CoffeeBeer >> Warts & All >> Mediterranean Feast


It was a tantalizing idea: a series of gourmet feasts from around the world shared among a quartet of friends. This noble undertaking was to be a joint effort, each of us contributing our own special dish or two to the evening’s menu. Each month’s feast would focus on a particular spot on the globe: India, Italy, Thailand, Mexico, Japan, Indonesia, Africa. The possibilities were endless: Caribbean, Russian, Cajun, Sicilian, Argentinian, Kenyan, Hawaiian, Maltese, Fijian, Nepalese…we could circle round the world in gastronomic ecstasy for years this way.

As the Friday night of our first feast approached we finalized plans and mapped out the logistics. The theme would be Mediterranean and the dinner would be held at Taxiboy and Essexgirl’s house. Q-man and I spent all of Thursday and Friday in preparation. In the midst of a seemingly endless progression of errands we took a break for a pint and a quick reconnoitre of the tasks ahead, sketching out what ingredients we would need for the dishes we would prepare. In our last-minute search for such items as tahini and wild mushroom antipasto we visited three different supermarkets within a ten-mile range.

Returning home we tackled the preparation: while I steamed the courgettes for kolokithákia, a Greek courgette-feta flan flavoured with dill and parsley, I roasted the aubergine for baba ghanouj, a Middle Eastern tahini-based dip. Meanwhile Q-man chopped the ingredients for his superb Greek salad while simmering the Turkish tomato-coconut sauce to be served with grilled sardines. While I painstakingly scraped the seeds from the roasted aubergine, Q-man assembled a scrumptious avocado ghia and prepared his unique Lebanese version of poussin, seasoned with rosemary, garlic, lemon, and pepper.

Friday evening arrived. We completed the preparatory cooking, girded our loins, loaded up the car, and headed over to Taxiboy and Essexgirl’s house. We made three dish-laden trips from the car to their kitchen. After a glass of wine and a bit of chat we launched into the first course of our feast, the appetizers: hummus, baba ghanouj, taramosalata, ghia, a selection of olives, and three kinds of pita, all accompanied by plenty of wine. After retreating to the lounge for an hour or two to relax, chat about our week, and revive our appetites we charged into the second course: tossed green salad, Greek salad, Essexgirl’s dolmade-style stuffed peppers, and her falafel patties with tsatsiki. My kolokithákia would have to wait until the main course; along with Q-man’s poussin, the flan hadn’t fully cooked in our unpredictable oven, and both dishes were now simmering in Essexgirl’s oven at Gasmark 2.

Stuffed to the gills we staggered back into the lounge to lick our wounds. As we drank more wine—a pleasant Rothschild, a heady ’94 rioja, and two whites—and allowed the first two courses to digest we chatted about all manner of things: mutual friends, pets, the local pub, places we had each travelled, other fine meals we had each experienced, television, the Internet, and the games of pool and darts. It wasn't until Essexgirl glanced at her watch that we realized it was after midnight and we still hadn’t served the main course. We dashed into the kitchen as fast as our bloated bodies could take us. As Essexgirl finished up her lamb koftas and Q-man mixed the wild mushrooms and wild onions into the Armenian wild rice, I checked on my flan in the oven. Unfortunately at some point Essexgirl, in order to heat up her couscous, had cranked the oven up from Gas Mark 2 to Gas Mark 6. My flan, which had been sitting in the heating rack above the oven, was bricklike to the touch but probably still edible. The tragedy was Q-man’s little chicken, his proud Lebanese poussin; after several hours at high heat it had shrivelled to the size of a sparrow.

Nevertheless we sat down for the final course. Our overindulged stomachs grumbling in protest, we marched forward like comrades-in-arms through the spread of delicacies. The Lebanese sparrow was delicious if a bit overdone; my flan was as firm as a weightlifter’s abs but very tasty; and Q-man’s Turkish grilled sardines, Essexgirl’s lamb koftas, and the Armenian wild rice were all delectable. Despite the fact that our digestive tracts were protesting violently against this onslaught of Mediterranean gluttony, we loosened our belts and somehow found room for coffee. At 3:00 AM we admitted defeat and called it a night.

Q-man and I returned the next morning to take home leftovers. As the four of us rummaged through the kitchen Essexgirl discovered a mysterious pot hiding in the oven. It was her couscous, cold and untouched. Needless to say it hadn’t been missed.

Q-man and I ended up with enough leftovers to keep us in sumptuous gastronomic heaven for awhile. Unfortunately over the course of the weekend Q-man’s appetite diminished due to what we first thought was a mild case of stomach flu. By Sunday evening I wasn’t feeling too well myself; but considering the huge gastronomic project which lay ahead of us, we forced ourselves to consume whatever we possibly could of the leftovers.

As the next couple of days passed neither of us was feeling much better, and we began to suspect food poisoning. The sacrifice we faced was heart-breaking: to be on the safe side we threw out all the rest of the leftovers—enough food to feed us lunch and dinner for a week. Everything went, every last bite including the olives. Needless to say the seagulls who raided the rubbish bags on Bin Day were quite pleased with this outcome. To us, however, it was a tragedy to rival Romeo and Juliet, Romeo portrayed by our stomachs and the cuisine as Juliet. Dumping all those luscious delicacies was such sweet sorrow…

We haven’t discussed plans for a second dinner because we’re still recovering from the first. The bruises in our stomachs are still healing, and I recently joined a support group to conquer my morbid fear of more than three items on my plate. Perhaps someday we’ll begin the feasts again, after we’ve all had several months, or perhaps years, of rest and recuperation—maybe a little psychological counselling as well. For future meals we must be much more conservative in our menu planning, making sure each person is not providing too much and that each course is small enough to be manageable. Sounds like a sensible approach, doesn’t it?

But it’ll sure take all the fun out of it…

© 2000 JC Mitchell

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