Baba Ghanouj and October’s Mid-August Lunch

Last week I did a pizza in the oven. Before I sat down to enjoy it I threw two split American style eggplant on the pizza pan and stuck it back in the oven until the skin was brown and the inside was mushy. I then promptly put that in the fridge and waited for a plan to come together.

Boy did it come together. I made what will now and forever be called Hummouj – a babba ghanouj and  hummus combo. It’s hard to measure ingredients for a recipe like this because everyone’s flavor balance is different. So I’ll just say, go with what’s right for you, which may sound non-committal but is actually freedom in disguise. You’re welcome.

Roasted eggplant (I used three halves)
1/2 15 oz. can of chickpeas [garbanzo bean]
2-3 tablespoon tahini
1 large garlic clove
salt & black pepper (I fresh ground peppercorn to give it a nice bite and match the deep, roasted flavor in the eggplant)
1/4 teaspoon each za’atar, sumac, and seven spice [baharat]
Lemon juice
Olive oil

I pulsed the food processor first with the eggplant, chickpeas, tahini, garlic, and pepper. It blended easily and turned into a creamy texture. I added the salt, spices, and parsley and continued to blend until the skins were finely incorporated bits. I put it in the fridge. Just before serving I mixed in a tablespoon of lemon juice and about the same of olive oil. It. Was. Great.

I used some of the liquid from the roasted eggplant and it blended very well but you could also use some of the liquid from the chickpeas. I also didn’t peel the eggplant because I rock the fiber and I’m rustic like that.

While that was chillin’ in the fridge I looked for a Bulgar and orzo pilaf recipe. I found a few cool Turkish food websites but none of the recipes were just what I needed. So I winged it. It doesn’t have a cool name or anything but the results more than make up for that. Part of the reason I’m posting this at all is because I want to make it again. Repeat a recipe? I know, shocker right.

Bulgur Orzo Pilaf with tomatoes and chickpeas
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 whole cooking onion, medium
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon sumac
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley (I was out of fresh)
2 tablespoons fresh oregano & mint + leftovers for the top (you can’t really have too much here)
1 cup Bulgur wheat
1 cup orzo
1 cup fresh chopped tomatoes
1/2 15 oz. can of chickpeas
3 cups chicken broth (or, you know, any broth/stock)

Fry the onions on high heat with the garlic, pepper, sumac and cumin seeds. Get them nice and toasty. Add the Bulgur and orzo and stir frequently as they toast about 8 mins or so. Add the chickpeas and tomatoes. Continue browning until the orzo is toasted. Add the chicken broth slowly. Bring the whole dish back to a boil then turn down and cover. It took about 24 mins or so but cooked it on very low heat and turned it off and it sat there for a bit so I would say, 20-30 mins is probably right for it to all be soft and tasty. You can eat it at whatever level of doneness you’d like. Just remember to check on it in intervals and stir it plenty good because the Bulgur is sticky.

And that was ready. I had planned to have it both dishes with a roasted chicken but there was amazing ground lamb in the store so…

Lamb Kofta
1 lb ground lamb
1 egg, beaten
1/2 medium onion, minced
parsley & mint, to taste
seven spice [baharat], to taste

Combine the ingredients with a fork and form kofta with your hands. You can make a patty shape but usually, I do an obloid. They can be larger or small depending on your preference. Fry in light olive oil until cooked through.

This wonderful cacophony of deep roasty flavors, spice, texture, garlic and mint was perfect for the beautiful sunlight dappled through the trees and slightly chill air of Fall. Which reminds me of August.

Well, A Mid-August Lunch to be precise. As most of my Netflix adventures have been of late, I watched it because it was about to expire. I’d added the the film to my cue awhile ago and forgotten about it. Something caught me, made my brain note it as “Oh, yeah. I really want to see that.” Though I had no reason to be so sure, the cover stayed in my mind and made me curious, made me not want to miss out. Sometimes, children, judging a movie by the cover can yield something wonderful.

Pranzo di ferragosto, as it’s titled in Italian, is 72 mins you should make time for. It’s not a film for everyone but that’s exactly what makes it worthwhile. Cash-strapped Gianni, who lives with his mother, is offered financial relief in exchange for looking after an elderly relative of his landlord. At first there’s food and wine, but the film feels sparse. Keep watching. And that’s all I will say about the plot. Go watch the film, then come back.

Back? Good. Wasn’t that wonderful! It was refreshing, wasn’t it. Just when you were worried, didn’t it glimmer with life?! When he laughed, just like him, I felt such a release. That happens so rarely in film. Being right there with a character, fully understanding their journey and cheering for their success. Wasn’t it amazing how one person changed the whole dynamic in the apartment? A film without sex, swearing, or violence featuring a middle-aged protagonist, four elderly women, bottles and bottles of wine and a small Italian apartment wouldn’t seem like a story which could hold such depth of theme and character. But it really did!

Writer/Director Gianni Di Gregorio made the film I thought Mike Leigh’s Another Year was going to be, what it tried to be, what it ought to have have been. The lives of ordinary people, in a world of their own, that tells the story of the whole world. A Mid-August Lunch has the sort of simple premise Hollywood would remake into an Adam Sandler gross-out R-rated comedy. On the other end of the spectrum Cinema Paradiso began with titles, 2 mins of prizes it won. It was meaningful in an It’s A Wonderful Life sort of way. But you know you’re watching a movie. You don’t cherish the subtleties, wonder if anyone else has ever seen that magic little moment. You don’t hang on the story, hold your breath for it, laugh with it. You don’t have hour long conversations about observed nuances and meta-philosophy of foreign film.

A Mid-August Lunch is a foreign film about food. There’s a similar quality of storytelling to Italian for Beginners, Kitchen Stories, and Mostly Martha but it feels completely unique. The need for family, friendship, and sacrifice as told through lonely, imperfect, or broken characters without a trace of sappy sentimentality.
This is genuine humanity on celluloid. Life flickering before your eyes.

Now make yourself some dinner. Pour a glass of wine. Watch A Mid-August Lunch. Then watch it with a friend. Then talk about it for an hour. Or more. Pour some more wine. Live.

About Saint

Filmmaker, Screenwriter, Cinephile, Coffee Zombie
This entry was posted in Arabic, Comedy, Fall, Film, Food, Foreign Film, Independent, International Cinema, Italy, Netflix, Spices, Theme, Vegetarian and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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