'the Tuesday of the year', i.e., a kind of temporal no man’s land, is a thin month. The teachers at the Little CHEF (Centre for Hammering English into Foreigners) where I work are all reduced to eight hours a week, which puts us temporarily on the national minimum wage. This isn't going to be for long, so I'm not complaining - not too much, anyway - and once again I'm on the lookout for food that's cheap, healthy and above all not boring. So, what have I got in? It must be admitted that ‘economical’ and ‘systematic’ are not words in my active vocabulary. I looked in the kitchen cupboard: half a packet of Puy lentils, a jar of bulgur wheat and various odds and sods such as sun dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts in olive oil, none of them in the first flush of youth. The fridge had become a kind of gastronomic oubliette of sweaty mushrooms, yellowing parsley, half-used cans and jars of stuff now barely identifiable, and a browning, rubbery cauliflower like a monkey’s brain. All in all, the lentils and bulgur seemed the most promising. I looked on line and found mujaddara, an Arab dish of lentils with rice or bulgur flavoured with onions, and possibly a descendant of the original mess of potage that Esau sold his birthright for. From The Book of Khalid by Ameen Rihani:

Mojadderah,” writes Khalid, “has a marvellous effect upon my humour and nerves. There are certain dishes, I confess, which give me the blues. Of these, fried eggplants and cabbage boiled with corn-beef on the American system of boiling, that is to say, cooking, I abominate the most. But mojadderah has such a soothing effect on the nerves; it conduces to cheerfulness, especially when the raw onion or the leek is taken with it. After a good round pewter platter of this delicious dish and a dozen leeks, I feel as if I could do the work of all mankind. And I am then in such a beatific state of mind that I would share with all mankind my sack of lentils and my pipkin of olive oil. I wonder not at Esau’s extravagance, when he saw a steaming mess of it. For what is a birthright in comparison?”

Well, that’s quite a recommendation, so I had a look through recipes until I found one I liked the sound of and felt I could pull off, as my main fear was of turning the lot into a sludgy poultice - or having to plough through raw onion and a dozen leeks. You need green or brown lentils, Puy for maximum flavour and expense, bulgur wheat, a fat onion, thinly sliced, a pinch each of cumin, cinnamon, allspice and ground coriander, and some olive oil. Don’t overdo the spices: some of the recipes I consulted warned against the inclusion of any flavouring other than salt, but I thought that sounded a bit dull. Start by frying half the onion very gently for quite a long time, until you obtain almost a savoury-sweet puree. Add the spices and fry for a minute or so longer. Now tip in your lentils and something like twice their volume of water. Keep an eye on them and cop them just before they are completely softened, at which point you stir in the bulgur wheat, some salt and a little more boiling water if necessary. Cover the pan with kitchen paper and a lid (the paper stops the condensed steam from dripping back into the pan and turning the contents into a swamp) and set it aside to allow the bulgur to absorb the gently spiced, oniony liquid. Meanwhile, fry the other half of the sliced onion until it is well browned but not black and bitter. Put the lentil and bulgur mixture on a good round pewter platter if you have one, but I won’t hold you to that. Serve with the caramelised onion on top, and maybe a scattering of open-leaf parley or coriander for pretty. What I particularly like with this recipe is the contribution of the long-cooked onions at the start, keeping the whole thing moist and savoury.  

Mujadarra makes an excellent vegetarian meal eaten with a salad of tomatoes, cucumber and olives, scattered with chopped parsley or mint. A dollop of Greek yogurt on the side is nice, and a smaller dollop of sweet chili sauce on top of the yogurt-dollop is even nicer. Crisp-skinned chicken thighs or drumsticks go well with it too, or cheaper, poached or fried eggs. I reckon one frying pan of mujaddara will do you at least twice and set you back not much more than ninety pence.     

Fry, S. (1997) Moab is my Washpot London: Hutchinson 


Authoritative voice in a dream in the early hours of this morning: 'the child has been taken away for aggregated jiggling.'


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Forswear thin potations

Lots of hits from US crossword solvers today 10 Jan 15. The answer, folks, is 'themselves'.

Roger Allam here as Falstaff in Henry IV part II delivering Falstaff's praise of sherris sack with wonderful clarity and wit.

Below is an excellent performance by the same actors of Hal and Falstaff's play-within-a-play from Henry IV part I. For anyone unfamiliar with the story, Prince Hal, the future King Henry V, is misspending his youth among the whores and drunks of Eastcheap, whose society he plans to abjure in due course, because then:

My reformation, glittering o'er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.

This reminds me somewhat of the Evangelical scam-artist's salvation testimony: 'I was a sinner, I was a drunk, I went a-thievin an a-whorin, but Jee-sus come into my life and now I'm the father of an entire Gospel choir and CEO of twenty zillion companies, please give generously.'

In this scene, a messenger from the King has been sent to the tavern-cum-brothel where Hal hangs out to summon the prince to a bollocking from his father the following day. Hal and Falstaff both know that the King is going to require Hal to abandon his dissolute friends and shape up for kingship. After Falstaff has got rid of the messenger ('What doth Gravity out of his bed at midnight? ... I'll send him packing') he proposes that Hal rehearse his responses to his father in a role-play, or play extempore as it was so much better called back then. This provides Falstaff with an opportunity to plead his case that the future King Hal should maintain their friendship, much to the aging soak's benefit. But Hal knows even now that this will not happen.

If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked. If to be old and merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know is damned. If to be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh’s lean kine are to be loved. No, my good lord, banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins, but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant being, as he is old Jack Falstaff, banish not him thy Harry’s company, banish not him thy Harry’s company. Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.

'All the world' indeed. Falstaff is wit, camaraderie, irony, disrespect for poker-faced authority. He's amoral, manipulative and irresponsible. He's immensely likeable. But Hal replies chillingly:

I do. I will.

This foreshadows Hal's repudiation of Falstaff at the end of Henry IV part II:

I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!
I have long dream'd of such a kind of man,
So surfeit-swell'd, so old and so profane;
But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.
Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace;
Leave gormandizing; know the grave doth gape
For thee thrice wider than for other men.
Reply not to me with a fool-born jest:

Presume not that I am the thing I was;
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn'd away my former self;
So will I those that kept me company.

Yeah, well, you can really go off people, can't you? We later learn that Hal will provide for his former friends on the condition that they reform. What an insufferable prig.


And here, on the following day, Hal meets his father. His contrition is rather casual and unconvincing until Henry roars 'God pardon thee!' and Hal finally starts to sober up.



Blog Widget by LinkWithin