Archived entries for chickpeas

Easy eating green: Chana Saag

I joke about it, but it’s absolutely true: I am a difficult little bird to schedule. I try not to complain about it too much because it is, without question, my own damn fault; however, it is at times incredibly inconvenient, particularly when it starts to interfere with my ability to get into some quality mischief. Example: earlier this year, I was contacted by some lovely folks at the Institute of Culinary Education, who asked if I would be interested in attending and writing about one of their classes at some point this summer. Rating low on the idiocy scale (usually), I jumped at the chance! After much hemming and hawing, I signed up for a class in dumplings and sat back to rub my hands with glee.

And then my schedule exploded, as it so often does in mid-June, and I was forced to cancel. Gutted.

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Now, if I were the ICE, I would have dropped my complicated self by the side of the road right there. But, mercifully, they are far more patient than I and gave me an opportunity to reschedule. Which is how I found myself stoically braving a Sunday monsoon to attend a class in Indian cookery.

I’d never actually attended a cooking class before, so walking through the door I was hit with a double whammy of performance anxiety–were my skills sufficient to avoid humiliating myself, and would I actually be able to cook something delicious without blowing up the kitchen? Mercifully, the answer to both was yes. The class catered to all different skill levels, and gave a good enough grounding in the basics that I went home feeling moderately confident about riffing on some of the dishes–which is how I ended up making chana saag last Tuesday night.

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The biggest surprise about the chana saag was how EASY it was–if you have a food processor, it will take somewhere in the vicinity of 30-40 minutes (most of that being onion caramelizing duty). I’d been laboring under the delusion that all Indian food requires at least a zillion years to do up in a tasty fashion; turns out, I was wrong, which is really the best thing I got out of the class: the realization that I can no longer blame my insane-o-bot schedule for eating badly. Which may or may not turn out to be a double edged sword; I’ll let you know once I’ve managed to find two seconds to think about it.

(You can read more about my adventures at the ICE over at their blog, DICED!)

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A Freezer Full of Soup: Pasta e Ceci

Fall gives us our kitchens back, makes us glad again that we can putter over our dutch ovens. When I was growing up, my mother made huge batches of soup to tide us over during the week, and to freeze for busy evenings. It’s such a good plan: homemade dinners in a snap, taking advantage of the time-economy of scale.

When things got busy for me this week, the answer was clearly soup. I made this recipe from Jamie’s Italy once before, and it’s hearty and satisfying, robust in the way you want fall food to be without being meaty. Homemade stock makes a difference—I guess it’s time to haul out the stockpot. Have any of you had success with slow-cooker stock?

Serve this soup with crusty bread and a salad full of bitter greens. If you have leftovers and don’t feel like more soup, you can cook it down a little and toss with pasta. A sprinkle of good grated parmigiano and a few twists of the pepper mill take it all the way home.

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Roast Eggplant and Chickpea Salad

Perhaps our diet has been lacking, perhaps I’m over the braises and stews of winter, perhaps it’s the slow way spring is toying with us, but all I want for dinner lately is a really good salad.

I’m not talking just cold greens. Main-course salads have been good to me lately–big bowls of refreshing, bright, clean flavors that no takeout can really satisfy. I could live on taco salad, steakhouse iceberg saladsquash panzanella, and I haven’t even gotten around to a giant duck salad yet this year.

This weekend’s iteration was a keeper: spinach and cucumbers tossed with a garlicky goat-cheese dressing, with piles of crispy, Moroccan-spiced chickpeas and silky, rich slices of eggplant. Depending how long you cook them, the chickpeas are almost like spiced nuts: rich, crispy, snackable. Take them out of the oven a little earlier if you prefer them soft.

You could add a dollop of hummus to the top of this salad if you wanted, or even some chunks of lamb, but that might be overkill. A garnish of mint and parsley wouldn’t hurt. In summer, this dish will be all the easier with the use of a grill; just slather each eggplant slice with oil and herbs and throw them on, turning once.

Of course, in summer, I’ll be all tomatoes all the time.

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Spice up your life: Chana Masala

I must have missed a memo.

You know, the one where Mother Nature announced that, owing to budget cutbacks and a shaky economy, we simply couldn’t justify having an autumn this year; that we would be heading straight into winter. I must have missed it, because Holy Good Goddamn, was I not prepared for the sudden nosedive that the temperature took last week.  At all. Nor was I pleased.

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I’m not ready for this, you may have heard me shrieking all the way in Iowa. I don’t even know where my sweaters are! Where is my hat?! My anguish rattled the windows and made ceilings collapse. It made small children cower and small dogs cower even more. It made poor Bench’s life a misery, until I made one stunning realization: now that the weather’s cold, I have an even BETTER excuse to spend entire Sundays in front of my stove, brewing up the time-consuming braises, stocks, and other delights that I never, ever have time for during the week. On this last Sunday, it meant I had time to make a real, live pot of chana masala–something I’ve been meaning to do for ages.

Ok, I know: chana masala does not necessarily require an entire day of stewing and futzing; unlike many curries, it is possible to build an acceptable depth of flavor in less than an hour. I, however, wanted to see what happened when it received the full treatment. So, I cleared my schedule and started with the spices, frying them in oil over low heat for about 40 minutes to draw out every iota of flavor (seriously–they didn’t even have a smell when I removed them from the oil) and then moved on to the onions, caramelizing them slowly over about three hours before hurling in the tomato paste, chickpeas, and yogurt. Time consuming, but absolutely worth it–the difference between this dish and my usual, weeknight-special chana masala was so pronounced, I’m not sure I have the words to describe it. The spice-infused oil gave the dish a deep savoriness, and the onions added a buttery sweetness–a perfect background for the tangy yogurt and tomato sauce. The flavors actually melded together (as opposed to my usual chana masala, which just kind of remains a collection of flavors as opposed to a cohesive new one), and it was utterly irresistible. Plus, it made the house smell AMAZING.

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So, while I would never be so foolish as to invite Mother Nature to bring on more weather-related heartbreak, if this dish is an indication of things to come…maybe I’ll make it through another one of these winters with my sanity intact. Maybe.

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Like Peas in a Pod: Orecchiette with Pancetta and Fresh Green Chickpeas

While we’re talking about fleeting seasonal produce, let’s talk about chickpeas. I mean, not what you think of as farm-fresh, right? Usually, I shake them out of a can, rinse, and proceed. I never even thought of what they might look like before canning.

But there they were, sitting pretty at the market: fresh, unshelled garbanzos. They look a bit like fuzzy edamame pods, stuffed full with chubby chickpeas. (Two per pod, usually.)

I had to have them. (I think you’ve heard that one before.)

Fresh chickpeas are delightful raw: a bit crispy, a bit sweet, tasting of green sweet peas almost as much as they remind you of the garbanzos you know and love. If you find them at your market, make sure to eat a few raw while you’re popping them out of their pods. Or, eat all of them that way.

That’s where the novelty is; I have to be honest. Once cooked into a pasta dish, I’m not sure these tasted that much different than my usual canned ones. They have a slightly better texture, and a slight sweetness, but I’m not sure that’s worth the trouble.

Not that this wasn’t delicious—it was rich and salty and savory and filling. Who would turn down pancetta and garlicky pasta, stirred with enough pasta water to make the sauce silken? Not you or me, we’re like two peas…

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