And Now For Something Completely Different: Bedouin Spiced Coffee

All I want is to spend the rest of my days drinking this and blowing up trains.

Two years ago I went to Israel.  I have been trying desperately to get back there ever since.

This is largely because of the coffee.

On the last day of our tour we stopped for a final dinner at Abu Ghosh, a little Arab town about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  Unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the restaurant, but it stood out for several reasons.  The first was that I finally got yogurt sauce with my kebabs (Perhaps I shall some other time discuss the experience of inadvertently keeping kosher for several weeks).  The second came in tiny paper cups at the end of the meal, and tasted of cardamom and Paradise.

At the time I was finishing up Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and till the end of that meal I had been somewhat puzzled by Lawrence’s favorable impression of the region’s coffee.  I had had Turkish coffee before, and found it fairly deadly.  It may have been because I was a wee lass of ten years with no great fondness for coffee, or it may have been that I wasn’t expecting the grounds at the bottom, or it may have been that I’m a die-hard tea person.  This coffee overcame my prejudice in no time.

My fellow travelers were surprised when I reached my third cup.  They became alarmed when I asked to speak to whoever it was made the coffee.

Fast-forward a year: I’m at sea in the North Atlantic aboard a little square-topsail schooner, circa 1918 (It is recognized that I have a funny sense of fun).  The crew consists of fifteen damp, grouchy, woefully under-caffeinated women.  Whatever it was that Captain bought when we sent her coffee-hunting in the last port is truly dreadful.  The night watches can barely keep their eyes open.  Not even Engie will drink it, and we’re reasonably confident that Engie subsists on diesel and Monster.

I subjected Captain’s apocalypse coffee to the treatment the restaurant owner had described, and nobody fell asleep on watch for the rest of the passage.

Nobody really slept for the rest of the passage at all.

  • 2 cups cold water
  • 1 cup unflavored coffee, finely ground
  • 5 tbsp cardamom, finely ground
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Turkish-style coffeepot

If, like me, you are without a proper pot, this can be prepared adequately in a small saucepan, but you will lose the foam that forms at the top as it boils.

Grind the coffee-beans and cardamom to a powder either with a grinder or by hand in a mortar if you’re feeling particularly authentic.  Add sugar to the grounds in the pot and pour the cold water in over the other ingredients.  Cover pot.  Bring to a boil.  Immediately remove from heat and let stand for five minutes.  Slowly return to boil.  Remove from heat and let stand again.  Add cinnamon and slowly return to a boil.

A variation for Dune fans: swap the cardamom for cinnamon and the cinnamon for cloves.  I don’t think it will turn your eyes blue but it never does to assume.

Unfortunately, I have neither the knowledge or the leisure to go into Bedouin coffee etiquette, but it is fascinating and worth your research time.  For us, it will do to serve it immediately in demitasse cups if you’re a civilized person or in enormous mugs if you’re a tall ship sailor like me.

Somewhere Auda abu Tayi is crying.

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You’re better off using it for explosions…

Here in the People’s Republic of Food, salt is frowned upon.  For a while, the Gastronomic Gestapo enforced its less-salt policy by moving the salt shaker to the other side of the table if I reached for it, but that doesn’t work on college students.  In recent days, the regime have moved from autocracy to shame-based enforcement: exclamations of dismay when someone salts their food, glares, that sort of thing.  When I pull a container of miso out of the fridge, or get the soy sauce from the

Sodium in water. Kablooie!

cabinet, I am inevitably reminded that it contains sodium.

This, while irritating, is not, of course, wholly unfounded.  It’s even irritating enough to drive me to react, not by argument, but by surreptitiously toning down the salting.  If the Gastronomic Gestapo ever noticed I would die of shame.

The best way to do this, I find, is hot sauce.  There’s that old standby, sriracha, but I’ve never liked the vinegary flavour.  Sambal oelek is a good choice for other vinegar-haters: it’s pretty much just coarsely ground red chilies with minimal preservatives.  I put a tablespoon or three in everything from lentil soup to noodles.  My father says he gets capsaicin burns just watching.  Mae Ploy is good for those who like something more sweet than spicy, but some might not want the sugar.  It’s excellent on potstickers of every variety and makes a good chicken or pork marinade for lazy people.  You could even put a jar of chili or curry powder on the table.  It’s good for salads, rice, or anything else that you would otherwise be inclined to salt.

