THE SECRET OF COOKING OUTSIDE

There is not secret, go with the flow, let go of control. It will be a great practice for letting go of control in all the other areas of your life.

When I was fifteen years old I was a scout. You know, building rafts, tying knots, sleeping in tents, hiking. There was also room for parties; being drunk for the first time, boys, and a few other firsts. Now, 25 years later, I’m rather happy with the skills I learned in the scouts( I’m not talking about the drinking). When I hang a hammock, light a fire or try to find my way during a walk I feel grateful for the qualities I discovered at the scouts. Cooking on open fire is one of the skills I have come to appreciate especially. 

I think it was a combination actually, of the scouts and camping with the family. While camping, cooking was usually done on a two-burner camping stove. The meals were not really inspiring; rice with baked beans, macaroni with rookworst (a typical Dutch sausage) and cheese, or my personal favorite a readymade bag of mashed potatoes (only add water) with peas from a can.

But sometimes we found a camping spot where you could make an actual fire, and my mom would make bread dough that we kneaded around a stick and baked in the fire. That was an adventure, freedom, and now a happy childhood memory. 

That feeling of adventure and freedom is what I feel when I cook on an open fire.  It feels like I’ve done it all my life, like I was born to cook that way. It feels easy. 

Now, I’m no stranger to and have no problem whatsoever with the kitchen and all its seemingly challenging appliances. But cooking on the fire feels different. I guess because there is little to no control when you cook with what is around you, surrounded by the elements.

Ideally the sun is slowly setting, there is a light breeze, my bare feet are feeling the earth, the fire is crackling. Then feast your eyes on the mountain of vegetables and herbs, some salt, pepper and oil is all else you need. Not necessary, but as a delicious addition, I imagine some fine cheese, nuts, tapenade, or something else to take the vegetable to another level. But most importantly, take your time, relax and let go. 

Want to do as little as possible? Throw a pepper into the fire and wait for it to turn black. Take it out and put it in a plastic container. Wait a minute, then take off the skin. Grab a slice of bread, put your roasted pepper on top, drizzle on some good balsamic vinegar and you are ready to eat. 

Do you want to take your time? Find a good butcher. Buy a leg of lamb. Marinate it and let it sit overnight in the marinade. That night, fantasize about how fantastic that leg of lamb is going to taste. Next day, start with making the fire in the morning. When you have a mountain of hot coals, roast your leg of lamb until it is nicely browned. Get a large casserole that fits the leg of lamb. Add tomato, carrot, potato and for example, thyme, rosemary and a good splash of stock. Nestle your stew pan between the warm coals and make sure it’s in a warm bed for the next six hours. After six hours, the meat falls off the bone and melts in your mouth.

One of my personal favorites; make a bath of lime juice, lime zest, grate a frozen chili (I keep my chilies in the freezer), finely chop some preserved jalapeño, squeeze in a clove of garlic, a good pinch of salt and pepper, mix. Take a few corn cobs; grill them on a hot fire. When they’re ready, roll them in your spicy and sour bath. Delicious. Are vegetables alone not a meal for you? After grilling, stand the corn upright, holding it by the stalk. Or stick a fork in the top. Cut the flesh from the cob with a sharp knife. Put this in your spicy, sour bath. Add whole grain rice. Or use the leftover grains that we’re still in the fridge and add it to your corn. Top it off with some feta, red onion and mint and you have a delicious diner or lunch. 

You can’t go wrong if you surrender. As far as I’m concerned, cook using your intuition. Listen, smell, feel, be in the moment, and stick to the task ahead. The fire does the rest.