In the kitchen in my head, I am always king. My dishes, when done, are ready to be photographed, but are not because the plates and saucers are dull. Oh, where are the great white plates with African borders and colourful bands on their edge? Instead, I have to make do with what we use everyday, but the disappointment lifts when the table seats are occupied, and when people forget their manners as they reach for the food. Someone has lit candles, someone else has turned on soft music. Sheer white curtains flutter before open windows. My guests chatter happily, ignoring the clinks of metal on ceramic. Every bowl seen off, their hands rest beside empty plates and on swollen stomachs. They quieten down now and settle into their chairs. Food has dulled their senses. This is how meals should be, I think contentedly. The end is the most satisfying part, when a guest's approval is not verbal but a glazed look and a silly smile.
Outside my head in the kitchen, I am always lost. "Thapa," I command, "olive oil le aao." He will hand it to me like a surgeon's assistant, and proceed to watch me as a surgeon would a nervous intern. "Kya bana rahe ho, bhaiji?" he asks with a smile. Always the same question, always the same answer. "Kuch naya try kar raha hoon." I'm trying something new. At the end of it I have him taste it, and every time, but once, he has said, "yeh to very good hai." It didn't ring true. Except that one time when he said nothing. He just had a glazed look and a silly smile. This is what I'd made:
Hummous (3 minutes)
Find yourself a tin of hummous tahina by California Garden. These are found in shops everywhere. With a spoon, empty it into a deep bowl. Next - and this is important - you need a pack of tahina (an off-white yoghurt thing that smells faintly oily). This too is found easily. Just look for the white pack with a picture of a middle-eastern cook giving you a thumbs-up. Empty about 100ml of tahina into the bowl. Toss in about 200ml of drinking water. Less than a pinch of salt. Two drops of lemon. Two tablespoons of olive oil. Mix it all up. What you should have at the end of it is a creamy thing that slides relatively easily across your spoon. If it's too tough with a spoon, try a fork. And if you find it clumpy, throw in some more water. That's all. Try it out with hot kebabs or roast chicken. Even wafers, if you feel like it.