The family talk quietly among themselves as they settle down to eat. You take the offered place near the middle of the group, settling cross-legged on one of the small wooden blocks that serve as stools around the low table. The matriarch and patriarch sit on either end, with the youngest and least experienced members of the family placed to either side where they can learn from their elders’ conversation.
The smell of food fills the air, but the table is bare except for several stained-glass lamps and a small wooden bowl and cup in front of each place. People glance around expectantly, and as if on cue, a young man opens the door to the next room and steps through, carrying a large crystal pitcher. “I hope you came hungry,” he says with a smile. “It must all be eaten tonight!”
“Then tonight we will build our strength for the fight tomorrow,” the matriarch replies formally. Then she smiles and leans forward to look at you. “I don’t think you’ve met my oldest grandson. This is Talos, just promoted to rohaias at the Golden Lotus restaurant. He’s an amazing cook.”
“Give him a few more years, and he’ll be haias of his own restaurant!” the patriarch adds.
Talos’ cheeks redden slightly at the praise as he sets down the pitcher. The patriarch fills his cup, then lifts it toward his grandson with a proud smile. “Your gift strengthens us.”
Talos takes a sip before returning the cup. “Your strength guides me,” he answers. He beams around the table, then hurries back to the other room and starts bringing in one dish after another.
In moments, the table is crammed with food. In the center stands a massive dish of roasted fish with chick-peas and vegetables. Mismatched bowls of wood and ceramic hold creamy golden eggplant dip, crispy corn chips, yogurt sauce, and steaming rounds of yellow flatbread fresh from the pan. At the far side of the table, you spot a dish of fruit, nuts, and yogurt waiting for dessert.
There’s little ceremony in serving food. The plate of flatbread passes quickly around the table, and then everyone reaches for whichever dish catches their attention. You spoon vegetables and broken fragments of fish onto your flatbread, dribble yogurt sauce over it, and start munching, leaning forward to let your bowl catch any crumbs. Beside you, one of the children uses a bit of bread to scoop up eggplant dip straight from the serving bowl, and nobody scolds him for it.
The pitcher of tea goes around, and you fill your cup and take a refreshing sip of the chilled drink. It has a spicy tang of ginger and cinnamon, mixed with the smooth flavor of whiskey. Everything is delicious, and conversation stops for a while as people focus on their food. The cook, Talos, settles with everyone else and digs into his meal as eagerly as the rest of the family.
After a while, the woman beside you turns to you and comments, “Kahai!” It’s a unique Taxian word to share your satisfaction with someone’s work. It would be rude to praise the cook directly for his accomplishment, of course.
You smile and nod in reply. “Kahai.” The meal really is wonderful.
Fish and Vegetables
8 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup tomato juice
1 onion, diced
1 red pepper, cored, sliced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cup water
1 cup fresh cilantro
salt and black pepper
4 small salmon fillets
3/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
Juice of ½ lemon
- In a large pan with cover, heat 2 tbsp olive oil. Add minced garlic, tomato juice, onion, peppers, and mushrooms. Cook for over medium heat until onions turn translucent, stirring frequently.
- Add chickpeas, water, cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then lower heat again and allow to simmer about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, combine paprika, cumin, cinnamon, and salt and pepper to taste. Coat fish with olive oil and spice mixture.
- Add the fish to the pan and ladle sauce on top of the fillets. Add lemon juice and cook another 10 to 15 minutes over medium-low until the fish is fully cooked and flaky.
- Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve with yogurt dip and flatbread.
2 cups plain yogurt
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cumin
2 tsp lemon juice
1 small cucumber
- Dice the cucumber into very small pieces.
- Add salt, cumin, and lemon juice to yogurt and mix thoroughly.
- Stir diced cucumber into the sauce. Serve over fish and vegetables.
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano
- Mix together all ingredients. Stir thoroughly, then allow to sit 5 minutes. Cornmeal will absorb liquid. If the batter looks too thick, add more water. The consistency should be similar to pancake batter.
- Grease a large pan with olive oil and heat on medium-high. When the pan is ready, scoop or pour batter, using about 1/2 cup for each flatbread.
- Cook until the edges are dry and bubbly, then flip and cook the other side about the same length of time.
- Top with fish and vegetables or dip in eggplant dip.
1 large eggplant
1-2 tbsp plain yogurt
1 ½ tbsp tahini paste
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp lime juice
Salt and pepper
½ tsp to 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and salt the exposed flesh lightly. Allow to sit 5 minutes to reduce bitterness.
- Preheat the oven to 425 F. Place the eggplant halves flesh side down on an oiled backing shet and bake 30-40 minutes.
- Allow eggplant to cool, then scrape the flesh away from the skin and combine with all other ingredients.
- Mash and stir thoroughly using a pestle, fork, or food processor. Allow to cool before serving.
1-2 cups of plain yogurt
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup orange zest
1/2 of a honeydew melon, cubed
1 package strawberries, cored and halved
1 can pineapple chunks
1 can mandarin orange slices
3/4 cup sliced almonds
- Combine yogurt, honey, and orange zest in a small bowl and stir well.
- Combine melon, strawberries, pineapple, and orange slices in a large bowl.
- Pour yogurt mixture and sprinkle almonds over the fruit and mix or toss gently to combine.
2 teabags black tea with ginger or cinnamon
2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
1 nutmeg (or 1 tbsp ground nutmeg)
1 tbsp lime juice
- Place ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a diffusing bag or directly into the bottom of a pitcher. Add teabags and lime juice.
- Fill pitcher with hot water, then refrigerate while tea steeps.
- Put a shot of whiskey in each 8-ounce teacup, then fill the rest of the way with tea.