Wednesday, June 23, 2010

These Things Matter

We have two new members of the family, and one recently departed one. The little one´s name is Murcielaguita (Little Bat). She like to nip at that very sensitive skin on the back of your upper arms. The upside of the recent temperature dive is the constant necessity of long sleeves. The big one was made by a young Argentinean luthier (I didn´t know that word existed in English either) and has powerful low resonance. Boom. It scared her at first but now the challenge is keeping her off.

Our departed (and much beloved) member of the family would be our oven, whose door exploded the other day when it was opened. Our (now ex-) landlady recently sold the apartment, and the poor guy she sold it to is having everything that she should have replaced over the last year break on him. She had been needing to sell the place, and people here buy properties up front in cash (loans are hard to come by). The whole thing went down pretty quickly. She seems to not have told him, well, anything.

The oven broke when I had some extra pizza dough in the fridge. Guess what? You can cook pizza dough on the stove. Some potentially gross experiments are coming on, that´s for sure. Donuts, too. And even more soups and legumes than I normally eat, as I can´t roast any vegetables or bake any gratins.

Every now and then my brother Max calls me to tell me about his own kitchen experiments with legumes. As far as what he tells me, he keeps making lentils and they keep turning out borderline inedible. The first two times this happened I asked him what went wrong. Both times he left the room while the lentils were cooking, all the water boiled off and they burned to the bottom of the pan. The third time he didn´t have any salt and didn´t think it would make that big of a difference so he just left it out. So...I can´t say I was surprised that they turned out gross. Which is not to say that when I started cooking I didn´t make a whole lot of inedible stuff (or that I don´t still on occasion.)

To quote very liberally from John Cusack in High Fidelity: These things matter. Salt matters. Not burning the crap out of your food matters too. (Books, records, films too. I finally saw-- after seeing posters for it absolutely everywhere for months and months-- The Secret of Their Eyes, the Argentine movie that won the Academy Award this year. I really liked it. I liked how very Argentine it felt-- this movie just couldn´t have been made the same way had it been set in another country-- and I thought it was well done.)

Ok, so. Let's try something else. Chickpeas and greens. Yum. This will take you 10 minutes to make if you already have the chickpeas cooked. So first, the chickpeas. Don't buy them canned, they don't taste nearly as good and they're more expensive. Open a 1-lb. bag of dried chickpeas and soak them in a big bowl of cold water overnight. The next day, boil them in lots of water (give yourself a good 5 in. of water up the side of the pot from the top of the chickpeas) over medium heat for about an hour, until you fish one out and it is tender between your teeth. Don't add salt to this initial boiling as it inhibits the cooking process. Drain the chickpeas, and either use them immediately or freeze them (or use half immediately and freeze the rest). Remember that you haven't added anything to them, so when you use them you will want to add at least some salt. Salt. These things matter. Now, moving on, you have your chickpeas cooked, possibly frozen at this point. You're going to take olive oil, salt, and lemon, and make something delicious with those chickpeas. I use cumin seeds, too, because they taste great with chickpeas, and I use cilantro because I love it and because they somehow have a magical affinity with chard, but these things are flexible. You can use spinach or kale in place of the chard, although spinach will cook much faster than chard, and kale will take a bit longer. And you can use a chopped jalapeño or dried chile instead of red pepper flakes; you want something to give just a bit of heat. But you need the salt, and you need the lemon, and you need the onion and/or garlic, although it´s best with both. Now, go heat up that pan.

Lemony Chickpeas with Greens

2 Tbsp. olive oil

½ med. yellow onion, halved vertically and thinly sliced

pinch red pepper flakes

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 tsp. cumin seeds

¼ c. finely chopped cilantro

½ large bunch swiss chard


1½ c. cooked chickpeas

juice of ½ lemon

Place a skillet over medium heat, then add your olive oil and let it heat up for a minute. Throw in the onion, red pepper flakes, garlic and cumin seeds, and cook until the onion is soft, around 6-8 minutes, stirring every minute or so. While the onion is cooking, rip or cut the leaves off the stalks of the chard. You can either toss the stalks or use them later-- stuck under the broiler with olive oil and parmesan, for example. Roll the leaves up in a bundle and chop them into pieces 1 to 2 inches wide. Stick the leaves in a colander and wash well, shaking the colander to get rid of the excess water. Throw the cilantro in with the onion, and let cook for another couple of minutes, stirring well. Throw in the chard and a big pinch of salt, and stir while the chard wilts in the heat. (If you cooked your chickpeas without salt, make the chard just a bit too salty for your taste. It will be perfect once you add in the chickpeas. If your chickpeas already have salt added, go a bit easier on the chard; you can always add more salt at the end if you find it lacking.) Once the leaves have wilted down (after a couple of minutes), stir well, and add in your chickpeas. If they are in a frozen block, add an extra splash of water to the pan with the chickpeas (you don´t want anything to start burning, add splashes of water as necessary) and turn up the heat so the chickpeas defrost, stirring every now and them. When the chickpeas are heated through, squeeze in the juice of 1/2 a lemon and take them off the heat. If they taste a bit boring, add more lemon and a bit more salt-- it will make the difference between a meh kind of meal and a really tasty one. Serve hot with rice, and they will be even better reheated the next day for lunch.

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