Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ottolenghi-style Chickpeas with Mint, Caraway, and Greek Yogurt (and Quinoa)

My friend Lydia is a therapist, and whenever I launch into this or that lament—inevitably something she’s heard 100 times already—she says, simply, “This is not new information.” Which really kind of puts a cork in it, if you know what I mean. And so I will tell you that my problem is never with cooking, it’s with having something to cook—but I will know that this is not new information.

Thanks to my breathtaking laziness, this was a one-pan dish.
The same way that every month I am suddenly bleeding all over my pants and couch or skirt and friend’s car or underwear and bed, and I’m like, “Blood?” every night it is suddenly six, and I’m like, “Dinner?” It just comes around and comes around, and I open the fridge and cabinet and peer in hopefully, as though the cartoon dinner fairies will have arrived to turn my life into a Disney movie of chicken breasts and broccoli and fresh mozzarella. But the fairies do not come. They never come. They are over at Rachel Ray’s and Giada De Laurentiis’s house, gossiping about my food moths and the filthy stove top, and I understand.

Birdy, wearing one of Ava's fabulous shirts. Support our young artist friend, please!
All of which is to say that I will often start cooking something from my tragic pantry, without a very clear sense of what it might become. Hence these (fabulous) chickpeas, which started as dried chickpeas in the pressure cooker, with a light bulb over my head that had yet to be illuminated and was slowly, instead, filling with beer. So I sat down with my Ottolenghi cookbooks. Not because I have the wherewithal to procure ingredients and follow an exact recipe and drizzle it with the tears of a pomegranate, but because his seasonings and combinations can knock me out of my ruts of chipotle/cilantro/lime or garlic/smoked-paprika/sherry-vinegar or soy/scallion/ginger, not that there aren’t worse ruts than those, believe me. Ruts like those, who needs smooth roads, right? Except, I’m also always arranging the same set of pantry ingredients into different constellations, and I’m so bored of myself I could cry.

Guess whether the child featured here does or doesn't like celery. #paininmyasshole
Those three paragraphs could have been summed up simply with the words caraway and mint and olive-oily yogurt. Because that’s what the Ottolenghi recipe offered me. Sure, I didn’t have the dark leafy greens—only this ginormous green cabbage that I’ve been sawing away at for weeks. And I had celery instead of carrots, and I added a big handful or arugula because I couldn’t resist, and also served it with cooked quinoa. But I would never have thought to use the brilliantly fragrant, complicated seasonings he suggested. They turned out to be so fresh and delicious, it was almost like we were eating something new. It really was.

It helps that the mint is coming up in the garden. At dinnertime, I think: "Mint!" even though I know that that's not really dinner.
Ottolenghi-Style Chickpea with Mint, Caraway, and Greek Yogurt
Makes lots

The original recipe is from the book Plenty and comes together quickly. It calls for carrots, which would surely add a lovely sweetness here, but I used celery, which is nice and aromatic. You could use only one of the herbs, if that’s what you have, but both make the dish quite spectacular. And, finally, he uses chard and blances it first but a) I didn’t have chard and b) I’m too lazy to blanch anything first. Here (and everywhere), salt is your friend. Don’t be shy.

For sauté:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot or ½ small onion, minced (optional—not in the original)
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
3 stalks celery with their leaves, sliced (or diced carrots)
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
4 cups slivered cabbage (or 8 cups greens)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups (or 2 cans) chickpeas, drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped arugula (optional)
2 tablespoons lemon juice (if you’re making the quinoa, grate the lemon zest before juicing and reserve)

For yogurt sauce, whisk together:
½ cup Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon of your best olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For serving:
Arugula, harissa, olive oil, and quinoa (below)

Heat the olive oil in a wide skillet. Add the shallots or onion, caraway, and celery and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 3 or 4 minutes. Add half the garlic, the cabbage, and the salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is just barely tender, around 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and continue cooking for 5 more minutes, stirring gently from time to time. Now add the lemon juice, the herbs and arugula, the rest of the garlic, and a large grinding of pepper, and remove from the heat. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and/or lemon juice and/or herbs if it needs a kick. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, over the quinoa if you like, with a spoonful of yogurt sauce, a drizzle of olive oil, a handful of arugula, and, for the unfaint of heart, a nice, big dollop of harissa.

This is a less fussy than the one I used to use, which involved briefly steaming the drained quinoa over boiling water. Now I just let it steam briefly in the empty pot, covered with a dishtowel.

Kosher salt
16 ounces quinoa, rinsed if that’s what the package tells you to do
2 tablespoons olive oil
The reserved lemon zest (see above)

Bring a medium or large pot of water to a bowl over high heat and salt it heavily. It should taste as salty as the sea, so we are talking a fair amount of salt.

