x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Nigella Lawson’s roast chicken with zaatar recipe is a winner despite variables

It has been more than 200 years since Benjamin Franklin wrote that nothing in life is certain but death and taxes, the quote has seen a lot of mileage. But I prefer a different truism of his: “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”

To kids who were allowed junk food only as an occasional treat, the arcade smelled like victory and Nerds. By Nerds, I’m not talking about the doughy, cave-dwelling gamers that such establishments tend to attract, but rather, the sugary, neon rubble made by Nestle’s Wonka brand.

After a vigorous session of Whac-A-Mole or skeeball, we’d end up with a wad of paper tickets to redeem for penny sweets. One particularly lucrative afternoon, I offered my aunt her pick of my loot and she declined. “I don’t eat that stuff anymore.” Incredulous, I asked how – and why – a person could stop liking sweets. “I just grew out of it. Don’t worry. You will too.”

At the time, it sounded ominous, like something a Disney villain would wish upon a child. It was also infeasible. I was sure of that.

But how do we know when to trust our memories? People, music and food that may have once brought us genuine pleasure might now turn our stomachs – and that feeling falls within the spectrum of human experience, too.  

In the 224 years since Benjamin Franklin wrote that nothing in life is certain but death and taxes, the quote has seen a lot of mileage. But I prefer a different truism of his: “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”

The sure things in life are change and death. My aunt was right about the sweets, of course. If we’re lucky enough to live through it, our tastes evolve with the rest of us. I’m glad to say that I carry no regrets over sweets I haven’t eaten.

Knowing that all things are bound to change doesn’t stop us from getting close to them – and we find ourselves attached, not in spite of the fleeting nature of things, but because of it. We take vows and make promises that require considerable leaps of faith in the face of reason and with little regard for what history has taught us, pledging to sustain whatever shifts may occur and aligning our futures with the blind certainty of change. The ability to revel in ephemeral experiences is how some of us correspond with the sublime.

One of the things I look for in a successful recipe – one that’s conducive to sharing – are ingredients that can handle a range of variables. A longtime favourite example is Nigella Lawson’s roast chicken with zaatar, for which a recipe can easily be found online. In addition to being ridiculously easy and tasty, it’s forgiving, which is a winning quality for any recipe, much less such a simple one. Over the years, I have made this chicken with a dozen different zaatar blends of various ages and origins and all have turned out great. You can adjust the quantities of the few ingredients – chicken, olive oil, zaatar and salt – without insult or injury to the finished dish.

Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who cooks and writes in New Mexico