Too many cooks

My chef shadowing has continued this week, but I am spurred on by Hollywood film-style fantasies. They start something like this: It is opening night. One of the chef’s car breaks down on the way to work, and she will not be able to make it in time. Panic ensues…they will not be able to cater for their huge crowd! Suddenly their eyes fall on me, chopping a tomato inconspicuously in the corner. My moment to shine has arrived….

Ok, it’s not quite the whirlwind romance that one of my readers suggested would spice up my tales. But my English teacher at school always said: ‘write about what you know’, so take from that what you will. If I do happen to know other things during my time here, you may be lucky enough to be privy to it. 

Someone else commented that food, at least, may be creating some common ground in this divided country. But as I engaged in research in preparation for my presentation of The Real Baba ghanoush/Mutabal/aubergine dip by whatever name, I started to feel like I was on shaky ground.
It seems there is a thin and often (to the external observer) imperceptible line between orthodoxy and heresy when it comes to cooking much-treasured traditional dishes.   

Coexistence of orthodoxy and heresy at the Corniche

The feedback from various authorities and laypeople on the dishes prepared and re-prepared daily for the set up of the new restaurant has often diverged. For some, garlic in X dish or coriander in Y dish is definitely pas honnête. Others are more ambivalent. I had thought that Tabbouleh parsley should be chopped as finely as possible. But apparently not all agree: too fine and it risks creating a watery mush. A watery board, apparently, is the sign of a bad chopper. And messiness is mortal sin no. 1 of professional cooking. Guilty as charged.

I learnt this during my first formal training in knife skills this week – sheer (excuse the pun) joy-, and also that there is a right way to hold a knife! And that the tip of that knife, when chopping vegetables, should not leave the board. If you hear even more than the slightest chopping sound, you are doing something wrong. But then…today as another pro-chef chopped onions, I observed definite knife-lifting and heard distinct chopping sounds. Of course, this ruleis all very well when you have state of the art knives. Try it with your crappy kitchen knife and it will be more like a light sawing noise.

You say Ghanoush, I saw Ghanouj, you say Mutabal, I saw Melitzano(salata)….


Mutabal in all its glory


Perhaps if necessity is invention’s mother then possibility is its father, authority its grandmother. and variety its (passing sailor) lover. This week I prepared vegetables with a Palestinian woman and we discussed the crossovers between various Greek, Lebanese and Palestinian dishes, including a joint appreciation of Greek salad, on which she prefers mint to oregano (a heresy surely propagated by the Turks!). My aubergine research has told me that some Baba Ghanoush recipes do indeed seem to have tahini. And varying levels of garlic. And additions of different spices.

According to some…ok, internet pages, but what’s a career break if you can’t sit in hipster coffee shops with your cappuccino and mac computer….Baba Ghanoush is a Levantine dish that originated in Lebanon and means spoilt father, perhaps a happy old toothless father who was lucky enough to have a daughter who invented a new way for him to eat aubergine. I extended my research on the matter to a conversation with another chef (a sample of 2 chefs, I know it’s a poor effort), and he told me that Mutabal (the other -but sometimes the same- aubergine dip) was the dish with perhaps the least variations. So for now I give up on trying to understand spoilt fathers, who probably all want their aubergine dips a different way, and present you with the Mutabai recipe first, and then my Mama’s recipe of Melitzanosalata, the Greek version (or original dish, since everything inevitably comes from the Greek). I still prefer my Mama’s recipe, because it’s all about the aubergine.

Aubergine recipe 1: Mutabal

-2 Large Aubergines (weighing approximately 800-900 grams, this will give you 270-300g of aubergine to use in the dip)

-50g tahini

-50g lemon juice

-salt to taste
-a drizzle of olive oil
-pomegranate seeds and parsley to garnish


1. For best results, score the aubergines and char them over a gas flame or barbeque, turning as necessary, for about 20 mins until collapsed on the inside. Alternatively, bake them in the oven, this may take up to 45 minutes. Leave to cool.

2. Once cooled, peel the aubergines, trying to remove all charred bits of skin and any large seeds fro the flesh. Leave to drain or squeeze out excess water with your hands.

3. Loosely mash up the aubergine with a fork, add the tahini and lemon and whisk until it has a smoother, more consistent texture (though not pureed).

4. Add salt to taste. Drizzle with olive oil and decorate with pomegranate seeds and parsley, or whatever else you fancy!

Aubergine recipe 2: Mama’s Melitzanosalata (aubergine salad)

-2 large aubergines
-Juice of 1 lemon
-1 clove of garlic, crushed
-3 tsps of vinegar
-a drizzle of olive oil (just enough to get a smooth consistency
-salt and pepper to taste
-parlsey to garnish

1. Repeat steps 1 and 2 above.

2. Remove as many seeds from the aubergine as possible with a spoon. Mash up with a fork as above.

3. Add the lemon, garlic, vinegar and keep mixing until you have a smoother, more consistent texture (but again not pureed)

4. Add a little oil just to help smoothen the texture a little and create a nice glossy look, but not to drown the mixture.

5. Add salt and pepper to taste.

6. Garnish with parsley.

2 thoughts on “Too many cooks

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