So I made food yesterday. and it was AMAZING! well, for an Albanian Peace Corps Volunteer it was. So let me back up and help to paint a picture of how this went down:
It was the bright and early hour of 11:30 and I had just managed to pay my internet bill, which was surprisingly easy considering the women who helped me set up my internet a month ago was the one who helped me pay…in fact there were no words exchanged until after I’d paid.
Anyway, as I triumphantly left the Albtelecom store I decided I would go purchase vegetables to make a curry dish. I had a curry powder packet in my cabinet that, for the last week, had been whispering sweet nothings in my ear and serenading my nostrils with each opening and closing of my only* cabinet. Needless to say, I was pretty much a slave to my senses at this point. So I walked to the market and bought an egg-plant, carrots, green peppers sort of like bland banana peppers, a red bell-like pepper, an onion, and a watermelon. (Because watermelons are in season and are my reason for being this week) I already had a clove of garlic and rice at home. It was game on! I got home and began to prepare the goods, I washed all the veggies and began to chop them in sort of uniform pieces. I only had a flimsy paring knife with a whimsical yellow handle that for whatever reason convinces me it’s a worthwhile knife to use. It’s also the only knife that came with the apartment that is slightly sharp… The other knife I used is a gnarly, sharp beast of a knife that I actually made in Gatlinburg Tennessee before I left. It’s super sharp, and makes me feel like I could destroy anything in my path, especially if that thing is a carrot.
As I prepared the veggies I had already poured 3 cups of water into a pan added a pinch of salt and set the hot plate to 1500. I literally have no clue what 1500 means. It’s a Turkish hot plate and the instructions are only in languages I’m either very bad at or have yet to attempt. So as far as I can tell 1500 means ‘we’re gonna make this water boil SUPER FAST,’ and that works for me. Also these cups aren’t your Pyrex measuring cups. I’m talking I found a small drinking glass that perhaps is close to a standard cup measurement and I’ve just gone with it.
Once the water had come to a boil and I’d looked up from my vegetable carnage long enough to realize that was the sweet, unmistakable sound of boiling water I sauntered over and added what I was hoping was a cup and a half of rice. I went back to the vegetables, finished my chopping, added olive oil to the frying pan, threw in the carrots and we were off! I think the setting I went with for the carrots was 1000? again it means only that it won’t burn carrots nearly fast as 1500. After the carrots looks beautifully crispy on one side (and actually not burnt) I added the other vegetables and placed my ‘lid’ over the frying pan. This lid ladies and gentlemen, is no ordinary lid. This lid is a pot metal serving dish that is exceptionally flat and by some magical chance fits my frying pan perfectly. In Albania, and for sure in my kitchen, you have to let go of what is the “correct” way of cooking and use what you have around you. I have a serving tin. I need a lid. And just like that I have both! It’s all about creativity here. And now back to the cooking:
So the vegetables and the rice were cooking with care and the real work of the meal began: Guessing the quantity and ratio of the spices. The curry powder was what started this series of events and I was set on making that powder proud. and I really, really wanted a good curry. So I did what all novice cooks who are placed in an apartment with no measuring tools or instructions do, I took out a large shot glass and I guessed. I poured a little of the red spice powder that I bought earlier that day (I think this one sucks less than the first one I got that has a weird aftertaste, but I’ll have to let you know once I do a bit more research). Then I added a tantalizingly large amount of the curry powder, and the aroma nearly put me in a trance. In a state of near ecstasy I quickly added some ginger powder, another spice I have deep abiding feelings towards, added a splash of mustard powder because it felt right and I examined my handiwork. the combination looked like those sand bottles kids in the early 90’s used to make only way more appetizing. And with at swirl of the spices and a silent prayer to the food gods I tossed my masterpiece into the pot.
What happened next was nothing short of cooking bliss. The spices melded with the other ingredients and I added a bit more oil and a dash of water to help the spices reach all of the vegetables. Once they looked happily combined I plated some rice that had mysteriously cooked itself to perfection, and added the curried vegetables on top.
I was in heaven. That meal most likely cost me around 400 leke and I was able to eat 3 meals from it and I still have so carrots left over.
Edits for Next Time
The one thing this dish was missing was coconut milk. Obviously coconut milk is not overflowing the shelves here in good ol’ Albania so the search will continue for it, as will a search for an acceptable substitute. Another thing I would do is play around with the amount of garlic in the dish, and find some spicy peppers to throw in. This meal was great but all it’s done is show me just how much better I could make a curry next time. Let me know if you have any suggestions or would like my shipping address as you’ve got a few dozen cans of coconut milk you need taken off your hands!
But really, I need that coconut milk.