It’s been a little over three weeks since Gus died. And it’s time to have people over for dinner.
I’m not gonna lie: I spend some of my days off sobbing, this new specific loneliness a pointy rake across my ribs. I kneel at Gus’s grave and picture his pointy little perfect face. It’s unbelievable that I will never see it again. Not ever. But I am practicing, with his love, to learn about death. Because it is going to keep coming. On the branches of my family tree. Within my cherished client list and at my communal table of friends. I don’t want to have the relationship to death that my culture has. So I think about that. And I watch the news.
So I am also thinking about Cleveland. About the scores of black activists and the activated, a powerful gathering of black humanity coming together in strength and love and thought and rage. I am thinking about Mike Brown and Sandra Bland and India Clarke and Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and Michelle Cusseaux and Eric Garner and Rekia Boyd and London Chanel and Cynthia Hurd and Rev. Clementa Pinckney and Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Tywanza Sanders and Myra Thompson and Ethel Lee Lance and Susie Jackson and Daniel L. Simmons and Depayne Middleton and the countless other Black lives I have not named here, taken too soon, in violence, in a long perfectly straight line right up from the slavery we built this country on. This is another kind of death.
As my friend J. Bob Alotta says,
“this country makes monsters out of it’s power-keepers, corpses out of so many of it’s children, renders so many sedated in complicity or agony or both… but it will make warriors out of the rest of us.
my gd, it surely will.”
And for this work, we must stay strong. We need to care for ourselves and each other in this work. Because it will be hard work. It will be work that is constant and difficult and exhausting. Sometimes it will be devastating. This work of making sure we support the voices of the #blacklivesmatter movement will call on our reserves if we do this work justice. If we give it what it deserves. And we must.
To do this work we need nourishment. We need community, love, sleep, friendship, and for me, faith. Luckily, these things often feed each other. And lifting my head from a dog’s grave to the news of yet another Black Mother burying her child at the hands of police who tried to cover it up, I am ready.
From the earth that houses both the dead and this life, I harvested a bunch of ingredients to make this food, build community, care for my body, and come to share with you. I first made a version of this dish after seeing a recipe in The New York Times by Melissa Clark. I’ve since made several versions from cookbooks and blogs each employing variations from this Middle –Eastern dish. This is a dish from lands of people that have been nourishing themselves through war and heartbreak for many, many, too many years. It’s a rich concoction of deep flavor and vegetable protein and fiber and warmth. The flavors come from a long history of each region with local, class, and religious traditions varying the ingredients and the presentation. It is delicious and affordable and grounded.
Here I present to you a mash-up of different recipes that all come out in this fragrant and addictive version. There are a lot of ingredients, so if you’re new to longer recipes, it’s good to get all the ingredients out and prepped first. Have your garlic crushed and your shallot sliced into rings and so on. This amount will feed about 6-8 people.
1 c green lentils 1 ½ t ground cumin
¾ c brown basmati rice 1 T coriander seeds
2 leeks, trimmed ½ t ground allspice
1 shallot, sliced 1 bay leaf
¼ c olive oil 1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves garlic, minced 1 t sea salt
4 c vegetable broth ½ t ground black pepper
4 c trimmed and chopped leafy greens handful fresh mint
(kale, chard, mustard) ½ t turmeric
Soak your lentils in warm water while you prep all your goods. Leeks often have dirt and grit inside them. Hack off the dark green fanned edges and the slice up the center of the leek lengthwise. Rinse the dirt out then cut them all crosswise, pretty thin. Heat your oil in a large heavy soup pot and toss in your leeks and sliced shallot. Cook until golden brown. It’ll take about ten minutes. They should get crunchy. Then set half the mixture aside in a bowl and dust with some salt. This is going to be a garnish at the end and everyone will wrestle for each last crumb. You’ll remember this later and use crunchy leeks and onion for all manner of things in the future. Like for topping your soups. Put your garlic in with the rest of everything and cook that for about a minute. Now add in your rice, cumin, allspice, turmeric, black pepper and coriander. Cook all of this for about 5 minutes. Now drain your lentils and add them to the pot. Cook it all for another minute. Add your vegetable broth, cinnamon stick and bay leaf and bring everything to a boil. Turn down to a simmer, cover, and cook everything for an hour.
Now lay your greens and mint over the whole pot and return the cover. Cook for another 5 minutes, then remover from heat and let sit covered for another 5-10 minutes. Serve with the crispy leeks and shallots.
OPTIONS: You can toss in a little cardamom for your spice mix. Toss in fresh squeezed lemon before you serve. Have it as a chilled side the next day. Make a yogurt sauce to go with it.
Steve and Tim came over from across the hill where they run Spirit Fire Retreat, home of my forthcoming October Lucky Devil Autumn Getaway. Stay tuned for details. In the mean time, enjoy this food with friends and activists and survivors. Enjoy it with a love of this life if at all possible. And if not, enjoy it any way you can.