Why Hello There, and welcome to Kitchen Catastrophes, one man’s lost journal of self-deprecations and pop cultural references. I’m the not-so-silent guardian, the more-or-less watchful protector, The Really Just Kind of Shadowy Knight, Jon O’Guin. Let’s talk about Batman.
As I hope I’ve made clear over the last year we’ve spent together, I am a nerd. A huge nerd. I can, with minimal thought, reproduce the statistical increases of 3rd edition D&D classes from memory. I know all the words to the Green Lantern Oath, and half the words from half the other 6. I AM AWARE THERE ARE SEVEN LANTERN CORPS.
The best Lantern is, as always, Larfleeze.
Now, I’m not a fool, willing to commit to saying I have a favorite superhero or heroine. But, there’s a reason when you think of superhero comics, you probably think of two names: Batman, and Superman. And that reason is simple: blind, stupid luck.
Oh, sure, we could argue that Superman and Batman speak to something deeply resonant across human endeavors, but the truth is, they do that NOW, because they’ve had 70+ years of writing to make them so resonant. Really, what made them so big is that, well, they got so big. They became popular enough that their storylines were treated with something like reverence. Great comic writers, when given the chance, wrote great Batman and Superman stories. And those great writers then fed into the mythos of the greatness of the characters.
Now, of the two, I will say this: a well written Superman story is one of the things that, without question, will make me cry. Superman, when handled properly, has an incomparable love for humanity. In my efforts to find a suitable page to show this, I’ve cried three different times at a variety of instances, but none of them are small enough to fit in a single image. If you wish to be convinced, read All-Star Superman. Read Hitman #34. Read Actions Comics #800. I am too…shallow a writer to fit the depth needed to cover the emotional impact of Superman. There are multiple recorded cases of his fictional actions preventing actual suicides. He’s so powerful, he doesn’t even need to exist to save lives.
But it’s Batman whose stories I love. Superman is where I go to get Truth, Justice, Love, and the American Way. Batman’s where I go to have fun. And of his villains, two are the most fun, in my mind. And no, not the Joker. He’s amazing when he’s written well, but he’s too erratic. No, for my money, the best Batman villains are The Riddler and Ra’s Al Ghul. The Riddler is great because he so perfectly captures a core theme of Batman: potential, and its destruction by tragedy. The Riddler would be the greatest criminal in the world, if not for his compulsion. Harvey Dent would still be a District Attorney, raising twins with his lovely wife, if not for the cruel attack that scarred his face and shattered his mind. Bruce Wayne would be playing polo with his father, letting the old man enjoy his retirement, if not for Joe Chill.
I don't care how many movies get it wrong: THIS is the guy who killed the Waynes, not the Joker.
Ra’s al Ghul, on the other hand, represents the exact opposite of Batman. The Moriarty to a Holmes. The conception that great skill and ability are not prescribed to the moral. He is a genius, immortal, skilled in many forms of combat and deception. He is the assassin to Batman’s Detective. He is the Head of the Demon, and his plans span centuries.
He’s also mildly useful for comparing a spice mix we’re using today!
Yeah, if you haven’t forgotten in the last 500 words, we’re not ACTUALLY here to talk about Batman (as cool as that would be). No, we’re here because I cooked something, decided to write about it, and decided the best way to do that was an emotionally catharticdiscussion of comic books. Also, and this is a big one: it buys me time. See, I…haven’t actually cooked the meal yet. I will, in a bit. But my schedule got away from me, (in no small part because my love of comic books drove me to watch 7 hours of Iron Fist this weekend) and I ended up with 2 options: cook this meal at literally midnight, on a day where I had already eaten an entire medium Domino’s pizza, or cook it in the morning and write up the note immediately afterward. Then I thought “Well, shit, I don’t want to make this one late like last week’s!” And then I thought “well, hey, I know I want to talk about the etymology of stuff, so why don’t I do all of that the night before, so I only have half the note to write?”
And that’s where we are now. See, I’m making Lamb Kofta, in a sort of cock-eyed nod to St Paddy’s Day, and Thurday’s post about Lamb being the quintessential Irish meat. Kofta, however, is a Moroccan dish. You can think of it as a sort of ground-meat sate, or a single-item shish-kabob. It’s a meatball dish, normally served grilled on skewers.
