{Cry, my Beloved Onion}

I love food.

Its the only thing I can unabashedly say that four lettered word to without any hesitation or afterthought. I love it. I love how its made, tastes, looks, smells, feels and all the other itty bitty wordless feelings of absolute joy associated with it.

It is exquisite.

It excites me.
It thrills me.

hotdooogs
How I imagine them to be… in my head

I could be having the shittiest of days, but if you tell me ‘Hey… theres this new spot…’ you just got me absurdly excited. My frame doesn’t necessarily reflect that love, but it doesn’t make it any more less or real. My palette is a daredevil on speed. I’ll try anything once, and if it turns out to be delectable I will be carrying that memory like a collectable. To dine alone isn’t a lonesome experience but a chance for me to live out the dream of being an undercover food critic. And this love for food is genetic. You know what my girl cousins and I love to discuss? Thats right… food. Give us a topic about hotdogs and we could go on debating the best technique (I prefer boiling mine, then let it simmer in a dash of vegetable oil to give it that crisp crunch, yet juicy interior topping it with glazed onions cooked in a bit of sugar, crushed dried chili & olive oil).

Whether its Indian, Pakistani, Afghani, Irani, Lebanese, Syrian, Saudi, Yemeni, Moroccan, Egyptian, Tunisian, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Chinese, Japanese, Singaporean, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, Filipino, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Cuban, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, Brazilian, Mexican, American etc. I have tried it, and if I haven’t then God willing I make it a goal to taste it.

Did you catch the missing cuisine?

Ya, I did that on purpose… its Sudanese. See even my tongue stutters over it because it evokes some rather unpleasant memories. Memories of school days where I’d look glumly down at my rather large and lumpy sandwich of fool & baid (fava beans & eggs) while my American classmates had tidy awesome lunchables. Countless of times I’d hidden, thrown, ‘forgotten’ (once I’d left it in the mailbox for the mailman… he was nice enough to deliver it personally back to my mom) my homemade lunch just so I can buy the ever sweet chicken nuggets & scrumptious apple sauce. I’d cry in heartbroken rage at the dinner table at why, why did we have

Imagine eating the only thing that could cause you to be totally inept for breakfast. After eating fool it feels like youve been attacked by a gang of tsetse of flies. Fool should be banned for breakfast.
Imagine eating the only thing that could cause you to be totally inept for breakfast. After eating fool it feels like you’ve been attacked by a gang of tsetse flies. Fool should be banned.

to eat such glop everyday? Why did I have to stink of food ALL the time. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a a complete reject but middle school wasn’t exactly my hottest years. Picture it: little brown stick figure with stiff braids, mouthful of braces, glasses that covered half her face, and corkscrew bangs (that I thought were absolutely fabulous). So it didn’t exactly help the self esteem of that stick figure to be told;

‘You smell A-mazing.. Like… like… food!”

And when it came from a crush… The dreams of that little awkward girl had just been obliterated.

I was a bit strong headed, so I was mercilessly punished by being left at the dinner table for hours because I refused to eat/finish my plate. The mulaa7 (stew) I loathed the most was bamia (okra). It was the most unappetizing, freak of a vegetable that I could never accept. Prickly and firm on the outside, yet soft and mucusy in the inside, it was an abomination. After I’d swallow the last bite of that hated bamia, I’d glower and promise myself that when I reached high school, I’d eat out everyday.

And I did.

With disdain I’d tell umi am not having any of her food. That khalas I was ‘over it’ and that Sudanese food was gross. She’d act indifferent, but I failed to notice the pain on her face when I turned away. So I continued on with my rebellion well into my university years and it was at some point after over eating Subway that I began missing umi’s meals. But I was too proud to admit defeat. Instead, I began observing how my mother and sister-in-laws cooked and I learned a very important fact quite quickly.

We kill the crap out of our onions.

Not simmer, not glaze, but kill. Overkill it. We nuke our onions. Seriously, look at your mulaa7, over ten onions were used but you barely see a wisp of them. Why? Because afterhatingmcdees being cut, and then simmered, and then boiled into oblivion, it simply… vanishes. You are eating onions that are a shadow of their glorious selves. You are dipping your bread into the tears of these onions. I was perplexed, and wondered, was there a taste difference? Did the consistency of the mulaa7 depend on the thickness of the onions?

No.

