I love to prepare food for people, so it didn't take much convincing for me to volunteer to cook for Rob’s botany field trip on the weekend: a total of 21 students and 6 staff. We did a scaled down version of my birthday dinner. I’d been busy during the week and had made a double batch (each) of Turkish Delight, Baklava and Nummoora (semolina cake).
So Saturday dawned, and after dropping Rob off at Uni I headed to Salamanca to buy herbs from the Hmong people. The smell of fresh mint and parsley filled the car- I love that fragrance, better than any expensive perfume! After packing the van with ingredients and equipment I drove to Orford to the camp behind Spring Beach. It has a commercial kitchen so it was going to be nice to spread out and have enough room to prepare the food.
After unpacking, I got the eggplants burning nicely on the hotplate to create lovely smoky baba ghannooj. Meanwhile I set about roasting walnuts in the oven and juicing lemons for the dips and salad. Unfortunately my luck ran out with the big food processor – I pressed all the buttons and fiddled with it but couldn’t get it to work. It would have been great as I would have only had to do 1 batch of each of the three dips. I had come prepared though, so out came our dinky little 500mL food processor. I’m surprised it didn’t blow up cause I had to do the hummus, baba ghannooj and muhammara (red pepper & walnut) in 5 batches!
After a quick clean up, I set up the tables in a long row, the gym is perhaps not as nice a setting as the royal tennis club, but it didn’t look too bad with the white tablecloth, magenta runner, Moroccan lanterns and candles.
Next was top and tailing the beans for the Loubyeh bi Zayt (green beans cooked with tomatoes, olive oil and allspice). I was in the middle of this when everyone arrived, which was excellent timing. The kitchen became a hive of activity; my Sous-chef (Rob) made lamb kofte with Ras el Hanout, mint, red onion and lemon rind, and my kitchen assistants chopped mint, parsley, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and radishes. I got the beans going at the stove, and got used to directing other people in the kitchen!
Whilst Rob grilled the lamb kofte and the Za’atar chicken kebabs, I set out the dips and cacik, drizzling them with olive oil and decorating them with paprika and herbs. In the final rush I tossed the salads and sprinkled them with sumac, and then we took all the dishes out to the long table.
The students were suitably impressed and appreciative. Rob introduced me as their chef for the evening and ran through the menu. Then everyone tucked in, apart from an occasional “ohh” or “ahh” all was silent for awhile. After clearing the main course from the table we sat chatting over the sweets.It was a great evening, and although I was satisfied I was pretty tired by the end of it all. Cooking for more than 6 people always increases my respect for real chefs- it is pretty tough, both mentally (making sure everything is ready at the right time) and physically (it was such a long day for me, and my back and knees are still recovering). But the pain must be easily forgotten, like women having more than one baby. On Monday I brought in the leftover sweets for my workmates, and afterwards I agreed to do it for our Christmas lunch this year!