I recently met the gardener taking care of our quaint patch of grass. Wanting to get into gardening for a year now and taking it upon myself to research what needed to be done, I could not wait to finally speak with him about what we could do to transform a sunny but lonely strip on the side into a fully functional vegetable garden.
Shy at first and ever so respectful, he lowered his gaze as he spoke and explained, more with his skilled hands than with the uncultured words of a man with a simple education, that he could plant a variety of herbs and fast-growing vegetables to begin our little farm strip. Behind them, we could plant a variety of flowers that we could discuss later. Yes, flowers were pretty but I’d rather get some color from things I could consume.
I, readily excited, questioned him about what could be planted and how fast each item would grow. Could we grow tomatoes? What about fresh herbs? Was it easy to find and plant them? Would I have to wait until next year or was it possible to begin planting in the winter? Where do I begin? It was then that it dawned on me that he believed that he would be planting my garden alone and I, the lady of the house, would be watching him quietly from afar, extending out my hand only to place a number of Egyptian pounds into his rough palm. To him, all I needed was patience and nothing else for I could not possibly want to dig my manicured nails into the soil.
After explaining to him that I would be actively participating in the farming process, his curious smile made way for the diverging wrinkles around his eyes as he furrowed his brow in thought. With a refreshed interest and wide-eyed enthusiasm, he, originally a farmer, began to explain what I would need to buy and when we would begin this project together; not as owner and worker, but rather as farming companions who could learn much from each other.
Egyptians have long used food terminology to describe events and feelings. Although the word “eshta” is literally defined as the cream that is skimmed from fresh milk, it is also frequently used to mean that something is fine, good or just okay. “Ay bateekh”, translated to English as “any watermelon”, exemplifies nonsense and a reverted early teenage “like, whatever” sort of attitude.
The slang term that amuses me most is “kosa”, the Arabic word for zucchini. Using it to mean that something is usually done through bribery or that everything is a mess, the word “kosa” has become integral in the vocabulary of Egyptians of different backgrounds and social standing. What strikes me as most interesting though is that many Egyptians do not understand the reason behind choosing “kosa” specifically to mean that something is achieved through bribery. Kosa, or zucchini, is one of the fastest growing fruit (in a culinary context, it is considered a vegetable). Plant it with just about anything and you can almost swear on it that it will be the first to the party. I’m almost positive that a farmer, or someone who has farming experience, came up with the slang term casually when making conversation with friends. And so it spread.
A tribute to Egypt and the “kosa” that we all face on a daily basis, I’ll be asking the gardener with the sky-wide smile to help me plant some zucchini to remind me regularly that despite it being the first to pop up and regardless of how easy it may be to plant, it spoils easily once bruised. A symbol of our revolution, kosa serves as a reminder that although it may be an easily attainable fruit, we cannot continue to live in kosa for the rest of our soon to be determined history.
Zucchini Fritter cakes
3 small or 2 medium sized zucchini
2 large eggs
1/2 a red onion, diced
A handful of freshly chopped parsley
1 full teaspoon of turmeric powder
1 teaspoon of coriander powder
1 teaspoon of chili flakes
1 cup of all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 150 degrees Celsius. Grate the zucchini into a bowl using a large grater. Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl. Stir in the diced onions, chopped parsley and whisked eggs. Add the flour, coriander powder, turmeric powder, salt, pepper and chili flakes. Mix the batter until it all looks well combined. If the batter gets too thin from the liquid in the zucchini, add tablespoon by tablespoon of flour until you get that soft and gloopy consistency you’re looking for.
Heat a large pan over medium heat and then add a small splash of vegetable oil to it. Drop heaping tablespoons of batter into the pan and press down on each sizzling pancake. Cook the fritter cakes for about 2 minutes on each side, until browned. Place them on a sheet pan and keep them warm in the oven. Repeat until all the batter is used. Serve hot.