Umi simply said; “Seeing chunks of onion is shain (ugly)”

So more for the sake of visual appeal, we murder our onions. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting your mulaa7 to be pretty, but… you waste your whole day just making the base of the mulaa7 (which consists of lots of onions & chunks of lamb/beef & bones).

Example:

{Cooking} for Fashlaat like Moi (Molaa7 Fosolya)

Today I learned how to make moola7 fosolya.. rough translation… stew of black eyed peas (minus Fergie). Yesterday was 3adas (lentil Soup). I keep the instructions in my journal for future reference (ya rab please… let my future hubby have a numb palette and only enjoys steamed vegetables), I plan on passing these instructions down to my future kids b/c not only is it helpful.. but peppered with awesome wisdom and stuff… yah
 
Mula7 Fosolya
 
1. Wash the beans (duh) and boil with water  in pot till loving and tender

2. cut 4 huge ass onions, place in seperate pot with half a cup of water, canola oil, and salt, cover and let simmer until onions die (if you are not so keen  on watching your basal have a long drawn out gloriously dignified death, you can give it a mercy killing with a hand blender)

3. add la7ma (with the bones) to onions, continue to simmer
{meanwhile if that bitch fosilya dries, add more water}
 
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{oh still waiting? Ya cook that basal and la7ma till they say ‘HOLY SHIT BAS’}
 
4. Add a can of tomato sauce and a quarter of a cup of tomato paste
* Season to perfection (salt/ Crack Magi/pepper/ sugar)

5. Add cooked beans and stir
 
{now watch your life crawl past you as al mola7 simmers and decreases by half}   VOILA!

___________________________

The onions actually don’t vanish, they go on living, clinging to your hair, nails, walls, curtains, furniture, clothes, bedsheets, and kids. Instrument of DeathBut have no fear for the pressure cooker is here! As a child and even as an adult I am terrified of the pressure cooker. It is an angry equipment, that always gives me bad vibes. What takes an hour the pressure cooker does in fifteen minutes, only, in Sudanese cuisine, the time remains about the same because that onion has to die. I can never stay in the kitchen and apprehensively watch that tupperware whistle, then wail, and scream while my mom in all coolness goes about doing her thing. And finally when its taken off the stove, sputtering mad, you have to wait till it cools down, because if you don’t, and you open it (after much difficulty) too soon, you could die.

Besides the fact that umi is the worst teacher in the kitchen, she is a maestro when it comes to cooking. Forget Emeril, umi is a class of her own. I’ve tried to be discreet in following her & writing down what she did, but she’d been doing this for so long that she cant tell me just exactly how much of anything she puts. She is beyond measuring cups, spoons & cooking times. She has transcended all of that, she knows without knowing. The groves of her fingertips can tell just the right exact amount of salt needed, and with a side glance can tell you the spaghetti was overcooked. Sniffing the air umi would proclaim you had fifteen minutes left before the 3addas (lentils) turned to mush. I used to think she was the slowest moving cook, but she is efficient, ruthless, timely and a perfectionist. But as a child and teenager I didn’t see that.

It really can make a dish go from ‘not bad’ to ‘my taste buds are doing rageesat 3aroos’
It really can make a dish go from ‘not bad’ to ‘my taste buds are doing rageesat 3aroos’

If she wasn’t busy stirring, it was her being disappointed in me for being less like her. Always coming home with my hair in disarray, grass stains on my jeans, scraped knee, or my nose buried  in a Goosebumps book, I had no desire to be anything like umi. She represented all the backwardness of slaving away in the kitchen for hours, cleaning & organizing, wasting away till one day she’d disappear and all that would be left of her legacy is a mufraka and the aroma of spices, onions & clorox. I resented the kitchen & Sudanese food in particular for taking her attention away from me. Resented the place where she spent most of her time rather than with me. But it took me a while to realize that the hours she spent preparing, all the times she’d annoyingly ask “Inty ma ja3ana” (Aren’t you hungry?), was her way of saying “Stupid girl, I care about you… a lot.”

It was the only way she knew how to show her love.

Take an afternoon to watch your mother cook. Just watch how she washes, peels, cuts, methodically turns over with her spoon a sizzling something, busily lifting a lid here, stirring there, adding magic Maggi there. Ya the house and your clothes and hair might smell like onions. But that dance she does in there, everyday, she puts her soul into it. She has you in mind in every second of it. And I hope one day I could let my love speak through as clearly.

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