31 January 2017

Here is another scene

Here is a scene. I'm in a small town on the Black Sea coast, on summer holidays with Mom. We are having lunch at a roadside restaurant near the beach. We just ordered and while waiting I'm thinking what to write on a postcard for Dad. He is back home working, toiling, through the hottest month, July. I aim to be funny and write that nothing over here, like our laundry or hair, ever completely dries out. It's humid over here, Dad. I capitalize 'humid' to make a point. Also, I add, Georgian food is the best. I underscore 'the best'. I'm having lobio for lunch. I'm twelve years-old here; a summer sea breeze tickles my knees. 

Here is another scene. I put two kitchen towels wrapped around ice cubes onto my knees. Anthony drapes a blanket over my shoulders, hands me a bowl of warmed stewed beans. My face is streaked with tears.

I caught a cab to get home. The car moves fast through the late-afternoon traffic. The driver, who is young, turns on the wipers and checks his phone at the traffic lights. I think he notices in the rear window that I've been sobbing. 

– Is something wrong? he asks.

– No, no, everything is alright.

I really don't want to be crying, it's involuntary. It could have been worse, this is probably nothing, stop sobbing, it's embarrassing, I tell to myself. I underscore 'embarrassing' and highlight 'nothing' in my mind's eye. It's green and the car jolts and starts moving fast again. It knives through the rain.

Anthony returns a call. I phoned him ten minutes ago or something like that to ask for help.

– What happened?

I came off my bike – my foot slipped off the wet pedal. I lost control, was on the ground in an instant. I wince at the image of my knees hitting the cobbled road, feel the lines on my forehead gather into a tense and busy intersection. I notice a rip in my jeans sleeve, a few frilly dark threads are sticking out. I took a taxi back home, I say, the steering wheel is badly bent, and the knees are starting to ache like hell, something similar to when a dentist hits a nerve ending with his drill. I hang up, the cab driver asks if I want to go to the hospital first.

No, it's probably OK, I tell him. The forehead lines and eyebrows conspire into a frown now; I really don't want his attention.

When I get home, the ice cubes are ready to go, wrapped up into the kitchen towels. I pull off the jeans and sit down on the couch, two cushions under the knees – to straighten them now is beyond my willpower. In a little while the ice feels too cold to tolerate, I take a break. I eat the Georgian bean and walnuts stew that Anthony warmed up for dinner, amolesili lobio. I take a spoonful and the mouth is instantly comforted by the rich and creamy. And in my mind I'm twelve again, sitting at the roadside Georgian cafe, writing the postcard for Dad. I can almost feel the warm sea breeze too.

Amolesili Lobio (Stewed Red Beans and Walnuts)
Adapted from Saveur
Serves 6-8

Back in time (USSR) they used to say that Georgian, bold, fresh, spicy, was the best Russian cuisine. Lobio means 'beans' in Georgian, and there is an infinite number of recipes for it out there, from slow-cooked stews to crushed-bean salads. I favor this version: it's rich and earthy, beautifully colored, not quite purple and not quite red, highly aromatic. Heed the walnuts here: they enrich the stew and they freshen it too, similar to a cucumber's job in a stir-fry.

Without further ado:

100 g toasted walnuts
½ cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 small red chile, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1 medium leek, finely chopped
2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
1 teaspoon hot paprika
450 g dried dark red kidney beans, soaked overnight and drained
3 L water (or chicken or vegetable stock)
½ cup finely chopped cilantro
½ cup finely chopped dill
½ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Place the walnuts and half the olive oil in a food processor. Puree until very smooth, about 2 minutes, and set aside.

Heat the remaining oil in a large heavy-bottom saucepan over a medium heat. Add the garlic, carrots, onions, chile, and leek. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the coriander seeds and paprika, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the beans and water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a bare simmer and cook, uncovered, until the beans are very tender and the cooking liquid has reduced enough to cover the beans by a fingertip, about 2 – 2 ½ hours Using a ladle, transfer half of the beans to a blender. Puree until smooth and return to the pot. Stir in the walnut puree, cilantro, dill, parsley, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Serve with country-style bread on the side.

Refrigerated, keeps well for up to 5 days.