Ranjit Lal: The Fat’s in the Fire

DeTwo and a half years ago I sacked the cook; he’d been growing weed in the garden and was AWOL at mealtimes. I got someone who could make daily dal-subzi, but well that’s not food. Not when your taste buds have been spoiled rotten. My culinary abilities were limited to opening the fridge for a beer.

What the heck was one to do? Well, I figured if a doofus could ‘cook’ so could I. So I picked up one of my mother’s recipe books (all erstwhile gifts that had come back to bite me), from her huge tattered collection; I needed something that could be made quickly and easily. Chinese of course! Stir fly! Make the marinade, make the sauce, chop-chop the chicken/meat and vegetables; sizzle and shake them in a hot wok with a bit of oil and a few minutes later you can eat! I didn’t try fancy stuff like ‘tossing’ because I knew where the food would end up. That got me started.

I sniffed around and unearthed a recipe book full of Spanish and Mexican recipes. It was full of what I call TV meals: You bung everything into a big pot, shut it tight, let it simmer and bubble very gently and go and watch TV for an hour. Come back and you can eat! If you’ve put in stock, wine, olives, butter, bacon, cream etc, it’s an idiot-proof dish. (Your cardiologist will of course disagree.)

When you’re starting from zilch, everything has to be learned; the lexicon of cooking, the eccentricities of chefs, how much 6 ounces of butter really is (a hell of a lot). Of course, you will be burned, spattered, and sliced – but you learn. You learn to plan ahead and to concentrate – and use your common sense and not put a hot soufflé dish on cold marble.  And when a recipe goes loco you have to learn how to retrieve the situation, like a pilot pulling a 747 out of a nosedive. Like someone said, good cooks make good generals.

And as I write, I naturally wrote everything down afterwards. What happened, how the dish turned out, what I could try the next time: Which, led to fiction: The Deadly Royal Recipe. And even poetry (something I’d never done before). Sample of a verse:

Three hours in a kitchen

Cheeks flushed with heat

Fingers blistered, eyes smarting, nose running, sweat pouring

Flour in your hair

Dare anyone say

Anything, but delicious?


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