SEPTEMBER 25, 2018

Mujadara: Lentil Pilaf

“Santiago,’ he said.

‘Yes,’ the old man said. He was holding his glass and thinking of many years ago.

‘Can I go out to get sardines for you tomorrow?’

No. Go and play baseball. I can still row and Roglio will throw the net.’

   – Hemingway, Old Man and the Sea


The days spent back then in the small village of Rama, where the olive trees – wise ones he had said and grew to be like small fortresses – there was much happiness. Not so much for the ease of the day.

In fact it would be all work climbing deliberately at the peek hours of the Galilean sun, which so many, even those who lived in among the rocksalt hills, took for granted.

“I wonder,” asked the young boy Torine, “if we shouldn’t begin much earlier in the morning?”

It was a good quizzical question, of course, the old man thought to himself, and had asked the very question himself when he was young. “We don’t want to have to start anything but a good breakfast too early in the morning, do you see?”

The old man, it was quite known, had worked in the fisheries along the coastline as a young man and had spent many years of his life on the waters seeking and netting the fish that would become dinners in this part of Nazareth. No one questioned the old man’s will to work, but now he had come to preach the ideas of slow hours, of not getting into the olive trees too early, but always making sure that the picnic spread took place at the hottest hour for lunch.

“When you eat your lunch under complete sun, it is a good day. Do you know where I learned that,” he asked, taking his own bucket of the olives just now and setting them along side one of the great tree trunks that looked like a cave.

“On the sea?” Torine had said.

“That is exactly where I learned that, and I will tell you that working out on the blue sea like that develops a hunger that can only be satisfied by the food of the land. Isn’t that something?” The old man been sneaking all morning into the carried picnic ingredients.

In those days, only the women were to eat the Tabouleh, but the old man could never understand this. He knew he was not supposed to tell his agents at work that he too cooked in his family, but of course he did, took great pride in this, and loved to comment on the food just as the women had always done.

“Mariah, why do you chop your tomatoes for the Tabouleh so small?” he would ask, as he, in his considered more proper way, left them at a large dice, the size of the tip of a thumb.

Mariah would look at him with a humorous disdain; she, of course, ran the food operation of the family, and barely, when he was lucky, allowed for the old man to assist in the matters of the kitchen.

“Well, one of the better reasons I do is because that is the very way that twenty-five generations of bright female cooks have been doing it, that is the main reason!” She said this with a little bit of bitterness left in her mouth.

“Now that I am allowed to help with the Mujadara, I think that maybe it is my time to express my displeasure with the size of the tomato dice in the Tabouleh, that is all that I am saying.”

Torine had left the skirmish by now and could be seen off in the distance standing on a foot stool which allowed him to reach a beautiful green olive branch. “Someday the boy will become the cook that I had never been.” The old man smiled some at this.

A short burst of wind flagged and cooled him under his light peach shirt. The sky was the color of the sea of his childhood.