A breakfast that takes 2 days to make
You understand, don't you, that a breakfast as perfect and impeccable as this one is not for eating, but only to gaze at and reflect upon life?
Making breakfast can be like saying a prayer with your eyes wide open. Trust me on this. I did it in mid-August and emerged with a halo around my head, completely blessed.
On the plate, it looked like this — two mother-warm, boiled eggs, sliced in halves, their cores luminous orange; a sweet, refreshing hill of beetroot salad; slices of bread toasted golden brown; a big fat pickled cucumber and some olives; and finally, straight from heaven, a fat swirl of creamy, freshly blended hummus, drizzled with olive oil and dots of chopped parsley.
This deceptively simple-sounding meal takes all of two days to make if you do it as a Zen master would. Two days of paying attention to little things, getting every step right, relishing the journey and its incidental flavours and fragrances, revelling in temperatures, and at some point forgetting to care about the breakfast.
That's our journey today. This is a culinary haj, so best not to expect ingredient lists and prep steps.
The unpretentious hummus, a staple in the kitchens of the Middle East, is what makes this a two-day odyssey. Probably the most elusive dip ever devised, it has no airs but it does have two grace notes of lemon and garlic. Yet getting it just right requires an undivided, exquisitely balanced mind and unimpeachable character.
Two things happen when you soak chickpeas: a mere half cup swells to about four, and the chickpeas leech out a number of indigestible compounds which might make some people not very pleasant company.
So the night before, you have soaked 11/4 cups of chickpeas in far too much cold water. By morning they have swollen impressively. Discard that water, whatever your girl friend says.
Hold up a single drained chickpea now to the light of day. Note that it has a filmy husk that you can actually peel off if you worked a little bit. You will lose it using superior intelligence by adding a spoonful of baking powder to the drained chickpeas and stirring them atop a medium flame. As it warms, the baking powder magically loosens the husks so that when you add water for boiling, they start floating to the surface and may be skimmed off.
The chickpeas are done when they nearly turn mushy upon being pressed. Let them cool, and wash them with more cold water, rubbing the chickpeas between your palms to liberate more husks.
There's not much artifice to the best hummuses but an undercurrent of lemony tartness and the suggestion of garlic is non-negotiable. Here's innovation: take an entire pod of garlic cloves, about 12, without bothering to peel them, and blend them with the juice of two sunny lemons. Strain the blend to extract a light lemony juice laced with capricious melodies of garlic.
We introduce here a can of tahini (sesame paste, about 400 gms) as well as a brief magic trick. Mix the lemony-garlic water with the tahini and watch the smooth-flowing liquid turn before your eyes somehow into a thick, pigheaded paste. Add this to the chickpeas and blend thoroughly, with sea-salt to taste, till you have a divine cream. Dribble olive oil if it's too thick.
The Zen adept will taste this several times during the process, playing with salt, lemon juice and oil as needed to balance the hummus. The only permitted spice is a smidgeon of freshly roasted, ground cumin powder. Resist the temptation to sprinkle coriander, garam masala, chilly powder or amchoor. A sprinkle of za'atar is permitted just before serving. But of course, you have no idea what that is.
The beetroot salad also requires early attention. Boil the beetroots the night before and cut them into small cubes after cooling. Add sour cream and/or mayonnaise, chopped parsley, salt, a touch of Dijon mustard, and a four-inch stick of chopped celery.
The Zen of perfectly boiled eggs is when you lower them into water at room temperature and tell Siri to count off exactly 8 minutes from the time it starts boiling. Meanwhile, keep a large bowl with iced water nearby and lower the boiled eggs into this as soon as their time is up. Tell Siri to now count off exactly 11 minutes. Done thus, using fresh eggs that lie horizontal at the bottom of the pan, the shells should peel off in nearly one piece after a few taps.
Warm the eggs for 20 seconds in a microwave, before slicing them in halves, topped with a summer shower of fresh pepper and salt.
Breakfast is served with sides of pickled cucumber and olives. You understand, don't you, that you are not allowed to eat it? You may, however, gaze upon this sublime meal as long as you like and reflect on the natural perfection of life.
Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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