This afternoon was earmarked for some shopping in Beirut‘s new and glistening souks, a mall reminiscent of the most upscale ones in the US. Unfortunately, as soon as we got to the garage, a surprise was in store for us: a vehicle was parked in front of the garage door, blocking our car. A derelict-looking thing too, not one of those resplendent BMWs, the #1 preferred car here, the car that says “ I am the King of the Road“.
No, this was a car that could have used a few months of tender loving care at a body shop and upholsterer.
We looked around, hoping to spot the impudent driver. No one in sight, not even on a balcony. What to do? Go home and hope that in a few hours itwill be gone? Alice (daugther) suggested getting in our car and honking nonstop to alert the neighborhood. I said:” Try it if you want, but we are in Beirut here, nobody pays any attention to honking!
Fifty feet away, I saw a man loitering about; I called him ” are you the driver of this car?”; “no, lady” he yelled back; he moved closer and leaned over the windshield, scrutinizing it ” Look, a phone number!”.
Sure enough, on the driver’s side of the dashboard, I saw a phone number scribbled on a wrinkled tiny piece of paper in pencil. The man said to me ” See, all you have to do is call that number on your cell phone”.
He read the numbers out loud to me with an Egyptian accent. ” Pfft! “, I thought, ” this guy seems to think it is that easy!”
A minute later, I heard a voice on the other end, apologizing : ” I will be there in a jiffy, lady, I am in the Sabbagh building across the street, just give me a minute!”.
Living inBeirut can be maddening, charming, exciting, dangerous, fun and all of these combined.
- 1 cup of risotto rice
- 1 small onion
- olive oil, as needed
- 1 large heirloom tomato
- a cup of porcini mushrooms, either fresh or dried (if dried, soak in hot water for 30 minutes)
- a few shakes of pink peppercorns and salt to taste
- one jiggle of white wine (optional)
- 1/2 cup of whipping cream
- 1/2 cup of freshly grated parmesan
- 1 tablespoon of tomato paste (optional)
- a handful of pine nuts, sauteed in butter till brown or toasted
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot; add the chopped onion. Stir until the onion is translucent (cover the pot to speed up the process).
- Add the rice and stir for 3 minutes till the rice takes on the color of mother-of-pearl.
- Add the white wine and let it simmer till it almost evaporates.
- Add the tomato and the mushrooms and stir. At this point, add a couple ladles of water (about 2 cups) and let it simmer, stirring from time to time.
- Add some salt, pepper and some cream, let it simmer and meld into the rice.
- Add the parmesan cheese last, stir and serve the risotto when it is cooked but still firm to the bite and all the rice, when stirred, moves in the same direction. Sprinkle with pine nuts.
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