When a bus driver takes a vacation and goes for a trip on a bus, it’s called a busman’s holiday.
But what if you’re a food writer?
I recently had the opportunity to enjoy a three-day weekend. The first day was spent doing various errands and chores, and the second day was absolutely lovely. I had lunch at my favorite fast-casual restaurant chain and saw an afternoon movie (“Long Shot”) that was much better than the trailer made it seem. I even laughed at least twice, and maybe even three times.
But by the third day, I was getting kind of antsy. I don’t have any hobbies, and I’d already seen the only movie that I possibly wanted to see. So I decided to cook an extra-nice dinner.
When insurance salesmen have a day off, they don’t call their friends to discuss the financial advantages of term life insurance. When surgeons have a day off, they don’t perform recreational surgery on people.
But when food writers are getting antsy on the third day of a three-day weekend, they prepare a mini-feast. It’s a food-writer’s holiday.
I woke up in the morning with the thought of making a rolled lamb shoulder with mustard and honey, only I was going to use a leg of lamb, and instead of roasting it in the oven, I was going to cook it on the grill.
Lamb tastes best when it is cooked on the grill.
But then I looked at the recipe and remembered that for this particular dish the lamb should be marinated overnight. Since it was already the day I was going to serve it, an overnight marination seemed problematic.
I’ll admit, I fell into a bit of a funk. I can take catastrophe and tragedy with ease and aplomb, but a minor letdown will knock me for a loop. And that is when I thought about making a new recipe I had been vaguely meaning to try.
I wanted to stick with lamb because I was getting tired of everything else and because I absolutely love lamb. I don’t understand why it has gone from being the other red meat to being thought of as a delicacy favored only by the hoity-toity culinary elite and, basically, all of Greece.
So I made a Turkish classic called Hunkar Begendi. It is a dish of pieces of lamb braised in a tomato sauce with oregano, cinnamon (it’s Turkish, after all) and plenty of onion and garlic, all served on top of a creamy eggplant purée.
It may sound like a dish fit for the gods because it is so divine, but in fact it was originally created for an Ottoman sultan 400 years ago. Those sultans had it good. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever cooked.
My first thought, before actually reading the recipe, was that I would grill the lamb. Lamb tastes best when it is cooked on the grill, I’ve heard. But since it has to braise, thus blending its flavor with the tomato sauce, the grill idea would not work.
Instead, I decided to cook the eggplant on the grill. I’d hoped to give it a nice, smoky flavor. I cooked it over indirect heat to keep from charring it, which ended up merely cooking it. That is when I remembered that in order to give a smoky flavor to eggplant is to actually char it right over a flame.
That’s OK. I’ll do it next time. And there will definitely be many next times. I won’t even wait until a three-day weekend.