14 November 2010

Chickpea Tomato Stew

Tonight was a moment of culinary genius. Inspired by this spaghetti with chickpeas dish here, I bought some chickpeas and canned plum tomatoes the other day along with a package of diced pancetta.  I needed to make some food to pack for lunch tomorrow and the refrigerator was in sore need of a cleanout.  I wasn't feeling the spaghetti dish so I thought I'd get creative with what I needed to use up in the fridge.

There were a couple of leeks that looked like they had gangrene, a big bag of peeled garlic that I needed to keep chugging through, and that pancetta looking for some action.

I salvaged the leeks and chopped those up and threw them in a saute pan with a couple tablespoons of olive oil.  Then, I minced 8 garlic cloves and threw those in.  Next, the pancetta went in with a teaspoon of minced fresh garlic.  Sauteed everything.  Then I drained a can of chickpeas and dumped those in.  Let those fry and develop a golden crust (add more olive oil if necessary).  I chopped up the plum tomatoes in the can and added those. 

Then I added a couple pinches of sea salt
crushed red pepper
a few dashes of dried basil leaves (didn't have fresh)
fresh black pepper
tomato paste

And then this is when the creative genius really kicked in.

I knew it needed some kind of fish/anchovy kick so I contemplated squirting some anchovy paste into the stew but thought better of it since anchovy always seems better off melting off in hot olive oil at the beginning of a dish.  I took a risk and opted for fish sauce instead.

So in went a splash of fish sauce

Then, a splash of soy sauce

....a little bit of sugar

and juice from half a lemon

At this point, I tasted to see if it was done.   I could tell it needed a boozy kick to end things on a complex note.  We had some leftover red wine so in went a splash.  A few minutes of simmer later...

oh my god, I just died and went to heaven.  This dish was absolutely spot on.  It hits your savory spot with just enough of a sour tinge from the lemon juice to make your hiney tingle and twitch. It is tomatoey and worldly and creamy from the chickpeas and the pancetta and leaks just bring everything home.  I did a dance and spoke in Spanish, then French and J. had to come over and try it and when he had recovered, he said, "You are so hot."

I can see eating this with spaghetti, couscous, or quinoa.

Yes, my friends.  I know I'm infuriating and didn't put down exact measurements.  I hope to one day.  I will be making it again.

04 November 2010

Wholesome Choice and a Vegetarian Dinner

Yesterday was a steamy hot sucker punch of a day.  It hit the 90s and the sun's glare was so intense that my Nordstrom teeny bopper sunglasses didn't cut it.  I knew I would be headed towards the beach to sit and walk and let the Pacific waters cool my feet.

But mid-afternoon, I found this recipe from one of my favorite food bloggers, the Wednesday Chef, and I knew I had to make it immediately.  I've lately become enamored with vegetarian dinners and bread and cheese. So instead of driving south towards the beach, I found myself veering north to Wholesome Choice, a gem of a supermarket five minutes from my home.

When I first discovered Wholesome Choice, my eyes bulged and my insides tingled with nervous excitement.  It's what you would get if you put Whole Foods, a Persian market, the farmer's market, and several international aisles into a jar and shook it up.  Apparently, that location used to be a Whole Foods International before it was taken over by a Persian grocer so the layout and feel is remarkably familiar and yet markedly different.  You walk into the doors and to the right, a long line wraps around a bakery and a hot stone oven and you wonder, what are these people standing in line for? And then a few steps in and the produce looks so incredibly fresh and firm and dewy and are piled into big bins for people to sort through and select.  And the prices...how can I not mention the prices?  This is where I get parsley and cilantro, 5 for a $1 in green vibrant bunches and the best kale for less than a dollar.  Then there are the middle eastern selections like crates of dates and figs and persimmons, the halal butcher with fresh cuts of lamb, and the deli where I can buy baklava by the slice and fresh French Valbreso feta and brine by the pound.  There's also a food court with different vendors selling hot Indian, Chinese, Persian, and mediterranean cuisine.  It's heavenly.

But let's go back to the bakery.  It took several visits before I could muster up the nerve to stand in line and see what the fuss was about.  I stood in line for about 20 minutes and realized that what people were waiting for was this Persian bread called sangaak, a long flat crispy and chewy bread that crackles and melts in your mouth.  It's yeasty and and peppered with sesame seeds and there's just something about it that will make even a bread-apathetic person fall apart.  It's made in a rotating furnace with a pebbly surface and when you get to the front of the line you have to say either "one" or "two."  Two is the limit per customer.  You should see the happy smiles and sighs of contentment when each customer finally gets his sangaak folded over in thirds on parchment paper, carrying it gently to his shopping cart and tearing off a crusty, steaming corner into his mouth.

So last night, I bought sangaak to go with Gabrielle Hamilton's Soft Zucchini with Harissa, Olives and Feta
I bought a half pound of fresh French Valbreso feta made with sheep's milk, a tube of harissa, zuchinni, parsley, and kalamata olive, and a couple of baklava pieces for dessert.  Dinner came together in a matter of ten minutes or so and I ate it with an ice cold glass of coconut juice and pulp.  It nourished my soul.

When J. came home later in the evening, his eyes became luminous discs in the face of sangaak and the zuchinni dish.  He inhaled it and gave thanks.  You would have too.

01 November 2010

Halloween Haunts

Where were you this weekend?

I ate too much dim sum Halloween morning washed down with too many cups of tea to count while child-size ladybugs and Nemo and caterpillars wafted by my table full of pork and shrimp and friends.  It was a lovely way to do Halloween.  Might become an annual tradition.

After dim sum, we walked around one of my childhood haunts, Garvey Ranch Park, and then hit up Cofftea for hand-crafted ice teas and boba and excellent customer service. Really nice people over there at Cofftea.  I got the house special iced tea which tasted like a fruit-infused black tea with hints of honey.  C'etait superb!  J. had stars in his eyes and our friends thanked us for introducing them to one of our top tea destinations.

Wisdom gained:
Morning pages help me get past dread and emotional blocks.  I did five minutes of morning pages and walah, I'm doing the laundry and starting work on applications fives minutes later.  Was dreading that for a whole week I tell you.

I'm learning, no matter what the situation is, whether it's freaking out about never finding a job, having a horrible supervisor, feeling like you'll never ever get married--fear can really keep you from treating yourself right.  You want to hold on to the bad because you're scared it won't get better.  No matter what, you have to treat yourself right and choose the best path of integrity, respect, and dignity.  And when you do, others notice and you're more likely to be treated better by others.  No guarantees, of course, but treating yourself right even when there is no guarantee is still the right thing to do. 

Ok enough of that.  This week, I'm going to Laxmi Sweets & Spices to have lunch with Bishop Diane Bruce of the Diocese of Los Angeles to interview her for this little zine here.  Can't wait!