(Dedicated to my Tetas)
It’s a widely accepted fact that cooking is a dying art. Many of us might have grown up with the women in the family always preparing rich traditional meals, however as adults we are neglecting this tradition. The only spreads I prepare are Excel-based. Time is the obvious culprit; with full time demanding jobs, many of us barely have time to shave our legs, let alone stuff vine leaves. Yet even when some of us attempt to reach out to this piece of our heritage, it ends in a toxic fiasco. Does cooking require special genetic talent or are we evolving into kitchen repellant creatures?
When I was young, my grandma would prepare glorious feasts of Lebanese wonders. Kids are not discerning when it comes to ingredients and I enjoyed many rich dishes that I would not have swallowed willingly had I known what they were. Things like cow tongue and sheep intestine stuffed with rice and meat. Of course I grew up and eventually found out, and after a few suicide attempts, I vowed to stay away from these dishes. Now that I’m older though, a tribal part of me wants to learn these recipes and not let the tradition die with me.
First let me differentiate between different kinds of kitchen work. By cooking, I don’t mean microwaving, adding water, or boiling carbs. If pressing a button was cooking, then you could claim to be a chef every time you rode the elevator. If heating water was cooking, then you could essentially claim that taking a shower was cooking up a storm. All the above are what I call ‘cooking-lite’.
When I say cooking, I mean real, onions-stabbing-your-eyes-till-they-bleed, peeling-meat-off-bone, stuffing-rice-in-animal-cavity-holes-cooking. When you’re done with real cooking, the kitchen needs a hazmat team and a priest. When you’re done with cooking-lite, it’s a “honey could you please wash that pot? I’m too tired from boiling water.”
I don’t mean to sound so aggressive, and I’m not angry at people that cook light, I cook light. I’m just insanely perplexed and envious of these put together women who can prepare complex dishes from my grandma’s era without looking like they were assaulted by rabid bats. These people can prepare 3 or 4 course meals and exit the kitchen with all their limbs intact, whereas I would probably leave said task with a singed eyebrow, an amputated finger, and possibly a zucchini up my ass. To add insult to injury, when you ask these humanoids about how they cook, they always snicker “oh cooking is easy”.
The other day I was making vegetable soup. Easy, right? I gathered the squash, pumpkin, carrots and potatoes on the table. It took me about 20 minutes to chop and peel those. Then I lightly fried an onion before dumping everything in with water and a vegetable broth cube. After simmering on low heat for about an hour, the dish was ready to be pureed. But then my inner idiot whispered “why don’t you add some chili? It will give it a real kick.” Of course I didn’t consult a source and improvised; I threw in a small spoonful of fresh hot chili. I might as well have dipped Satan’s asshole in it, because as I delightfully discovered 20 minutes later, after I had finished blending the life out of it, was that it was entirely inedible. Even my husband, who brushes his teeth with habanero chilies, took one bite and looked like he got smacked in the face by a Nigerian…spatula.
So after nearly two hours, I had to throw out what should have been a simple and straightforward dish. I was obviously missing that gene that allowed me to improvise in the kitchen. Moving on from improvising, I decided to follow a recipe to the tee. The dish: Musakhan. Something you need to know about cooking whole chickens: when you boil them, they sometimes fart in the water. I was alone at home when the first bubble escaped one of the corpses’ underside and I have to admit, I was gripped by terror thinking that it would suddenly come to life and do to me what I had done to it. You won’t find any mention of this in any cook book.
Another thing that illustrates my point: On the recipe it says “pull the meat”. Three little words, so clean and well defined. In reality, pulling the meat off the bones was a horrific experience. I felt like that asshole from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There were chicken bits all over the place and the most disturbing part was pulling meat off the chicken’s ass. I wondered for a few minutes if we actually eat this. I was about to call a friend and ask, but I didn’t feel right saying “hey, when you pull the meat off a chicken, do you do the ass as well? Do we eat chicken ass?”
On the website, it said this dish would take 1.5 hours. In my kitchen, it took 5. Sure, it tasted amazing when it was done, and we struggled to stretch it for 2 meals as it was glorious, but once it was consumed, I was left feeling kind of drained at the daunting task of preparing it again.
Never trust a cook that says “Cooking is easy”. Doing calculus while drunk is easy. If they don’t walk you through it step by molecular step, they are hiding something. They probably made a pact with the devil, or have an army of midget sous-chefs hiding under the sink. I’m not saying cooking is impossible, just prepare yourself for emotional and physical scars that will outlast any dish you prepare.