What does life, lemon and the burning ghat have in common?
Ok, stop scratching your hairless head or your headful of wild, unmanageable hair. I will be kind and give you the answer in a moment.
But let's talk about the burning ghat first.
As you know, that is the place where the body is cremated, after death. The body turns into ashes as the wind carries away the smoke and the rain carries away the ashes to the river and into the sea and the spirit returns to mingle with the five elements of nature. Thus, it gets released from its earthly ties for its eternal journey or cycle of rebirths.
The holy Geeta has a beautiful part where the nature of the soul is described eloquently.
I shall spare you the difficult to utter Sanskrit part and just cite the translation here: "As a person sheds worn-out garments and wears new ones, likewise, at the time of death, the soul casts off its worn-out body and enters a new one." Bhagavad Gita: 2, 22.
There can't be any more lyrically beautiful description of the indestructible nature of the soul and rebirth.
The lesson for us here is this-- that with every ending there is a new beginning. That loss is inevitable. Life is nothing but a tale of a series of losses. And love. And loss of love.
But one should not grieve that there is loss in life, that a phase is over, or what one thought of as inseparable from one's existence, the relationship that gave meaning to life, without which life would lose its meaning, is just not it. There is always a new beginning.
So even when the burning ghat was the final destination for one, it could start a new chapter for another. There is this story, most probably apocryphal, from the period of the British Raj. Calcutta (now Kolkata) was the capital of India and a job in the Writers' Building, the secretariat of the British East India Company, was a very lucrative one for the Bengali babus. The entry level job was of junior clerks and the jobs were for life. So vacancies were few and far between and a retiring babu would plead with their bosses to have his eldest son to be appointed in his post and most often than not, the British bosses would oblige. But surely some of the Bengali babus would die on the job without leaving any sons behind.
The story is that the educated but jobless babus would go and wait at the Keoratala burning ghat at Calcutta for the appearance of any funeral party. As soon as one came in, they would find out the identity and the job held by the freshly deceased.
If the deceased had worked in the Writers' Building, while still alive, by any chance, the babus would rush off with an application that would start with this immortal sentence:
"Learning from the burning ghat that a post of such and such has been vacated with the demise of babu such and such, I would like to present myself as a candidate for the same... etc."
If they were lucky, they would get the just vacated job and a new beginning would start with the end of another life. The cycle of Samsara would restart once again. One exits, another one enters. The river reaches the sea yearning to go back to its source as raindrops, as snow, as the silent dewdrops that gather at the tip of the leaves of grass. There will be victory and there will be defeat. There will be joys and there will be sorrows. There will be love and there will be hate. What we want to avoid as pain is not a punishment, what we crave as pleasure is not a reward. And in the end it would not matter really.
The lesson here is when some apparently negative situation takes us down, we have the power to turn it into a positive one.
We have all heard of the famous proverbial phrase: "When life gives you a lemon, make lemonade."
One of the advertisements of the German Volkswagen Beetle in the 60s even used the word "Lemon" evocative of this phrase to advertise their iconic car. As you know, the word "Lemon" to describe a car means it is a dud, a defective and unsafe one. The ugly shape of the car was not very popular in the US. But the brilliant ad agency used the same negative connotation of the word to come up with this winning idea to turn this apparent disadvantage to an advantage and the famous ad was born.
So after all is said and done, in the end it all depends on your attitude to life. It all comes to how you reacted to one ending and how you open yourself up for another beginning, and more often than not, a better one.
The lemon itself is a metaphor worth considering for a moment. It is so sour that I cannot, for the life of me, have a slice of it as it is. But who does not love a refreshing glass of water with a squeeze of lemon in it on a hot summer day?
Make a glass of iced tea with lemon and honey. The iftar after a long day of fasting is never sahih without the first sip from a glass of lemon serbet. It just is not done, just does not feel right without it.
A bottle of 7up or Sprite is flavoured with lime-lemon as the labels say. A cocktail party without lemons just would not fly.
However, what we call the lemon is not.
The green round citrus fruits we love to buy from the cart on the street corner by the dozen are actually limes, not lemons. Lemons are hardly found here.
Lemons are the slightly elongated bright yellow citrus fruits grown in north-eastern India, more specifically Assam. The first record of the fruit is found in an Arab treatise on agriculture. Islamic gardens used the lemon tree as ornamental plants. In fact, the name lemon is derived from the Arabic lymūn.
The lime, on the other hand, is typically round and green in colour, and there is a name for it as well, lime-green. It is sourer than the lemon. That's what we buy by the dozen and use it to make our refreshing drinks, have a slice with our lunch and dinner to bring that tangy taste to our taste buds and of course make that facemask to rejuvenate the skin.
But I use it mostly in my cooking. The best use I have for it is to make my Lebanese rotisserie chicken. It's one of the best in my culinary repertoire and I can claim that it is something that never fails to leave a good impression with my guests.
Before the pandemic I was to have a dinner date with someone and the menu was to be this Lebanese chicken and Moroccan couscous with other accompaniments.
Somehow it did not materialise and there is no possibility of that happening ever again.
