Cooking in the Ashram Part IV
Evening Service time. This was it. I’d spent my whole afternoon preparing Dahl, and trying to help organise the whole kitchen. It was a fascinating time with a constantly changing workforce made up of other volunteers, and people who are living in the jungle. Everyone just came and did a bit and it all got done. That in itself was a kind of miracle as the cooking conditions were so challenging, but so heart warming to see so many people from so many different cultures, backgrounds and walks of life all coming together to assist in the preparation of a meal.
We set up the pass and I started to get that little rush of adrenaline that chefs will recognize in the immediate build up to a busy service. When the shipping container had arrived there was some food inside it that had been there for a day or two including 2 boxes of baby spinach. I didn’t think the spinach would be any good the next day and whilst it isn’t a standard ingredient in dahl I thought it would go nice in my non standard dahl at the last minute, so in it went.
I had one eye on the clock I could here the hungry crowd growing a bit restless outside the camp. The kitchen filled up with a few more Kurdish volunteers as well as the British ones, everyone smiling and ready to assist with the service. There was just enough time for those in there to grab some food before everyone else came in. As they did that I decided it was time to start sauteing the cabbage off.
We had a big frying pan that I’d seen someone use to cook the scrambled eggs in in the morning. It was perfect for the cabbage so I started the first batch. As soon as that was ready I knew it was time to let everyone in. I actually managed to get a second batch cooked before they came in.
Suddenly the word was given to let everyone in and in they came. The Ashram tent filled instantly and the line kept moving at a very good pace. After about 5 minutes Waleed, Dave and Tom were frantically washing the mish mash of plates, cups and cutlery and the whole system was working really efficiently. More people were helping get the food out, and keeping the boxes of clean plates topped up so the line wouldn’t stall. All this was going on as I kept cooking batches of cabbage.
So then this refugee comes right over to me. Unlike Farouk earlier this guy wasn’t shy at all. He came right up to me with a really happy face and was watching closely as I cooked the cabbage.
‘Ooooh good idea!!’ He said to me. ‘Very nice’
I looked at this guy. He must have been no older than about 30. As he was looking at me I could see the milky tell tale signs of cataracts in both of his eyes. I instantly feared for his future and felt so sorry for him.
As my batch of cabbage finished cooking he straight away started to help me to decant it to hand over to the people who were dishing up to the line. He watched me cook the next batch and helped to stir the cabbage whilst it was cooking. I looked at how much we had chopped and thought to myself that we weren’t going to go through that much this evening. There was also a few boxes that weren’t chopped so there was plenty for the next couple of days. It was then I remembered with sadness that I wasn’t going to be here for tomorrow night’s service.
‘Right mate, I’m going to show you how to cook it’
I showed my enthusiastic assistant oil in first. Throw in some chopped garlic and ginger. Now add your cabbage. Put a lid on and let it cook for 2-3 minutes. Lid off, season, taste, adjust seasoning, done. Got it?
‘yes yes I do!!!’ So I stood back and let him make it, and he made it very well. He cooked the next few batches as I stood back and watched. So right there and then in the middle of this really busy service I felt an enormous sense of pride. I could see many people enjoying the dahl, and I’d just enabled someone to carry on cooking this cabbage for the next day or two. Not only had we taken supplies but also in this very small way I’d been able to leave them with something other than just the supplies that we had brought. It was incredibly uplifting.