Tuesday, 14 May 2013

a green and white supper for the pakistan election

asparagus spears
there are some things in life that one is not prepared to feel emotional about like elections for instance. nonetheless this saturday both o and i woke up with a lump in our throats and a feeling of pride. eleventh may was the day that pakistan went to the polls in what was the first real election in my lifetime. pakistan has had elections before but never one in which one democratically elected government has been succeeded by another. up until now pakistan’s system of governance was a pendulum that swayed between the military and the political offspring of dictatorships. the terms of the latter were aborted by the military before they were able to complete them. 

as a child mama would buy cassettes of ‘milli naghma’s’ (nationalistic songs). i used to love listening to these. the morning assembly at school would always conclude on the pakistani national anthem. although beautifully penned, our childish rendition of it was far from melodious. it was pitch imperfect and an assault to the sense of sound. and yet it made me proud. when it came to national holidays, the celebrations on pakistan day failed to capture my imagination. i always found the display of might disconcerting. but i did love the provincial floats that gave a flavour of the diversity of culture and heritage in pakistan. i much preferred the more egalitarian celebrations on independence day when the nation poured forth onto the roads – motorbikes with broods of children perched precariously front and back, suzuki dabba’s packed to brimming and shining like brides in their neon makeup all rode down constitutional avenue to witness the lights and eventually to pass by the building sized flag hung from the wall of pakistan radio’s headquarters. there would be glimpses of little children whose cheeks were painted with the crescent and star. i was barely six years old when the pop band vital signs released the very popular pop anthem ‘dil dil pakistan’. i rote learned the words and sang it often. 

tossing the salad together
i am too old now for that kind of naïve patriotism because the pakistan of my childhood was very different from the one today. when i moved to london in twenty thousand and one to start my undergraduate degree pakistan catapulted into the west’s imagination as ‘terror-istan’. many young pakistani’s i met were ashamed to admit their ties. and that has persisted till today. i found that attitude difficult to accept because for me it was tantamount to ‘biting the hand that feeds you’. i felt that as pakistani’s abroad we had to be ambassadors of our country, no matter what the circumstances. if we are not, we are dismissive of the diversity of a population of one hundred and seventy six million people. 

my pakistan does not have a single story. it is made up of multiple ones – stories of hardworking people and crooks, of inspiring women and men, of resilience in the face of natural disasters, of a conniving military interested in meddling with politics. my country also has extraordinary flaws – it lacks tolerance and respect for difference, a lot of the time it seems as if human life is cheap and most of all we use religion to justify violence and exert control over those outside of it. in two thousand and nine i heard chimamama adichie’s tedx talk and it was as if she had crawled inside my head and spoken my thoughts aloud – ‘the a single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. they make one story become the only story… the consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of dignity. it makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. it emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar’. 

election twenty-thirteen is a new story. it is a story that begins with a new (and yet old) government, an act that is routinely carried out in other democracies in the world. o and i watched the first of the election results trickle in over a green and white themed supper. we ate a salad of cannellini beans and asparagus to represent the colours of the pakistani flag. the equal balance of green and white was deliberate because it is time that we choose equality and fairness as principles of our nationhood. we drank matcha mojitos made with white rum and teapigs matcha green tea. 

i am not an unbridled optimist. i know that the road ahead is far from linear. pakistan’s challenges are complex and myriad. the ballot box has favoured an old candidate whose past politics are as chequered as those of the previous government. but then this was an unusual election by pakistani standards where we have transitioned to civilian government without a coup in the middle. this is a new story starting to unfold. i only hope that it will be better than the volumes of the past. 

cannellini bean and asparagus bread salad + matcha mojitos
{cannellini bean and asparagus bread salad} 

five hundred grams canned white beans 
five hundred grams asparagus spears 
two plumps cloves of garlic 
two tablespoons olive oil 
the zest and juice of a lemon 
four tablespoons extra virgin olive (the finishing kind) 
a large handful of chopped parsley 
four slices of good crusty bread (i used poilane) + olive oil for tossing 
salt and pepper to taste 
shavings of pecorino cheese 

start by rinsing and draining the cannellini beans. place them on a sheet of kitchen towel and allow them to dry while you prepare the other ingredients. 

wash the asparagus and trim the woody ends. then slice it on the diagonal into quarter inch pieces. peel the garlic and chop it finely. heat the two tablespoons of olive oil in a wok and fry the garlic on low heat until it softens and becomes fragrant. then dial up the heat and fry the asparagus for one minute. it should retain a sharp bite. 

remove the wok from the heat and add the cannellini beans, zest and juice of the lemon,extra virgin olive oil and the parsley. season the salad with salt and coarsely ground pepper. then toss together gently and put aside. tear the bread into bite sized pieces and toss with about two tablespoons of olive oil. place these in a roasting tin and tuck into the oven at two hundred degrees celsius so that they become like croutons. these are tossed with the salad when you are ready to serve. finish the salad with pecorino shavings. 

{matcha mojitos} 

two sprigs of mint 
two tablespoons sugar 
eight tablespoons water 
pinch of salt 
one teaspoon matcha green 
two tablespoons lime juice 
three ounces white rum 
soda water 
lime slices 

place the mint, sugar, water and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat to create simple syrup. once the sugar has dissolved remove it from the heat and add the matcha along with the lime juice. let it infuse for around ten minutes. 

strain the syrup into a cocktail shaker and add three ounces of white rum to it. give it a good shake. pour into a tumbler with plenty of ice and lengthen with soda water. finish each glass with a slice of lime. this recipe makes enough for two drinks.

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