Add the quinoa, stir, turn the heat down to medium-high and cook it for 10-15 minutes, uncovered, until it is just tender and the grains have spiraled open.

Drain it really, really well in a fine sieve—I mean, really shake it around to get the water out—then put it back in the pot, stretch a doubled dish towel over the top of the pot, and put the lid back on. Leave it to steam for 5 or 10 minutes, then gently stir in the oil and lemon zest. (For other dishes, I might use butter instead of oil, and skip the lemon.)


  1. Oh, I laughed so many times in this post. Thank you for that.

  2. Me, too, re: the laughter.

    Yeah. I'd like some of those dinner-fairies, also. I only have peg doll fairies, and they don't have arms and so are useless at cooking.

  3. Kelly3:45 PM

    I keep buying cookbooks, mistaking them for dinner fairies. Forgetting that I need to buy and prepare the ingredients for all the wonderful recipes within. Every night at 6:00 or 7:00 I know just what you mean.

    1. Oh, this is so very true! I want one of those Marty McFly-style books, where you find the delicious looking recipe, push a damn button, and the tiny food expands in the oven to feed everyone in 30 seconds. My kids asked what I wanted for Mother's Day (LIE - they forgot there was even a holiday coming up, so I flat out asked them if they had thought of anything) and I said to pretty please, type up the recipes we actually use into Tastebook, along with the ratty binder of printed recipes and torn pages from magazines, so we can print ONE family cookbook and be done with it. I hope hope hope it materializes. We are moving for a year and I would dearly love to only take one book with us!

  4. dale in denver4:47 PM

    I could have written this. Not that I have your talent for writing, but I mean you clearly have been inside my head for this. exact. inspiration. Like clockwork, the kids want to eat and I'm caught off guard having to conjure up some delicious feast because the fairies have let me down. Like clockwork, the blood flows and I'm ever surprised that as a grown woman I still haven't figured this shit out and keep on ruining underwear. I guess what I'm saying is I hear ya, sistah.

  5. Carol6:33 PM

    I keep hoping for dinner fairies as well, and they always let me down. Around 7:00, I realize that I have a family to feed and nothing in mind to feed them. This often results in last minute trips to the grocery store and us not eating until after 9:00. Maybe I will learn one of these days, but probably not. :-)

  6. The dinner things. And also, the period thing, where one day I have an inexplicable headache, and am oddly hungry for meat, and also everyone around me is extra annoying and then SURPRISE! Blood! Who could have anticipated that!?!?!

  7. Dear friend, I just wanted to say hi. Your photos of food look delicious. I've recently started an MFA program and a million things popped up. A million good things that I've been working for what seems like a million years, so it's good, except that I hate dinner time when my kids go like, "again?" or "Yes, mom. We need to eat today too." I love your blog and love your writing. I love the lovely picture of Argentine chimichurri, your recipe exactly like my mom used to make it. I have a jar in the fridge, and I love to put some chimichurri in a hard crusted roll of bread and eat it like that, like when I was a kid.

  8. Best use of a hashtag, ever!!!

  9. plazamom9:00 PM

    I laughed out loud with recognition. Blood? Dinner? What a surprise -- yet again! So perfectly captured real life. And I agree with Amy, above. Best use of a hashtag, definitely! Thank you for making me feel understood, over and over again.

  10. I'm so sorry about your friend. and, I'm so grateful for you. Thank you for being courageous and coming back to us. You really have made such a huge difference in my life. I'm humbly grateful, and laughing out loud.

  11. Yes. This is exactly how I feel about dinner. And ruts. Thank you for pulling my wagon wheel out for at least one meal this week!

  12. Anonymous9:39 AM

    You write so well, that you make me want to try this, even though i don't really like chickpeas. The real reason that I probably won't make this is because chickpeas would be a non-starter for the rest of the family.

    For those of you surprised by the blood, I have a silver lining for you - you must not have to deal with the cramps. :)

  13. Erin K.12:52 AM

    a) this looks awesome!
    b) you are an awesome human being.
    c) when you mentioned 'blood?' I thought oh oh oh - Have you seen this?? I can't stop watching it - I love it so much it makes me wish I had a daughter :

  14. It is like you live in my brain! Every month, the same thing! Every evening, the same thing! Sigh. I will be making this. Tonight, even possibly. Thank you.

  15. Damn sloth-like, celebrity-obsessed dinner fairies!

  16. Anonymous3:34 PM

    God this was a great post.

    How often do I look in the fridge and cabinets and think, "Yikes, I gotta go to the grocery store". Uff, dinner.

    I'm a good cook but why does a friend's weird macaroni salad taste better than mine? Because I didn't have to make it! That is why.

    Right on the mark. Dinner comes around and around and around like a dog chasing its tail.

  17. I made tis last night and LOVED it. I am wondering if it might be even better, if that is possible, with the chickens you introduced us to a while back. Thoughts?