Tag Archives: “The Beirut Reaction”

Pandemonium in the Punjab

15 Dec

Today is my father’s birthday. He died last year, one month short of his 90th birthday.

I adored my Dad and very many along with me. I can commemorate him today by talking about how handsome he was, his sense of humor or his character. His favorite quote “Character is doing the right thing when no one is watching” reflects the kind of man he was. Or I could talk about his academic and athletic record-breaking feats in high school; or describe his courageous year in the Greek resistance during WWII; or go into his co-discovery of the internationally acclaimed “The Beirut Reaction” in 1965 – a chemical reaction that has since helped develop hundreds of anti-bacterial and anti-cancerous drugs. Last but not least, I could brag about his being awarded Lebanon’s prestigious National Order of the Cedar, a medal of honor of the Lebanese Government, “for great services rendered to Lebanon, for acts of courage and devotion of great moral value, as for years in public service”. (Dad was Professor of Organic Chemistry at the American University of Beirut for almost 40 years, also throughout the violent Lebanese Civil War).

But it is something else I want to talk about today. One of the fondest memories I have of my Dad is his comical adventures in the kitchen and his secret recipes. He very seldom cooked, but when he did, it was always one of his favorite meals and the only thing he could make: spaghetti.

Over the years, our family now and then would savor Dad’s creative spaghetti sauces whose ingredients he adamantly refused to reveal. “They’re top-secret”, he’d always cajole. Moreover, he would never let us in the kitchen while he was cooking, lest we take a peek at his ingredients. Our attempts to do so always failed. He’d rush up to us the moment he heard footsteps, obscuring our line of vision, and push us gently away with a “leave the chef alone, please”.

His inimitable test of whether the spaghetti was cooked was to throw a strand on the wall. If it stuck, the spaghetti was done. Always the scientist…  But it was the fantastic names Dad gave his pasta sauces that had us in stitches. When dinner was ready he’d put on a posh British accent and solemnly proclaim, “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight on the menu…”, and an unforgettable name would follow.

Every time he’d make one of his notorious sauces, a game around the dinner table always ensued. Everyone took turns at guessing the secret ingredients. Dad’s reply was always the same, for as long as I can remember. “Hmmm…perhaps, who knows?” he’d retort with a twinkle in his eye.

While I was going through my father’s papers last year, I burst into tears when I came across an index card in one of the many files in his filing cabinet. Staring right at me were his secret spaghetti sauce recipes, in his characteristic handwriting. My crying briefly turned into laughter, only to revert back to crying for a long while…

Dad, you’ve been busted. Now, every year on your birthday we honor you by cooking one of your not-so-secret-anymore spaghetti sauces. And we love you for that, as for so many other reasons. Tonight on the menu, dearest Dad: your utterly weird but delicious Pandemonium in the Punjab.

But I have to give it to you, Dad. You still have the last laugh. What do you mean “spices”!? Which spices?!

%d bloggers like this: