Chapter Six – “Nice to meet you, kitchen!”

Aashat Eedich Tagine with zbip rice (served 25 with plenty of leftovers – we seriously overestimated and will be eating tagine for the rest of the week)

For the tagine

  • 10 onions cut into chunks
  • 1kg dried chickpeas, soaked over-night
  • 12 carrots cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 1.5 cauliflowers
  • 7 cloves of garlic, “smooth cut”
  • 2 big thumb-sized pieces of ginger, grated
  • 4 green peppers cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 4 aubergines cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 9 tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 7 tins chopped tomatoes and 1 carton tomato purée
  • Small bag dried apricots cut into quarters
  • Small bag prunes also in quarters
  • Boiling water and 1 cube stock
  • 4 spoons each of cinnamon, cumin, ground coriander
  • 2 spoons each of chilli powder, turmeric, black pepper
  • 1 nutmeg, grated
  • Huge bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped (as per Nour’s mum’s standards/really, really finely)
  • Salt (not enough salt)

For the rice

  • 14 cups rice
  • 28 cups water
  • A few generous handfuls of raisins (zbip)
  1. Fry onions, garlic, ginger in oil and salt until very soft
  2. Add all of the spices and allow to infuse for 5 mins
  3. Add in chopped and fresh tomatoes followed by carrots, cauli and chickpeas
  4. Bring to a boil with some extra water, then leave to simmer for half an hour
  5. Add peppers, aubergines, dried fruit and half the parsley
  6. Bring to a boil (again) and simmer for half an hour (again)
  7. Put pre-soaked rice in a pan with raisins and water, stir once, cover and leave to simmer for about half an hour
  8. Taste the tagine, season again and serve with rice

The Orange House was abnormally quiet this morning, probably because of the freezing temperatures. However, one little boy had been dragged through the melting snow by his older sister, who was determined to attend Flora’s German class, as her school was closed. Whilst she was downstairs, little Ali was twiddling his thumbs on the sofa (after having completed all three Spider Man puzzles Daisy had set him at lightning speed). He was, of course, roped in as soon as lunch prep got underway and helped us peel, grate and chop with infectious enthusiasm. When the table began to overflow with chopped veg (we told you we overcatered) we asked Ali if he’d take the first bowl (bucket) downstairs. He quickly reappeared, confused as to why we’d sent him into the French class. So Flora grabbed another bowl (bucket) of veg and headed down with him, veering left past the French class, down the corridor and into the kitchen, followed closely by an “ooh”ing and “ah”ing Ali. As he stepped into the kitchen, veg still in hand, he excitedly exclaimed, “nice to meet you, kitchen!” We’re hoping this civilised greeting will catch on. It won’t come as a surprise to know that this sunny ten-year-old became the newest member of our ever-growing kitchen team.

That being said, the team was a man down for much of this morning, until Ibrahim finally arrived to a kitchen full of crying cooks… For some reason, today’s onions were particularly potent and as soon as they hit the pan we were reduced to weeping wrecks. Poor Ibrahim walked in at this moment and, instead of turning and running, announced to the room that he was honoured that his arrival had moved us to tears.

Back to the tagine: we were pretty chuffed with it, but (and we’ve come to love their honesty) many of the residents and visitors informed us it was too spicy. This did mean that, for the first time, all the volunteers happily tucked into thirds, but more seriously, taught us another important lesson: easy on the chilli. Our comparatively high chilli tolerance came up again this evening when Nour and Mohamad took us to a nearby Syrian restaurant for falafel, and (along with all the staff) couldn’t believe it when we kept adding extra (mild) chilli to our wraps. This turned into something of a game, with them adding more and more chilli powder to the sauce, finally giving up and chucking down a whole green chilli on the table. Lack of heat aside, the falafel were delicious and a meal for seven came to only 12€! We will definitely be going back (any excuse to put our beginners’ Arabic to good use).

The name of today’s tagine comes from our new favourite expression, aashat eedich or long live your hand. It is an Arabic saying used by one of the visitors as he handed back his empty tagine bowl, and (loosely) means may you keep cooking. With a team of helpers as great as ours, he doesn’t need to ask us twice.
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