You sit down with your friends around the richly appointed dining table. The cloth is shimmery gold, lit by delicate porcelain candle-holders shaped like old-fashioned oil lamps. Your place has already been set with an embroidered placemat, engraved silverware, and two goblets made of colored glass.
As soon as everyone is seated, servants emerge from a side door carrying plates of food and bottles of drink. The host doesn’t say anything to introduce or begin the meal; words are cheap, and the meal should speak for itself. One servant circles the table pouring wine, while another fills the larger glasses with rosemary lemonade.
Once everyone has their drinks, the servants return to the kitchen and begin carrying out artistically arranged plates of food. A rich smell of figs and mustard drifts to your nose as one of the servers sets down your plate in front of you. A large crispy piece of salmon fills the center of the plate, with mushrooms and slices of roasted eggplant spiralling out toward the edges, all of it covered with a decadent reddish-orange sauce.
You wait with your hands folded in your lap, watching as the servants dart back and forth. A meal is a presentation, almost a performance, and it’s rude to eat or drink before everything is in its place. The servants finish serving the main plates and return again, this time carrying small side plates heaped with grapes and spirals of warm bread with a faint purplish color. One of the men sets a porcelain butter-dish in the middle of the table with a flourish, and with that the meal is ready to eat.
Everyone politely waits a moment longer, appreciating the attractive arrangement of the food and enjoying the aromas, before the host picks up his fork, signalling the beginning of the meal. There’s plenty of chatter and laughter over the food, but as always, actions are more important than words. The guests smile and nod to each other, keep the butter dish passing around so nobody ever needs to ask for it, and touch each other’s arms affectionately as they talk. Instead of telling the host how delicious the food and drink are, everyone makes a show of how much they enjoy it. As you finish your food, you settle back in your chair with a sigh of satisfaction — a bit exaggerated for effect, but not at all false.
The servants wait until all the plates are empty before returning to clear the guests’ places, refill cups, and bring a platter of small dark-colored cones of sweet taro and sesame paste. You continue chatting with your friends late into the night, sipping slowly at your wine and nibbling at the sweets while the meal settles.
10 figs, chopped
1/3 cup white wine
¼ cup whole-grain mustard
2 tsp lemon juice
salt and pepper, to taste
3 tbsp olive oil
Four salmon fillets
2-3 cups fresh mushrooms
- Chop the figs into pieces and put them in a small saucepan with the wine. Simmer until the mixture reduces and the figs break down. Stir occasionally, making sure to break up and mash the figs in the process.
- Remove the fig reduction from the heat and add mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir well.
- Pour olive oil into a pan and bring to medium high heat. Place the salmon fillets and the mushrooms in the pan and cook about 5 minutes. Flip salmon, stir mushrooms, and cook another 5 minutes.
- Pour the fig sauce over the salmon and mushrooms and spread evenly. Cook another 3-5 minutes, until sauce begins to bubble and salmon is fully cooked. Serve with bread and roasted eggplant.
2 cups grape juice
1 tsp instant yeast
5 cups flour
- Warm the grape juice and stir in the yeast. If it does not foam to your satisfaction, add a small amount of sugar or honey. Allow to sit until the yeast is active and bubbly.
- Measure the flour into a large shallow bowl and pour in the grape juice mixture. Stir or knead until it comes together into a smooth dough.
- Split the dough into 6-8 sections. Roll each section out into a long narrow cylinder, then coil it into a spiral shape.
- Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and drop the dough spirals into it. Allow each spiral to boil for 2 minutes, then lift it out with a slotted spoon and set on a towel to drain off excess water.
- Once all the spirals have been boiled, arrange them on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 F. Serve hot with butter.
1 large eggplant
1-2 tsp salt
3 tbsp olive oil
2-3 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
- Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and sprinkle the exposed flesh liberally with salt. Allow it to sit at least 5 minutes to reduce bitterness.
- Spread olive oil evenly over the surface of a baking tray.
- Chop the eggplant into small pieces and arrange on the baking tray, stirring to coat the pieces evenly with olive oil. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary.
- Bake at 350 F for 25-30 minutes or until eggplant turns golden brown. The centers of the pieces should remain soft while the edges are slightly crispy.
Taro Sesame Cones
1/2-3/4 pound fresh taro
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup sesame powder
1 cup crushed walnuts
2 dried figs, finely diced
1/3 cup honey
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp sugar
- Peel the taro root. Chop into small pieces and place in a pot with water. Boil, stirring often, until taro becomes mushy.
- Drain the taro and mash until it becomes a crumbly paste. Return it to the pot with sugar and olive oil. Cook on medium heat and stir constantly until it reduces to a thick, smooth paste that pulls away from the sides of the pot.
- Measure the taro paste and return 1 cup to the pot. (Keep any extra to use in other recipes.) Add sesame powder, walnuts, figs, and honey to the pot.
- Stir constantly on medium heat until it forms a smooth dough. Remove from heat.
- Once dough is cool enough to handle, form small balls (about 2 tbsp each) and pinch each ball into a cone or pyramid shape.
- Mix lemon juice and sugar in a small bowl. Brush over surface of dough cones. Optional: sprinkle with powdered sugar.
- Cover and refrigerate until firm, 1-2 hours. Serve cold.
2 quarts water
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3-1/2 cup honey
3-5 tbsp fresh rosemary, crushed
- Fill a pitcher with cold water. Add lemon juice and honey. Stir well. Taste-test and add more lemon or honey as needed to balance flavor.
- Place rosemary in a diffuser or teabag, or sprinkle directly into the water. Allow to steep 4-8 hours under refrigeration. Serve cold.