Updated: Jul 8, 2020
Amina (aka Chotan), was my maternal grandmother or Nani, and she hated cooking. In fact, she pretty much hated eating. As the youngest child of 8 siblings, her parents were understandably tired by the time she came along and thus allowed a deeply fussy eater to thrive. Early on in childhood she decided she liked rice, lentils, and homemade potato chips. Not missing a day, she proceeded to eat those three things every day for lunch and dinner for almost 70 years. She drank tea but refused to eat any vegetables, and only ate four fruits: bananas, lychees, mangoes, and papayas! The fact that she remained healthy and strong all her life is a testament to lentils (see here for the recipe).
Despite her dislike of eating and cooking, she did make a few dishes, including this one which my sister and I named, rather aptly, Nani's Pasta. The macaroni is cooked with ground beef and fresh tomato and thyme adds a hint of mediterranean flavor. It's topped with loads of cheese and fresh cilantro. It is a perfect thing to take on a picnic...with a thermos full of tea, of course.
•sharp cheddar cheese
•cooked ground beef
•salt & pepper
First, heat water and cook 0.5 Ib of macaroni (350g) according to the packet instructions.
While the pasta is cooking, prepare the other ingredients. Dice a small white onion and mince two or three cloves of garlic. Then, grate two cups of sharp cheddar cheese and roughly chop up a small bunch of cilantro. Finally, beat an egg in a bowl, chop up a small tomato, and finely chop a green jalapeño chili. Set everything aside; we will use it in a moment.
When the pasta is done, drain it and set it aside for later.
In a deep pot or dutch oven, heat two tablespoons of good quality olive oil and gently fry the onions on medium heat. When the onions are soft, add the garlic, one teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves (pulled off the stalk), the chopped tomatoes, and the jalapeño. Let everything cook together for five to seven minutes till the aromas are happily mixed together and everything is soft. Then mix in one cup of cooked ground beef. Stir everything nicely and then take the pot off the heat.
Once the pot has cooled a bit, add the dairy: the grated cheese, the beaten egg, and a splash of milk to loosen everything up. (The beaten egg will cook as it is mixed so be sure to check the pot is not too hot before adding it in or it will scramble!) Stir in the pasta and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with the chopped cilantro.
SOME THOUGHTS & VARIATIONS
Dried thyme can be substituted for fresh if that's what's available and the cilantro can certainly be omitted (for those who think it tastes like soap) or substituted with another fresh leafy herb of choice.
Some younger foodie fans would probably like this with a squirt of ketchup.
For those who are vegetarian-inclined, braising lots of fresh diced vegetables (carrots? zucchini? peas?) with the onions instead of the ground beef works delightfully well too.