Home away from home
Being back home after having created a new home abroad and another one in Athens can be tricky. Everything feels familiar yet somehow distant. My old room is now a study, my past life is into boxes, and worst of all, I don’t remember where we keep the tongs in the kitchen. I grew up in this kitchen, how can I now spend 5 minutes opening drawers to find a pair of tongs which, unlike myself, have been in the same place for decades?
I feel confused with these multiple homes and part of me misses a time when home was just one place, filled with the smell of cake coming from the oven on Sunday afternoons. Then, I wanted to escape from that simplicity of food (and life), I wanted to experience new tastes and flavours, to live in a city where fresh chives or lemongrass were easy to find and where I would spend my days experimenting with new ingredients. My wish came true and don’t get me wrong dear reader, I am enjoying every single moment of it. But now, being home away from home, I find myself wanting to escape from these complex flavours and foreign herbs and spices, from the myriad options which I am fortunate to have lying ahead of me; escape from the struggle to survive and make a new life for myself. And although I wouldn’t change a thing, when I warm up mama K’s home made pasta sauce, made with simple ingredients (fresh tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper and basil) and with her unconditional love, nostalgia surrounds me. Nostalgia for those Sunday lunches with my family sitting around the table, waiting to be served the most delicious chicken with lemon and herbs and smooth roasted potatoes; nostalgia for those summer days when my mum would make her incredible oven baked aubergine with tomato, onion, (always) fresh parley and cheese; nostalgia for the Christmas dinners when we would have my favourite dish of all times, oven baked macaroni with mushrooms, green peppers, ham and a secret sauce (which years later I discovered was Campbell’s cream of chicken soup!). Nostalgia even for the lentil soup which we ate during fasting periods and I truly hated-fine, not so much nostalgia there, this soup was horrible, but you get my point. Nostalgia for a time when life was just simple and there was no struggle to survive or the agony of losing someone you deeply love, just struggle for school homework and the being in love with a different boy each term - attention spam!
But because life is far from simple at the moment, there is one thing I can do, dear reader, and that is find myself in this chaos, with the only way I know how: in the kitchen. In an effort to balance the simplicity of the past and my love for the new, I decide to cook lentils! Spring lentils with bacon, fresh tomatoes and caramelised onions for that matter, because after years of trying to understand why I didn’t like that lentil soup, a recipe for sausages with lentils from a truly amazing book which aunt E gave me, finally made me realise the obvious: lentils can rise up to a whole new level with the addition of meat! If you are vegetarian dear reader don’t try this at home. Well, maybe try it by removing bacon and adding vegetable stock as you cook the lentils. And let me know how it works out.
So, small pot (we’re cooking for one today), olive oil, 2 small chopped onions, one red and one white and 1-2 strips of bacon (although one is enough if you ask me). Fry on a medium low heat until onions are golden brown. Add a bit of butter, stir, remove from pot and set aside to cool, leaving a tablespoon of onions and bacon to the pot (so that we flavour the lentils). Add a bit more olive oil and 3 shot glasses of lentils (yes, I use shot glasses for measuring), and stir for a few minutes on medium heat. Add 5 cups of water, season generously as they say, with salt and pepper (we’re trying to flavour lentils here), and add a couple of bay leaves. Bring to the boil and let simmer on medium heat for about 40 minutes or until lentils are cooked. Add water if needed - but you know that already dear reader, don’t you? In the meantime, fillet one large tomato (I learned that at the restaurant). This means keeping the flesh and remove the inner part and seeds. Cut the flesh into cubes and add the seeds and tomato water into the pot (yes, we are really trying to flavour the lentils).
Go outside and set the table in the balcony. If you don’t have a balcony set the table where the table is anyway, and pour yourself a glass of iced water (or chilled gin&tonic).
Sit on the balcony (or couch) and enjoy a few moments of quiet, pretending that life is as simple and tasty as this recipe. Check the lentils. Once they are cooked you have two options: either serve immediately or let them cool (it’s spring, room temperature food is ideal if you ask me). Serve on the balcony with the chopped tomato, our caramelised onions and bacon, fresh parsley, adding some more salt and pepper if needed. Close your eyes and taste: Perfection.
I can cook something simple and tasty. Now, can I do the same with my life?