Watching Fatafeat all day won’t make you a chef. That being said, if you have enough time on your hands to watch Fatafeat all day, you've come to the wrong place. We have become a highly unhealthy society. Juggling between archaic business structures that demand we spend most of our time at the office, trying to understand why we’re underpaid, wondering whether to stay or leave the country and what settling down could mean when being able to afford rent seems like fiction, a generous chunk of the Arab demography – the twenty and thirty somethings – have been too preoccupied to eat well.
I am not a chef either, I’m quite an average workingman, and none of the posts in this series will ever feature a chef to teach you how to roll a passion fruit you can’t afford. The Arab world has one of the richest food cultures in the world, and it’s a shame we lose our love of The Banquet because of tight budgets and full-day work hours. This series will tackle just that, so if you’re in the mood for a nice night in, call a couple of your friends, this meal is for three.
Making this will take some oven time, so it’s recommended you set up some good music, here’s a good playlist:
Smooth Operator – Sade
Let the Music Play – Shannon
Au Au Au! – Siriusmo
Take it Off – The Black Eyed Peas
Souleyma – Heba Mansouri
Takhabot – Tamer Abu Ghazaleh
Yes Sir (I Can Boogie) – Goldfrapp
Computer Love – Zapp & Roger
Don’t Know What to Tell Ya – Aaliyah
Are You Somebody – ِِِAnni Rossi
Min Zaman – Balkan Beat Box
Fall In Love – BenZel
I’m a Fool To Want You – Billie Holiday
In that order, of course. Loop according to taste.
There’s one thing to take into consideration when cooking on a budget: Vegetables are your friends. Hit the nearest neighborhood vegetable market, they’re normally inspiring inexpensive starts to any cooking adventure. This meal cost me 6 US dollars, and tasted like a million bucks. Of course, prices will vary based on where you live. Price approximations in these posts will be based on the market in Beirut.
Tonight we’re getting inspired by a Catalan dressing and a Tunisian soup to make a pasta dish. Serve it with a simple side salad. Toss some lettuce, parsley leaves and white cheese in a bowl. Season with olive oil, a handful of roasted sesame seeds, a sprinkle of sumac and some salt and pepper.
Now for the main dish, a friend of mine that came back from Spain a month ago was raving about how the Catalan “eat everything with a baked sauce.” The sauce turned out simple. Dice five small eggplants, three small green bell peppers and one or two onions in large chunks. Season with salt, pepper (and cumin if you’re a fan) then wrap the mix with foil paper, and shove it in the oven. In the meantime, prepare the sauce’s better half, a Tunisian soup called Hasou that my grandmother used to make. It’s always helpful to steal recipes from your grandmothers, you’d be learning from the best.
Pour 2 cups of tomato juice in a saucepan, or dilute some tomato paste in water to make an equivalent. Add crushed garlic, salt, pepper, and dried mint to taste. Get one green bell pepper and slice it into big chunks. You will remove them later, so don’t worry if they don’t look good, but boiling green bell pepper with tomato juice is an underrated culinary detail.
While your soup’s left to boil and the wrap is left to cook in the oven, you’ll have time to prepare your pasta. I’m a big fan of whole-grain pasta, but this sauce is simple and would work with pretty much any type of pasta. If you’re completely new to this obscure room in your apartment, the kitchen, you might not be acquainted with the process of preparing your pasta. It’s simple. Boil some water in a pot with some olive oil and salt. When the water boils, dump in your pasta, eventually, the kitchen will start smelling of it. It would be time to taste. If it tastes good, then it’s done. Drain it in a strainer and pour a little cold water on it so it doesn’t keep cooking itself in its own heat. Some olive oil won’t hurt either.
By now, the kitchen should be smelling great. Take the foil wrap out of the oven and empty the vegetables in a plate. Cut them into smaller pieces, and pour the mix into the pot you cooked the pasta in, add the soup to the mix, and then cook until the combination becomes a bit thick. Turn off the stove and add your pasta. Mix well so you get a bit of everything with every bite. Sprinkle some fresh parsley before serving.
Obviously, take the time to elaborate on how cultured you are by tracing back the Catalan/Tunisian lines to the origin of your masterpiece. All done in good faith, think Scheherazade.