Not-So-Modern Ideas For Today…

Mevlana

 

One of the most basic human needs is to feel accepted. In London, where diversity is abundant and individualism embraced, we are blessed to be able to express ourselves.

So why, even in this liberal society do we continually strive to adhere to perceptions of normality and shy away from revealing our own differences for fear of being judged? Society’s expectations of how we ‘should’ be, or what we ‘should’ be doing, or what we ‘should’ have achieved by a certain age plays on our subconscious. Perhaps we are not as modern or free as we like to think.

We’re bombarded by media reports of horrific hate crimes from every corner of the globe. Their motivations may be as menial as a difference in creed or faith, sexual orientation or political view, the ‘daring’ act of dressing as one pleases, for refusing to conform. Genocide, honour killings, random attacks; all point to the refusal to accept or embrace difference. There are alarming levels of intolerance in this ‘modern’ era.

I was in Istanbul when I discovered an idealistic concept of acceptance and tolerance in the most ancient of thoughts, mounted on my sister in law’s wall.

Dilek, the eldest of Murat’s five sisters, lives in an apartment block amongst the extended family of her husband. I immediately identified her as she waited for us outside her doorway on our first meeting; she has the same wiry raven-coloured hair and deep brown eyes as her brother.

“Welcome! Hoşgeldiniz!” She led us inside, past a huge evil eye charm, up a crumbling staircase and into her modest home.

“Please.” She motioned to sit down and disappeared momentarily to prepare Turkish coffee.

“What is that?” I asked, pointing to a stone plaque on the muted pink wall.

“Ah…That’s a Mevlana quote. You may know him as Rumi.”

Amid delicate strokes of calligraphy twirled a Dervish, turning blissfully with his eyes closed. He seemed utterly content.

“I’m not sure how to translate what is written…Look,” Murat searched on his iPhone and showed me a translation.

‘Come, come, whoever you are.

Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.

It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.

Come, yet again , come , come.’

I looked at Murat. “Acceptance?”

“Exactly.” We both smiled.

Jelal ad-Din Rumi was a Persian philosopher, born in the 13th Century. After his death, his followers founded the Mevlevi Sufi order which uses his poetic prose as inspiration for its teachings.

It seems we can look to the not-so-modern wisdom from the heart of the Middle East for ideas of acceptance, tolerance and contentment.

In the final weeks of my pregnancy, I couldn’t help but notice another of Rumi’s poems in which he addresses the unborn, whether it be the physically unborn or spiritually is a matter of interpretation.

‘The world outside is vast and intricate.

There are wheat fields and mountain passes,

and orchards in bloom

At night there are millions of galaxies, and in sunlight

the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.’

*  *  *

Semolina Halva with a Twist

İrmik Helvası - Semolina Halva with Cardamom & Pistachio

İrmik Helvası – Semolina Halva with Cardamom & Pistachio

After significant absence from NazarBlue, my apology comes in the form of an easy to make, tasty treat; Turkish style semolina helva with my own aromatic twist.

It can be served hot (with ice cream yum yum) or once cooled, when it can be easily divided into portions. 

The various words for  ‘Halva’ derive from the Arabic Halawa, meaning sweet. Halva / Helva / Halawa is a typical Mediterranean / Middle Eastern / Asian / Balkan / Eastern European confection which can be made from easily available ingredients; primarily grain, resulting in a gelatinous texture (most typically semolina or wheat flour is used) or ground nuts or pulses which result in a more solid texture. Other more exotic bases for Halva are chickpeas and pulses or carrots and decorations amd accompaniments range from pistachio to chocolate, or honey.

Here is my version of Cardamom and Pistachio İrmik Helvası.

Dried Fruit Compote – Khoshaf

Dried fruits and nuts give much-needed energy and nutrients when fresh produce isn’t readily available. One example of their significance is found in the traditions of the Middle East at Ramadan, when evening Iftar (breaking of the fast) commences with a date.

