Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Feast for One

The title of this post may seem a bit oxymoronic. Can one really feast? Can you feast alone? I'm reading a fascinating history of feasting called Charlemagne's Tablecloth by Nichola Fletcher, and this is a point she briefly addresses, commenting that while by definition a feast does imply a group of people (and I should hope so--one feast she cites, given by the Archbishop of York in 1465--included over 41,000 items of meat, ranging from wild bull, to venison, to rabbit, to swan), there have been times in history, though rare, when feasts have been given for one. Usually, however, as in the case of the Roman Apicius, he feasted and then ended his life by swallowing poison.

Although I had no plans of ingesting poison, a feast for one was sounding pretty darn good. At least a mini one.

As always happens when I read books about food, I began to get intense cravings for, well, food (another book--highly recommended that induced the same feeling can be seen here). My cravings ranged from miso soup, to chicken mole, to kibbeh nayeh (raw ground lamb with bulgher), to flatbread. And these weren't even the dishes I was reading about. This is often the problem when I try to piece together a meal--my mind is so muddled with a variety of dishes, that I can never organize my thoughts to choose one. And there's also the obvious problem that all of these dishes come from different parts of the world. Take my initial craving--hummus. That was the first food that I began dreaming about, but I was picturing myself eating it slathered on...naan. Normally, I try to cook all my food from the same general country/region, so this was a bit of a mental stumbling block for me.

Well, after much contemplation, agonizing, and a phone call to my mother, I decided to run with it. India may not be part of the Middle East, but at least it's in the same general latitude. And so, regional differences aside, my personal feast began to grow, and evolved to this:

There's the naan front and center, and the little bowl of hummus in the back. The olives and feta make Greece represented at the meal, there's a salad of oranges and red onion, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper, which is probably best described as Italian, and that blue bowl in the back is a dish from the wonderful Olives and Oranges cookbook--raw julienned turnip, marinated in sea salt, lime juice, and harissa (a spicy pepper paste--I didn't have any, so I made my own mock-up of it with some chili powder, olive oil, and a dried red chili). This dish is from Tunisia. (To drink, I had an Argentinian Malbec) So there you have it, a feast from many nations. For one.

You may notice that the food is all spread out on the floor, and that's exactly when I ate it. On the floor, in front of a fire, and...with my hands. There something very sensual about touching your food as you eat it, and since I had the naan to serve as a utensil, this worked very well. The oranges were probably the most fun. I took a slice, and folded it up like a taco, with some of the onion inside. So delicious.

Note: I had never made naan before last night, and I was pleased with how it turned out. I used an amalgam of recipies, so, for any interested, here's what I did:

You'll need:
1 1/2 c flour
~1 tsp. sugar
~1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
~1/4 c of plain Greek yogurt (I used Oikos brand, and almost all of a 5.3 oz. container)

Put all of the dry ingredients into a bowl and whisk to mix. Whisk in the yogurt, incorporating as much of the flour mixture as possible. Once the yogurt is incorporated (there will be a lot of flour left), add water, two tablespoons at a time, until all the flour is mixed together to form an elastic dough. Kneed dough until smooth, adding more flour if needed. Let the dough rest, covered in a dish towel, for at least ten minutes.

To my understanding, naan is usually cooked on the inside of a heated clay drum. As I don't have one, I just used a cast-iron skillet. Heat the skillet, and take a piece of the dough (a little bigger than a golf ball). Roll out the dough. You want it to be pretty thin, as the naan will puff up some while cooking. Cook until browned (unevenly) on side and then flip, really only a minute per side. Keep the naans warm on a plate under a dish towel while you cook the rest.