Sunday, November 18, 2007

Good, Simple, Filling

Cookbooks are filled with gussied up classics – cheesecakes transformed by lite makeovers, chocolate chip cookies enriched by whole grains, grill-side marinades renewed with pomegranate molasses, macaroni and cheese gourmet-ed with gruyere, and mashed potatoes, anointed by truffle oil, baptized into 2007. When I first made kushary, a sturdy Egyptian dish built around lentils, rice and pasta, I, too, was tempted to play. What if I added some a cinnamon stick to the stewing lentils, or mixed in some roasted garlic? There, in that pan of simmering tomato sauce, couldn’t I toss in a dried chili and some fresh herbs? And wouldn’t using spinach pasta just brighten up the whole dish?

Why, yes, it probably would. But sometimes cheesecake is supposed to be fattening; mashed potatoes need to be, well, just mashed potatoes; and kushary should be left as the simple, stick-to-your-ribs, working-class meal that it is.

Even on the night just before you go grocery shopping, you will be able to make kushary. Pasta, rice, lentils, tomato paste, onions – is this not a concise list of staples? I’ll admit, the current
food shortages in Zimbabwe and recent multi-day power outages at my house have created some challenges for a food blogger. (Did I mention I haven’t had a dial tone at my house for a month and, yes, I use a modem?) All the more reason to keep it simple, be happy that your refrigerator is reasonably full (although where oh where can I find real butter?), and remember that food is for sustenance. When it tastes good, even better.

Kushary tastes good. Not phenomenal or awe-inspiring. It is not the type of food you eat slowly because you are pausing every half-second to gush with praise. But it is good. The recipe I use comes from Clifford Wright, who has an excellent site you should explore when you have the time. The whole compilation – pasta on the bottom, rice and lentils in the middle, sauce poured on top, garnished with browned onions – improves the next day.

Rather than rewrite the recipes, here are the links:

Here for the

And here for dim’a musabika, the thin tomato sauce it must be made with.

I left my onions caramelized instead of crispy, mostly because I find the line between crispy and burnt very hard to master. And, yes, I did use ghee – I found an old container crammed into a dark recess of my fridge. The serving numbers are accurate – it fed my husband and me exactly three meals. Three good, simple, filling meals.


Jeanne said...

Oh Carolyn, it all sounds so ghastly. I know how disruptive just the "rolling blackouts" in South Africa are. I shudder to think how it must be in Zim. It is so hard to comprehend how this will all end. Even if Mugabe magically disappears tomorrow, what will be left of the country? Agricultural land ruined, economy ruined and (arccording to the article on power cuts) all the trees chopped down for firewood? It's so scary. I take my hat off to you for still maintaining any semblance of a positive attitude in the face of all this - and finding food to blog about! It does sound like a very comforting dish.

On another note, I went to see Arcade Fire last night and you were right - it would be very hard not to have a good time at their excellent concert!

Hari Nair said...

I guess traditional classics would not have become 'classics', had they not tasted good without any embellishments. I agree with you. Much rather let dishes like kushary stay they way they are.

Incidentally, I like your blog for the way it brings Africa alive to me. I haven't been there yet and would very much like to. Pending that, your blog has gone up on my blogroll.

Carolyn said...

Jeanne - Well, I don't always have a positive attitude, that's for sure! Glad you had fun at Arcade Fire!

Hari nair - Good point about how classics have become classics! Hope you make it to Africa some day - there are so many amazing things to see and people to meet.

Anonymous said...

To make the links to the kushary and the dima musabika work change the "html" in the url to "php" and it will take you there.