Me at the start of the pandemic: I’m going to cook all the things!!! I’m going to grow and then harvest and then preserve my own vegetables! I’m going to marinate stuff! How do you make a soufflé? Should I buy a thermo whip? Probably!
Me now: I’ve had pasta pesto for my last 17 meals, including breakfast. Unrelated, why are my fingernails falling off?
In an attempt to get excited about food again (and eat at least one entire vitamin) I’ve started doing themed food and film nights. a.k.a. Netflix and Chow.
Last night was a Lebanese dish from Veggiestan: A Vegetable Lover’s Tour of the Middle East by Sally Butcher and the 1998 film West Beirut.
The dish was a broccoli and tahini bake called Broccoli bi Jarator and the reason I wanted to try it was mainly down to Butcher’s claim that: “Broccoli and tahini go together like bread and butter.” As a culinary uninspired vegetarian who could quite happily live off sandwiches (to the point that I’ve given myself a low-level wheat intolerance), I was intrigued. Also broccoli is green and it’s a bake, so minimal dishes.
Pretty good! I didn’t have any peanut oil and I was going to use sesame oil but then I thought: “chemistry is a thing” and realised that sesame has a lower smoke point than peanut, so opted for sunflower oil. I also didn’t have any Aleppo pepper, but Butcher handily suggested the alternative of using half paprika, half cayenne pepper.
The only hiccup was that it was my turn to give Lamb her evening walk. I put the bake in the oven, thinking I’d be back before it was done. Nope. So it sat in the oven for a bit longer than suggested and then I realised I should do some pasta with it (another suggestion from Butcher). By the time everything was ready it was a bit… I’m not going to say “congealed”, because it was still great, but I will say “solid”. Next time I’d serve it up as soon as it comes out of the oven.
I found West Beirut by searching Netflix for ‘Lebanese movies’ and I love this film so much that I almost feel guilty that I didn’t do a search for it earlier? Putting my psychological issues to one side: picture Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, set in Beirut, in the middle of a civil war. Can’t quite envisage it? That’s why you should watch the film.
Tarek (played by the director’s younger brother, Rami Doueiri) is a teenager in April 1975, when civil war breaks out. And he’s loving it. School is cancelled and Tarek spends the early days of the war cycling around Beirut with his best mate Omar and a new girl in the neighbourhood, May. They have a Super8 camera and record the dividing up of Beirut between mixed religious neighbourhoods in the West, and majority-Christian neighbourhoods in the East. Things take a more serious turn when bombs start falling and religious tensions heighten.
West Beirut is shot in a joyous, carefree way that provides a striking contrast to the civil war and makes the ending really poignant. It doesn’t have a happy ending, but it’s also not the grim, loss-of-innocence stuff that tends to crop up when Western directors make films about the Middle East.
Broccoli and tahini doesn’t quite have the comfort food qualities of bread and butter for me, but it’s still 10/10 would eat and watch again.