Making your meat stick

Years ago, Sophie bought me an amazing cookbook. It is by a group of women, all refugees from Syria, and features a collection of everyday recipes which they would prepare at home before the Civil War started. It also contains their personal experiences of the war.

I’ve tried a number of recipes from it and they have all been excellent. The book itself is also beautifully put together and fascinating.

Well, we had planned to have a barbecue this Saturday and I was building my shopping list on Thursday night when I decided to look for an alternative to the chicken kebabs I generally make. I found two recipes in this book.

One of the recipes (minced beef with various herbs and spices) reminded me of a long ago party I attended with James Balian. The party was to welcome a family to Australia. They had recently escaped an evil regime and had arrived with very little of their old life.

For some reason, I wound up in the kitchen with all the women, chattering and preparing. One woman decided I needed teaching how to cook. She put me on the tabbouleh.

This, I think, was a test to see if I could handle cooking at all. I must have passed the test because once I’d finished chopping, she took my hand and introduced me to making shish kebabs with minced meat.

Boy, did I make those woman laugh.

I had no problem with the mixing and squeezing, forcing them into long shapes. In fact I thought I was doing quite well. It was when I tried to stick them onto a skewer that I fell foul. Every time I tried the meat would just fall off. As each one fell off so the women in the kitchen laughed more. It was such a jolly time.

I’d like to say that one of them taught me the secret of how to make them stick but, if one of them did, I have long since forgotten – it was about 40 years ago after all. While the secret has long since left me, today, as I started to prepare a similar meal, the memory of all that laughter returned, clear and bright.

Still, I persevered with the mince and also made a couple with diced lamb and various veg.

And guess what? Yes, when I tried to turn the kebabs over as they lay on the barbecue grill, half of the rolls of meat fell off. It was very, very annoying.

Still, they tasted great and Mirinda was well pleased. In fact, they were further enhanced with a bit of horseradish cream which I had left over from making the prawn cocktail yesterday.

I think Mirinda’s opinion may have been affected by her hours of hard work in the garden today. She was, in her words, starving by the time I dished up dinner. And that was after the new usual Chez Gaz brunch which, this week, featured egg in bacon muffins, sautéed chestnut mushrooms, halloumi with a prawn on top (also leftover from the cocktail) and the usual smashed avocado.

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