Mem­o­rable Meal­time Mo­ments

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE - FOOD, DRINK and OTHER MAT­TERS with Pa­trick Skin­ner

In writ­ing these notes, I re­alised that all the items I men­tion are still as pop­u­lar to­day as they were 50 or more years ago. As the French say: “Plus ça change…”

As a child dur­ing World War II and, like ev­ery­one else, first en­dured and then made the best of the small rations of meat, but­ter, cook­ing fats and many food prod­ucts we were al­lowed. One (le­gal) loop-hole was to have a meal at a restau­rant, where it was not re­quired to give up “food coupons”. Liv­ing for a while in Scot­land, in 1941 a treat was to go to a pop­u­lar restau­rant in the city of Ed­in­burgh. It was called Mack­ies – and I en­joyed meals there. Alas, I only re­mem­ber the fried pota­toes (“Chips”), which had been cut in “crin­kle” shapes, like this.

I sup­pose they are tastier be­cause they are able to ab­sorb more fat or oil and have a greater sur­face area to crispen! You can buy both “straight” and “crin­kle-cut” chips from your frozen foods shop, so you can de­cide which ones you like bet­ter. Or you can buy a sim­ple crin­kle shaped metal cut­ter and do them your­self (rec­om­mended)

Fast-for­ward to the mid­dle years of WWII, with Amer­ica now fight­ing along­side the Brits and the Rus­sians against the Ger­mans and Ja­panese. In 1943, my mother, sis­ter and I were liv­ing in the south-west of Eng­land, where we be­friended a num­ber of homesick Amer­i­can sol­diers, camped not far from us, prior to “go­ing over” in the Al­lied In­va­sion of Ger­man-oc­cu­pied France on D-day (6th June 1944).

They were gen­er­ous with lit­tle presents each time they vis­ited our home, but when they re­alised the small quan­tity of food we could get on our “rations”, each time they came they brought food items. And so, I was in­tro­duced to SPAM, the fa­mous canned meat. This was an amal­gam of pork and ham meat and fat, pressed into a block which could be sliced and eaten cold, or fried, like ba­con. Pow­er­ful flavour and very salty in­deed, I loved it.

It is now the 1950s and I have got my­self to Lon­don and work­ing as a film pub­li­cist. After climb­ing a lit­tle bit up the ladder of suc­cess, I was granted an ex­pense ac­count with which to en­ter­tain jour­nal­ists and busi­ness con­tacts. It was then at a pop­u­lar medium-priced restau­rant favoured by writ­ers and film peo­ple, called Rules, I first en­coun­tered (for the first and vir­tu­ally only) time gen­uine Dublin Bay Prawns. These were plump and suc­cu­lent with a splendid lob­stery flavour of the sea, dipped in egg and bread­crumbs and deep fried. I think the prawn/shrimp beds must have been fished out be­cause after a few years the plump beau­ties dis­ap­peared, never to re­turn.

The dish changed names, too, to Scampi, a name un­der which more gas­tro­nomic atroc­i­ties are com­mit­ted than I can count. Rules is still in the same place, off the Strand, in a lit­tle street called Maiden Lane. It is now rather posh and ex­pen­sive – with not a Dublin Bay prawn to be seen on its menu.

The first dish the Le­van­tine lady who be­came my first wife cooked for me was stuffed cab­bage. These pro­saic words baldly de­scribe one of the great dishes of the world. One or more large, pale green, smooth leaved cab­bages are re­quired, plus a very large stew­ing pan.

You will also re­quire some lean lamb meat, about a kilo, quite finely chopped, plenty of gar­lic cloves, a cup or so of rice and a cou­ple of cans of toma­toes, Ital­ian for pref­er­ence, a lemon sliced, cin­na­mon and cumin for flavour­ing. Pro­ceed as fol­lows: 1. Put the rice in a sieve and rinse it well with cold wa­ter. Wash the cab­bage well. 2. Cut the choggy base and tough outer leaves from the cab­bage. 3. Fill the pan gen­er­ously half full with wa­ter, bring to the boil. 4. Gen­tly im­merse the cab­bage in the wa­ter for a cou­ple of min­utes. 5. Re­move (cut away from the base) the outer leaves which should be soft­ened. 6. Put the cab­bage back and re­peat the process. 7. You should end up with at least 12 good-sized limp leaves, at which point you can dis­card the wa­ter.

8. Now, from each cab­bage leaf, with the sharp knife cut away a fin­ger length of the tough stem, in a slim V-shape. 9. Cut each leaf into two, ver­ti­cally. 10. In a bowl put the finely chopped lamb and rice; sprin­kle over the cin­na­mon and cum and salt and pep­per and mix well.

11. Take one piece (you should have about 24) of cab­bage, lay it flat and near its base put a ta­ble spoon of the meat mix near its base.

12. Roll up the leaf, turn­ing both edges in as you can to make a neat sausage shaped par­cel (see pic­ture).

13. Now melt a pat of but­ter in your big pan and spread it all over the base and lay a cou­ple of spare cab­bage leaves over to cover it. 14. Care­fully place your cab­bage rolls in the bot­tom, quite closely packed. 15. When the first layer is com­plete, scat­ter a few lemon slices over and then put an­other lot lay­ered across, and so on un­til all your cab­bage rolls are in. 16. Scat­ter any num­ber of gar­lic cloves over the top (as many as your taste sug­gests) 17. Pour toma­toes and juice over top. You need liq­uid to cover, so if the tomato juice doesn’t do this, add some wa­ter. 18. Put a heavy plate in­verted on top, fit­ting as closely to the edges of the pan as pos­si­ble. 19. Put on a low gas and heat till bub­bling, then let sim­mer for around 45 – 50 min­utes. 20. Lift plate, take one roll out and cut end off. If rice is cooked, all is done. 21. Presto! Serve, adding some tomato and juice from your pan to fin­ish each plate!

Like so many dishes, this one is cooked slightly dif­fer­ently by al­most ev­ery cook. Some peo­ple like quite fat cab­bage rolls, oth­ers very slim ones. My own would be slightly thin­ner than those pic­tured. But how­ever you do it, you can hardly fail, even if you over­cook a lit­tle bit. The com­bined flavour of the lamb, cab­bage, tomato and gar­lic is sub­lime. So good, I sel­dom ac­com­pany it with any­thing other than a piece of bread.

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