In Jason Goodwin's books on the exploits of Yashim Lala, much time is spent by the eunuch in seeking out fresh produce to produce delectable delights that he would then graciously share with the Pole, Palewski. In The Bellini Card, the two are separated, but that doesn't stop the Ottoman from cooking up interesting little dishes. This time he is armed with a kitchen knife of Damascene steel, and he has just had it polished and sharpened, and it balances perfectly in his hand.
He had known what he wanted to do the moment he saw the artichokes on George's stall: the appearance of the first tiny artichokes always made up, he felt, for the disappearance of asparagus.
'Is summer!' George waved a bunch of the greeny-purple artichokes under his nose. 'Not more to wait, Yashim efendi. You wants?'
Yashim, who felt he'd been waiting weeks already if not for summer then at least for Palewski to come home, seized a dozen. He bought broad beans, fresh onions, lemons and a fistful of dill and parsley.
At home, he halved a lemon and squeezed the juice of both halves into a bowl of water. He set an onion on the board and chopped down on its spiralled top, wondering how many hands had held this knife, and how many times it had been asked to perform the same simple function in Damascus, or Cairo.
Smiling to himself, almost dancing around the blade, he sliced the onion in half. He sliced each half lengthways and sideways, watching his fingers while he admired the fineness of the blade.He set a pan on the coals, slopped in a gurgle of oil, and dropped in the finely chopped onion. He reached into a crock for two handfuls of rice. He cut the herbs small and scraped them into the rice with the blade. He threw in a pinch of sugar and a cup of water. The water hissed; he stirred the pan with a wooden spoon. The water boiled. He clapped on a lid and slid the pan to one side.
He began to trim the artichokes.
Summer was good. The knife was even better.
He smiled as he slid the blade smoothly across the tough tips of the leaves; inside was the choke, which he lifted with a spoon. One by one he dropped the artichokes into the lemony water.
The rice still had bite, and he took it off the heat. As it cooled, he ran his thumb down the soft fur inside the bean pods, ...
He sighed, and dipped a finger into the rice. He took an artichoke out of the water, shook it dry and stuffed it, scooping the rice in his fingers, and pressing it in. As each one was finished with a little mound of rice, he put it upright in an earthenware crock.
When the crock was full he sprinkled the artichokes with the beans and a few chopped carrots. He drizzled them with oil, round and round, then threw in a splash of water and the rest of the dill and parsley, roughly chopped. Over the top, he squeezed another lemon.
He covered the pan with a smaller plate, to weight the artichokes down, and settled the earthenware onto the coals. He set the rice crock on top of the plate. It would be done in an hour or less. He and Malakian would eat it later, cold.