One of my goals for years has been to set up an outdoor kitchen based off of the paintings in the Nimatnama and cook the food from that manuscript in that kitchen, using period cooking methods along with period ingredients. I’ve been slowly gathering cooking equipment for years and finally decided to seize the opportunity to actually set up the kitchen and cook at a small local event called Bacon & Fire.
What I planned:
I bought & harvested the ingredients for eight possible dishes: mixed-grain chapati, puri stuffed with spiced meat #76, fried chickpea dumplings in yogurt sauce #64, cardamom pichha drink #67, water chestnut dabra #132, mixed vegetables with onions and spices #160, mince kabab (multiple recipes), and khichri with ginger and lime juice #122.
What actually was cooked:
Qaliya rice #56 made with minced meat, mixed-grain chapati, and puri stuffed with spiced mince #76
What I learned:
I built a rough chulha out of bricks and concrete blocks, somewhat like a backyard rocket stove. In theory this should have worked, the shape was right. However the wind shifted during the day and ended up blowing from behind the stove, continually blowing smoke in my face and making fire control difficult. I also didn’t include enough of a draft. At Gulf Wars I will cover the chulha with cob, which should improve everything.
It is impossible to prep and cook simultaneously because a chulha burns sticks, not charcoal or big pieces of wood. It needs constant tending and it’s difficult to keep a constant temperature. I needed to prep each dish and then cook, which took way more time than expected. Next time I’ll do a lot more pre-prep.
More bowls! I constantly needed more bowls. I will buy more bowls, make fabric sacks to hold grains and flours, and at least one masala dabba (spice box). The iron tawa is actually a giant paella pan my husband bought me, but it worked very well and I will use it in the future. The modern copper-bottom kadai worked great, I need two more and a clay handi.
More time. Setup plus cooking time at this event was about four hours and I could only make three dishes from scratch. Next time I’ll set up the night before and then cook all day.
Hand washing/dish washing. I had enough water but I need a way to be able to wash my hands and wash dishes (especially after handling raw meat) that does not necessitate getting up and leaving the kitchen area.
I really enjoyed the hell out of this ultra-compact kitchen where everything is within reach around you and it’s all done on the floor. Thankfully I am comfortable sitting on the ground cross-legged for long periods of time. The cooks in the paintings are almost all sitting on their haunches or kneeling, which I will try more next time. When you only have the ingredients, equipment and cooking methods from the manuscript around you, even your improvisations fit within the cuisine. I am really eager to do this again.
Credit for these great photos to M’lady Heloise of Amurgorod (mka Christi Raney). Thank you for letting me use them.