I figured I shall include the recipe here so if by any chance the person sees it maybe she can replicate the mouthwatering, melt in the mouth, juicy, moist chicken and make up for that forever missed date.
So going back to my theme again. If something is lost, it opens the door for something new to replace the lost one. She lost the dinner date but got this recipe from me.
The recipe is not too difficult to follow and I'll do my best to keep it simple. In fact, I just made it the other day, even in this ongoing pandemic, because why not! And it came out fantastic! Don't hate me.
And of course, you have to have a good rotisserie oven with temperature control, timer, and heating element selector.
Yes, I took the pictures. I am not a professional food photographer so they did not come out too well. But I guess they will have to do it for now.
So here goes:
- The chicken (of course). It has to be less than one kg and skin on whole chicken. This is important. The skin actually holds in the moisture and the fat under the skin also helps keep it basted. No, the fat won't significantly hurt your already bulging mid-area because in the rotisserie, it is going to melt off and make the oh-so-delicious gravy base.
- The following freshly made spices and the other dry ones mixed together into a thick paste for the marination:
2.2 Two Tbsp freshly made garlic paste.
2.3 Two tsp freshly made coarsely ground black pepper.
2.4 One and half tsp of dried oregano.
2.5 One and half tsp salt or as needed (you have to taste the salt several times while making the spice mix to suit your taste).
2.6 Juice of two limes. If you can find the lemons then even better as those are less sour and more flavourful, at least to me. Your mileage may vary. There is a sneaky way to do away with the limes/lemons altogether and have the same effect but I want to keep the flavour as close to original as possible.
2.7 Half-a-cup of olive oil, if you have the best, otherwise just use a white oil like soybean oil. It won't have the same flavour but as we are not that used to cooking with olive oil, it does not matter in the end. Besides, most of the olive oils sold in the world are fake so don't worry too much about it.
- Mix all the ingredients together well. As you work on it, always, always taste the mixture for the necessary saltiness and sourness. The final product should be a little more salty than you like and a little more sour than you like.
You don't have to know everything. Just do it as I say.
- Now to get messy. Insert your finger under the chicken skin to make pockets over the breasts and around the legs and thighs. Be gentle, do not tear the skin. Remember, the skin holds the marinade in place and the fat will keep the chicken moist and juicy.
- Put in the marinade mixture with a spoon in the pockets you just made and massage the skin over the breasts to spread it evenly. Do likewise with the thighs and legs. After you are done with the inside of the skin, put some of the marinade in the chicken cavity. And then use the rest to apply all over the chicken.
- You have to marinade the chicken overnight for best results. So put it in the fridge. You can cover it with plastic wrap if you like. I do not.
- Bring out the chicken at least an hour before you are ready to cook it and leave it on the kitchen counter. The chicken has to be brought to room temperature first. Cooking time in the oven is an hour and a half. So put it in 90 minutes before you are expecting your guest. And if you are like me, friendless, then put it in with time in hand before when you want to eat it.
- But there is the rotisserie oven contraption to take care of first. You need to put the rotisserie rod through the chicken from the neck to the rear end and fix it in place with the two claws provided.
- Set the temperature to 250℃ and the timer to 90 minutes. That's actually one and a half hours. I am mathematically challenged so I have to remind myself of that all the time. Preheat the oven for at least 10 minutes. Don't have a rotisserie oven? Well, I have a fix for that too later.
- Put the chicken inside the oven on the rotation mechanism and close the door. The chicken should start rotating to become the burnished brown delight in about 90 minutes.
- Now is your time to tidy your rooms for the guest to arrive. If you are the OCD type and always keep your rooms neat then you can get ready to prepare your couscous. It is best to make the couscous just before you serve your meal as there is nothing better than fresh couscous.
- Just read the instructions on the package on how to make it.
- Oh yes, what if you don't have a rotisserie oven? You can always cook the chicken in a large enough pot with a closed lid. The pressure cooker works too but in both cases you won't have the heavenly, burnished-gold crispy skin.
Oh well. You can't have it all, can you?
If you must go the pressure cooker method, the cooking time will be obviously much much less. Like 15 to 20 minutes after the pressure cooker starts its work. You have to have some experience with your pressure cooker as all of them are not made the same and it is up to you from here. I can't be holding your hand with that, unless of course, you invite me over and pretend to be helpless.
- Check the chicken for doneness when the timer dings. The simplest way to do that is to insert a pointy stick in the thigh and observe the liquid that runs out. It should be clear.
- Take the chicken out and let it rest for about 10 minutes before carving it up to serve. Or you can present it at the table to wow your guest and carve it there.
- You can use the chicken dripping to make a simple gravy if you like. It goes well over the chicken. If you are unreasonably scared of fat then discard it.
- Serve with a salad of your choice and the warm couscous. The couscous can be served cold as well, so it is up to you. You can also serve a glass of cool refreshing lemonade or limeade if you like. Or it can be any drink that goes well with a slice of lemon or lime.
- Thank me.
So there you go. All about life, lemon and the way life compensates you if you have lost something. The dinner date didn't happen but you got this valuable recipe. The chicken lost its life but was turned into the best rotisserie chicken you'll ever taste. I promise.