A hot day. A canvas marketplace somewhere in one of earth’s most ancient lands. The heat of a torturing sun was tempered, only just, by a murmur of a breeze from where - the Mediterranean? Must have been. Aromas drifted on the haze: the sweet tang of dried fruits, the heat-amplified reek of spices, an earthy blend of nuts and grains and flours and grinds, and that must-eat-now scent of seed- and herb-flecked bread, probably just out of a stone oven. It was near lunch time. Puffs of blue smoke drifted out of the inky darkness of one of the tents. Someone was grilling something. Let’s hope they keep the flames well clear of the canvas, I said to myself. Don’t worry, I replied. They’ve been doing it for years. The smoke was redolent of mint and garlic.
For a moment there was no sound. The market was eerily silent. Noon approached. Time stood still. Then the market buzz resumed and the aromas drifted on the breeze and the griller kept barbecuing. The marketplace stood in a place where history has faded into a distant past of lost civilizations and long-forgotten wars and crumbled buildings and vanquished peoples and sand.
I realised the griller was me. Then I woke up.
The throwaway food media of magazine and television is obsessed with recipes that can be prepared with little expenditure of effort or time, and contains few calories. ("Dinner will be on the table in no time! And your waistline will love you!") A lack of ingredients also helps get recipes past the editor. Ingredient lists take up valuable column inches. Surely, taking time to cook something is a waste of time when there are important things to do in life, like watching Celebrity MasterChef, Celebrity RoadRage or Celebrity SelfAbsorbed.
On the other hand, the following dish takes forever to prepare, is loaded with fat and will have you stinking of garlic for days (because there are leftovers). But it is more satisfying - both in the preparation and eating - than, I don't know, linguine with rocket? no matter how beautifully styled, art-directed and photographed. And the aromas will transport you to a place between sea, sand and mountains, somewhere near the cradle of civilisation.
Beef brisket, Middle Eastern style.
Process 100g dried apricots (I use the dark, almost black, organic Turkish ones available from the Victoria Mall nut shop – superior to the bright orange supermarket ones but still cheaper), two garlic cloves, one teaspoon each cumin and salt and a quarter teaspoon cinnamon. Press one half of this processed mixture into deep slits in the brisket and then sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Set aside the rest.
Seal brisket all over in oil in a heavy pan. Remove, transfer to plate, and spread extra apricot mixture over top. In the same heavy pot, saute three cups chopped onions five minutes, then add two chopped carrots, a tablespoon of minced ginger, a teaspoon of ground coriander, a pinch of cayenne pepper, four garlic cloves, two teaspoons cumin and a cup of red wine. Reduce, pour over brisket in a large baking dish and add two cups beef or vegetable stock.
Cover and roast two hours on 170C, basting every thirty minutes. Then add 100g each of chopped pitted prunes and chopped dried apricots. Roast another thirty minutes, allow to cool uncovered and chill overnight. Remove solid fat – there will be plenty – and remove brisket to chopping board and slice thinly across the grain. Meanwhile, place gravy in pot and simmer to reduce. Pour gravy onto overlapped brisket slices in shallow baking dish, cover and heat thirty minutes.
Serve with couscous, potato mash or polenta.
Cold meat ideal in sandwiches. Try flat bread with hommus and yogurt added.