Shown here sans skewers.
And this particular recipe is also relying on a specific spice blend I recently got my hands on. As part of my Christmas escapades, at one point I ended up in a World Market store for an hour, because I had been assigned to travel with my brother and father, who decided “Hey, we should go to a guitar store for an hour and a half”, and I replied “Just leave me anywhere along this highway, thanks, I’ll survive.” 20 minutes of highway-hiking later, I was in an exotic spice section! I ended up picking out several interesting mixtures.
I bought the Chia Seeds in hopes of raising a litter of Chia Pets.
But today, we’re going to focus on Ras El Hanout. Coming from the same Arabic etymology as the Batman villain! That’s literally all the connection these things have! But yeah, “Ra’s al Ghul” means “Head of the demon”, and Ras el Hanout means “Head of the Shop.” Because there’s not technically a set ingredient list for the spice mix. Instead, the idea is that a shop owner would make the mix from the best spices he sold. It’s the spice equivalent of getting a “top-shelf” liquor sampler at a bar: “here’s all the stuff we do well.” Sort of a snapshot of the shop as a whole.
Luckily for my stupid schedule, Lamb Koftas are really damn easy to make. Yeah, as noted earlier, it’s basically just “Meatball on a stick.”. Some chopped onion, diced garlic, lamb, and spices, cook the patties, and boom, Kofta. Now, all we need to do is crack open this pack of spices, and we’re cooking with the Demon’s Head! Just…gotta…Hmm. Maybe my hands are wet. Dry them off, and…no dice. Maybe it’s my lack of fingernails, I’ll use a toothpick to wedge the teeth open on this zip-tight…
Damn my enormous hands.
After 7 minutes of struggle, I just cut the end of the bag open with kitchen shears. I refuse to let zip technology ruin my ability to have lunch. Now, as I said, normally, these would be put on skewers and grilled. But around my house, even our bright sunny days are still sitting in the high 40’s to mid 50’s right now, and I didn’t feel like standing out in the brisk spring air when I could stand around in a kitchen. So I made mine into short patties and fried them.
The process takes about 9-10 minutes, for medium doneness. Lamb is supposed to be cooked a little more than beef, for reasons I have no time to research right now, so I aimed for an inner temp of 130 before I took them off the heat. Meaning they’d hit the upper end of medium.
I also made a delightful tomato sauce consisting of some sliced garlic, sliced chili pepper (I used a Thai Bird’s Eye), a tsp of brown sugar and half a can of diced fire-roasted tomatoes. Just fry the garlic and peppers for a few minutes, add the tomatoes and sugar, and simmer until a consistency you like.It’s sweet, savory, and has a fun back of the mouth heat.
I put my cooked kofta in a tortilla (I forgot to buy pitas), with some loose greens, the tomato sauce, and a bit of ranch dressing. (The parsley and oniony notes of the ranch pair with the lamb, and the coolness helps offset the heat of the tomato sauce.)
I, uh, didn't take any pictures of the stuff while it was cooking, because I was doing the dishes. My apologies.
All in all, other than the damn packaging, the whole thing went off without a hitch. It’s a fun little lunch for 2-3, and I definitely recommend it.
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NEXT TIME: JON GETS THINGS DONE. OR RATHER, TALKS ABOUT GETTING THINGS DONE. LOOK, IT’S ABOUT DONENESS, OKAY?
Spicy Lamb Kofta with Tomato Sauce
1 lb Ground Lamb
1 tbsp Ras-El-Hanout spice mix
½ onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp freshly chopped mint or majoram
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 red chilli, thinly sliced
½ can diced tomatoes
1 tsp brown sugar
Salt & Pepper
- Make the sauce. Heat some olive oil over medium heat, add the garlic and chili. Fry 2-3 minutes, until fragrant. Add tomatos sauce and brown sugar. Stir to combine, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until desired consistency.
- Make the Kofta: Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl, and form into long, thin patties. Fry in 2 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat for 7-10 minutes, until nicely browned and your preferred doneness.
- Serve on flatbread with tomato sauce and toppings of your preference.