It also puts you a step ahead in the Sampling Wars.  I’m something of a culinary masochist, so my hot sauce habit has the added advantage of rendering my food unpalatable to my family, particularly my father, who is a born plate raider.

Whoops…..

What with the 1812 Tall Ship Festivals and moving back into my dorm, I’m afraid I vanished for much longer than I had intended when I tossed my dunnage aboard STV Unicorn back in July.  There wasn’t any internet in the North Atlantic, and then my wi-fi decided it was going on holiday, and then I went back to school.

Now I have no excuse.

Curse You, Postal System…..

I ordered a bento box from Japan a couple of weeks ago, and I got home today to find the UPS truck in the driveway. I  got out of the car, opened the garage, and put the groceries down.  The truck had gone.  I went to the mailbox.

In the mailbox was a paper slip telling me that they missed me and I had to sign for the package at the district post office.

I know for a fact the bloody UPS woman saw me get out of my car and open the garage.  I waved at her.

What the devil?

The Saga Begins

It all started with the miso soup.

It was spring break.  I was bored of my mother’s latest Western-style vegan meals.

My mother is a complete nutrition geek, and every so often my father and I find a sudden, apparently random change in diet inflicted on us. This has, in the past, included macrobiotics, which didn’t last; juicing everything in sight, which lasted longer than any of us would care to admit; locally farmed grass-fed meat and dairy, which was delicious; no wheat products, which was torture; and many similar fads.  Along with this comes endless pseudo-scientific chatter about food, food, and nothing but food.  After a few months, invariably she finds that new research has emerged and pronounces us in mortal error, while my father and I think to ourselves “Who’s we, white man?”

I was not opposed to veganism as such, but it was a little disheartening that first Saturday to come home from an exhausting day of paintballing to see raw broccoli salad and beans on the table.  Sunday and Monday brought forth equally disappointing cuisine, and by Tuesday I had a raging desire for Japanese food, no money (paintball had taken care of that), and a determination to do something about all this foolishness.

My mother was waving a cookbook filled with anemic mock-Indian recipes beneath my nose, imploring me to choose one and betake myself to the grocery store posthaste.  I selected one at random, as an excuse to be dismissed, and bolted for the silver Honda mini-van that is my soccer-mom-ish chariot.

I didn’t go to the Giant.

About three miles from my house is El Grande Supermercado, which, despite its name, is the best Asian grocery store within a hungry-college-student-in-a-rush travel radius.  If I had really been in quest of Indian food, I would have gone another couple of miles to the Middle Eastern neighbourhoods, where you can find Lebanese, Saudi, Pakistani, Indian, and Iranian stores all crammed in next to each other with no concern for Arab League politics or the nuclear question.  I shall address all of these marvelous places in due time.

I wasn’t really in quest of Indian food.  A brief foray into the hot sauce aisle and I found the sambal oelek my mother required.  Then I was free.

I knew very little of Japanese cooking, but I was sure miso soup was well within my abilities, and, moreover, I knew what was in it.  Miso and tofu were easily found; we already had spring onions and mushrooms at home.

I pulled up short at konbu and katsuobushi.  I at least knew that konbu was some kind of kelp, and thus to be found in the sea vegetable aisle along with all the sushi nori and things like that.  I had no idea what it looked like.  Katsuobushi was nothing but a mysterious foreign word.

I don’t read Japanese.

A fellow customer, amused at the confused, struggling white girl staring helplessly at the seaweed, came to my rescue.  Katsuobushi proved to come in a plastic bag and resemble nothing so much as wood shavings from a plane.  Apparently it’s tuna, dried whole and then shaved off in flakes.

I grabbed a red bean mochi from the refrigerator section and resigned myself to being stared at by the checkout person.  I have found since that if you’re a white person buying white person stuff, you attract no attention at all.  A white person with a cart full of East Asian groceries is in for surprised faces and silent diagnoses of ‘hopeless otaku’ from every side.  I don’t mind one bit.

When I got home my mother felt the need to inform me at length that a) tuna isn’t vegan and b) miso has a lot of sodium.  I stuck out my tongue, because secretly I’m a twelve-year-old boy, and ten minutes later was cheerfully slurping down a vast bowl of miso soup.

There was no turning back.