Nearby, my camera is standing on a tripod, groomed like a bull ready to charge. As soon as I open the oven, a cloud of steam surges into the kitchen. It reminds me of the moments after rain when every scent travels on its own track. Now I smell the faint spirit of closeness between basil and rosemary that is covered by a duvet of melted mozzarella. It is hidden between the layers of tomato sauce, roasted slices of eggplant and pasta sheets.
I’ve wanted to post a lasagne recipe for five weeks. I’ve cooked it as many times, but something has always distracted me from photographing it. Armed with determination, for the sixth time, I finally place the dish on the table, climb on a kitchen stool, focus the camera and call my husband to help. He bursts in, panting: “my passport is lost!”
I rush down, enter the hallway and see our coats and jackets turned inside out on a pile on the floor. From the doorway it looks like a whirlwind has sucked in hundreds of misplaced items from the drawers and shelves and spitted them out, everywhere. It is a mess. It’s more than a mess. His passport is lost! My husband, who doesn’t lose things, has lost his passport.
Neither of us can think straight when we comb through all possible and impossible hideouts and wonder where it could be. Soon it becomes inevitable: the passport is not in the house. My husband has forgotten it somewhere or dropped it, or, it has been stolen. A call to the police station confirms: it’s there. Someone has handed it over to the police.
What a relief! But, by the time I stagger back to the photography setting, my subject has lost the momentum. The soft cushions of mozzarella have sunk in like a blanket woven from fatty, rough wool by nomads. A geyser of olive oil has jetted on the top. The palette has turned muddy. Instead of a pond after a light snow, the lasagne looks like an overgrown bed of moss. Exposing it on Internet would be a disservice.
Because I don’t have a plan B, I grab chickpeas from the cupboard, give them a quick shower and let them soak overnight. In the morning I cook them with tejpatta, a small piece of cassia, salt and some cayenne. When I finally get an idea of how to use them, I regret boiling them with spices. My knowledge of Middle Eastern cuisine is meagre, but I suspect the paste wouldn’t qualify as hummus if cooked with Indian spices. To be on the neutral side, I decide to call it a dip and stick to the Indian flavours with a liberty of using olive oil and homemade tahini, too!
For a hodgepodge, the dip turns out perfect! Although 'perfect' is a word often loaded with too high expectations, it is accurately applied here. An overall earthliness comes from the chickpeas and sesame seed paste. In an orchestra they would be the brass instruments that have a clear, directional sound travelling straight outward from the bell. The lemon zest, on the other hand, would be a seductive flute. And, just when you think the concert is over, on the back of the palate, you will feel the warmth of cayenne. It’s an instrument you didn’t notice earlier: the one that ties the theme together!
The dip has a feather light texture. It melts in the mouth. It is complimented by spelt crackers and a seasonal salad.