At the moment I’m suffering from one of the pregnancy niggles, where you, ahem, simply ‘can’t go.’ Lucky then, that when Murat went to Green Lanes, Harringey last week he returned with kilos of dried fruit and nuts!

Apart from enjoying them in their deliciously sticky state, I decided to make Khoshaf, a perfumed compote of rehydrated fruit and nuts, hailing from various Middle Eastern kitchens.

Use whatever you have at hand.. It’s the type of recipe free to artistic licence (aren’t they all?). Fruit are soaked in a mixture of water and orange flower essence until plump, and nuts rejuvenated to their former milkiness. Most versions call for the use of sugar too, however let’s keep it healthy and appreciate the natural sweetness of the fruit themselves.

Click here for simple and nourishing recipe..

Perhaps a Bold Statement But… The Best Falafel in Town!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Admittedly I almost always steered clear of Falafel in restaurants – in my experience falafel meant tasteless, dry mouthfuls which rolled around the palate, resisting with all its might at being swallowed. It wasn’t that I was eating in the wrong places, it was simply that the falafel on offer didn’t fill me with joy. Then one day a colleague of mine, Mohammed, placed a foil package on my desk. On opening this steaming parcel, I discovered a falafel which changed my world. Mohammed’s vibrantly green homemade falafel were juicy and aromatised with garlic and herbs. They weren’t made with ground chick peas either, but a mixture of chick peas and dried fava beans. These falafel told the story of a man who emigrated from Cairo in his twenties. Now pushing 50, Mohammed never abandoned the food his mother taught him how to cook before he left. I guess his falafel were made with love.

Since that moment of falafel revelation most attempts to find such mouth wateringly moist falafel have failed. Until I came across a jewel in the midst of Central London, tucked away in the cobbled courtyard otherwise knows as Goodge Place Market.

To claim to have found the BEST falafel in a city so richly diverse is a bold statement but one I feel I can confidently make. Hoxton Beach has reaffirmed my love of falafel with its freshly fried offerings. Every mouthful of the wrap delights with crispy yet moist falafel, tahina sauce and homemade pickles. It is now 11:14 am and as I write this article I am salivating in anticipation of the wrap I will eat for my lunch today.

Goodge Street is heaving with eateries which supply the hungry office workers of Fitzrovia – yet why pay for an over priced burrito or faddy salad when there is nutty deliciousness on offer.  Hoxton Beach’s wraps are not pre made and heated in microwaves like a certain trendy Middle Eastern restaurant nearby. The men who work at Hoxton Beach are the real deal, themselves Middle Eastern and perhaps have the best understanding of how falafel wraps are meant to be. They churn out freshly fried balls of deliciousness and dress them just how we want them to be. No tahina? No problem. Extra pickles? Sure! There is always a polite good morning / good-bye / thank you and smile too. They are welcoming and hospitable even for the few moments it takes to prepare your wrap. Patrick Matthews, founder of the Hoxton Beach company, fell in love with Middle Eastern cuisine after studying Arabic in Damascus. (I on the other hand fell in love with Damascus after eating at Abu Zaad!) With a particular love of falafel, Patrick wanted to popularise them upon his return to Blighty. Good job Patrick and thank you Hassan, (the company chef) for your tasty recipe which has reignited my love affair with humble falafel.

Falafel is one of those foods to which many people lay their claim. From Israel, to Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and beyond, falafel crosses cultures and perhaps unites people beyond borders. ‘It’s only Falafel, there’s no need to be so dramatic!‘ I hear you say. Well, I’m putting so much importance on this street food because food is life, food is what we cherish when there is nothing else. Its something we all have in common despite our differences so when one dish stretches itself over a large geographical area notorious for upheaval why not celebrate something which unites the area rather than divides?

Check out Hoxton Beach stalls in Goodge Place Market, Whitecross Street and Exmouth Market or click here for stockists and try to recreate your own wraps.