Saturday, December 13, 2014

Film And Food: Good Old Fashioned Chili And War

The Film: Lone Survivor.

Nationalism, propaganda, and blatant patriotism all define The American War Film Genre to varying degrees. Lone Survivor has all three traits in nauseating abundance.  So nauseating in fact, that to not kill someone after watching this movie would be un-American.
The beginning and end of this movie is spliced with actual military footage: the opening credits denote the authentic trials of becoming a Navy Seal; the end credits convey sympathy and realness with photos of the actual veterans who lost their lives in the conflict this movie aims to explain.  As you have already guessed by now, Lone Survivor is based on a true story—a phrase about as real as Hollywood. 
Four Navy Seals go on a recon mission in Afghanistan only to be discovered by three goat farmers; now the question is: do they kill the farmers, who may or may not be Taliban, or do they let them go? To let them go might result in their demise, an act, which, however noble, feeds the blatant patriotism that fuels this movie. The Goat farmers are released and the four soldiers are now on a mission to survive.
Taylor Kitch, playing the part of Lt. Michael Murphy, is very Tim Riggins-like, which I loved in Friday Night Lights but doesn’t work for me as a gun toting Navy Seal. Mark Wahlberg plays Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell. His acting is robotic, his lines monosyllabic.  Ben Foster and Emile Hearst play the other two soldiers.
The best parts of this movie are the ‘falling scenes’.  While running from the Taliban, the four soldiers take a long and violent tumble down a steep cliff. (It happens twice.)  What ensues is brutal: violent images filmed in slow-motion and stop-action of faces and backs hitting rocks and dirt. The sound is enhanced at just the right times to such real effect that when Taylor Kitch’s face slams against a rock you will feel his pain. The two falling scenes alone make this movie worth watching. In an interview with Variety, director Peter Berg said of the stuntmen who did the scenes, “Oh, they went for it. Broken ribs, punctured lungs, concussions. A lot of my job was trying to calm them down, because they'd all read the book and a lot of them come from military families and there were SEALs on set while we were shooting, so everyone wanted to get it right.”  What Lone Survivor ‘got right’ is up for debate. Articles abound on the Internet that call into question the accuracy of the film, as well as the book. I can tell you that the falling scenes have merit on a cinematic level, which is all Peter Berg should be concerned with.
The end of the film, according to various sources and news agencies on the web, is also accurate. The movie ends with Wahlberg’s character—the Lone Survivor—sheltered and ultimately saved by members of a small Sabray Tribe.  The people in this Afghan tribe hate the Taliban, are fiercely independent, and practice a code of honor known as Pashtunwali: a very ancient and noble code that mandates hospitality, asylum and righteousness, especially toward strangers. The ultimate hero in this movie is an Afghan man named Mohammad Gulab.  If anything, director Berg goes against the grain of the American War Film Genre by making a perceived enemy the hero.  The 'un-American' message at the end is not only that American men and women give their lives for their country, but that not all inhabitants in an ‘at war with country’ are enemies-a truth all first world inhabitants need to be reminded of.
Despite whatever empathy and noble message is captured in the end however, this movie will not fall into any definitive, post-Vietnam, war movie category of the Jarhead and The Hurt Locker likeness. It’s missing way too much for that, except for the falling scenes, did I mention the falling scenes?

The Food: Chili

Fig.1. Good'ol chili. Except for onion, no vegetables allowed.

The dish that came to mind after watching this movie is Chili with a side of Afghan bread. I could spew some sentimental bullshit about how eating an All-American dish like Chili along with Afghan bread symbolizes peace between two parties at war with one another, but I’ll just give you the recipe instead.  You can purchase Afghan bread in most Middle Eastern grocery stores.

People fuck up chili all the time because they over-think it. Chili is not a Bolognese Sauce with beans, nor is it meant to have an abundance of vegetables and legumes, despite what all those gun-loving, republican vegetarians would have you believe. When it comes to Chili, do what they do in Texas: find a steer, find a pot and find some heat. 

Fig.2. Ingredients at the ready.

4 to 5 tablespoon sunflower or canola oil
1 kilo beef blade cut to small cubes. (palette in French. See Fig.2. above.)
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
½ tablespoon caraway seeds
2 cloves
1 can plum tomatoes, crush the tomatoes with your hand
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup water
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 anchovies, chopped
3 to 4 smoked chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped (I buy La CosteƱa brand see Fig.2. above. Available in most grocery stores in the ‘Latin’ section.)
1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cans red kidney beans, drained and washed
salt and pepper, to taste
A few squirts of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce

Add the oil to a large Dutch oven or heavy bottom pot set over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the cubed beef. Cook until meat begins to brown. (You must be patient. First the beef will emit a lot of water; the water will eventually evaporate at which point the meat will begin to brown. Stir the meat making sure it browns evenly but not too fast. Do not set your element on high.) When the water is gone and the meat is just beginning to brown, add the onion, cook for 5 minutes while stirring. At this point, make a little opening in the center of the pot and add the cumin, caraway seeds and cloves. Toast the spices for about 1 minute, see Fig.4. below. (Toasting the spices will release their flavours. If your spices are several years old, throw them out and buy new spices.)  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and water and stir making sure you scrape the bottom of the pot to release all the flavours. (see picture below. If it looks dry, feel free to add more tomato or water, it’s not an exact science.)  Add the soy sauce, anchovy, chipotle peppers, and chocolate. At this point, partially cover the pot and lower the heat. Simmer for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  Add the beans and simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes. If it looks dry, add a bit of water. Season with salt, pepper and Frank’s Red Hot to your liking and serve. Chili is better the next day.

Fig.3.  Blade of beef, cubed.
Fig.4. Browning the meat and getting a good fond which  add flavour to your chili. Add liquid and scrap the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to deglaze the pot. Also, in this picture I created an opening in the centre of my Dutch Oven in order to cook my spices. Cooking your spices will release a better flavour.