WOTY + Sprouts & Chickpeas

January 4, 2017

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.
~Rudyard Kipling

A seduction of souls? After rather ardent discussion and debate, the Oxford Dictionaries bestowed upon us the Word of the Year 2016: post-truth, an adjective which loosely translated means “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Post-truth beat out alt-right, glass cliff, hygge, chat bot, adulting, etc.

Not surprisingly, the recent United States’ presidential election and the EU referendum (Brexit — meaning British Exit) in the United Kingdom, spiking from peripheral usage to becoming a mainstay in elemental political commentary. Some words really seem as puny as the Orange Clown’s fingers and his again long haired, scruffy and far right Breitbart cohort — a news website which serves as a “platform” for the alt right.

Here are some hors d’oeuvres for famished guests.  But, beware of this bar grub — it may overwhelm them before the main course.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH OLIVE OIL & FISH SAUCE

Water + Sea salt
Brussels sprouts, trimmed at ends
High quality extra virgin olive oil
High quality Vietnamese fish sauce (nước mắm Phú Quốc)

Bring a large, heavy pot of water to a roiling boil, then add sea salt until it smells and tastes like the middle of the sea.

Add the brussels sprouts and cook for about 10 minutes, until just cooked through, and still fairly firm.

Drain the sprouts over the sink, then onto a shallow bowl and while hot lightly immerse them in high quality olive oil and high quality fish sauce — nước mắm Phú Quốc. Allow the sprouts to cool to room temperature for about an hour or so (much like olives). Serve promptly.

CHICKPEAS WITH OLIVE OIL & ZA’ATAR

2 C chickpeas, rinsed
1 T high quality extra virgin olive oil
2 T homemade za’atar
1 t sea salt

Make za’atar (for now and later, unless you already have some on hand):

2 1/2 T sesame seeds, toasted

3 T dried sumac leaves
2 T dried thyme leaves
1 T dried oregano leaves
1 t sea salt, coarse

Add raw sesame seeds to a dry, heavy skillet over medium low heat. Shake the pan back and forth until fragrant, but not taking on color. Immediately pour the toasted sesame seeds from the pan into a bowl to prevent them from scorching.

Once the sesame seeds have cooled, add all of the ingredients to a spice blender, food processor fitted with a blade, or mortar and pestle. Pulse several times to blend and slightly break up, but not obliterate, the herbs and salt. Be able to recognize the sesame seeds in the blend. Transfer to a jar with an airtight lid and store in a cool, dark place.

Now, drain and spread chickpeas on a paper towel, and allow to dry for an hour or so. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 F.

Line a heavy rimmed baking pan with parchment paper, and spread chickpeas evenly. Bake in the center of the oven until crunchy, about 30 minutes, stirring and rotating every 10 minutes with a wooden spatula.

Place hot chickpeas in a shallow bowl, and drizzle with fine olive oil, za’atar and sea salt.  Allow to cool some to room temp, and then serve promptly also.

Just because you do not take an interest in politics does not mean politics will not take an interest in you.
~Pericles

Ancient, mystical lands ever praised for mesmerizing skies, colorful souks (markets) and seductively rugged landscapes, just became critically strategic. Morocco is seen in the West as a bulwark against the threat of instability from the terrorism and violent fundamentalism spreading throughout North Africa. Faced with the challenges posed by the Arab Spring, King Mohammed VI adroitly negotiated and then held a constitutional referendum on political reforms which was soon followed by multiparty elections. One of Washington’s closest allies in the region, the State Department has now been working feverishly to cement relationships with this land of contrast since the recent appalling deaths of four members of the embassy staff in Libya. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has even praised Morocco as a “leader and a model” in the region.

Threats from Mali after the northern half of the nearby central African state fell under the control of militant, radical concerns have now been coupled with the perceived peril posed by Al-Qaeda affiliates in the Maghreb. The assassination of the U.S. ambassador in Libya, the almost sudden revolutions that toppled leaders elsewhere (including Hosni Mubarak, the former leader of Egypt who was a long-time U.S. ally), the seemingly unending strife in Syria, and the profound uncertainties in Tunisia, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, the region just seems ablaze. The kingdom of Morocco seems a haven of sorts from intolerance and could emerge as a crucial partner there. This makes some sense given recent events and because historically Morocco was the first country to recognize American independence in 1777.

So, on to a memorable Moroccan staple, past and present. Praiseworthy stuff. Couscous should be light and fluffy, not gummy. So, allow the grains to absorb the liquid.

COUSCOUS WITH CHICKPEAS & MINT

1 T coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1/2 T cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 t caraway seeds, toasted and ground

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
Sea salt, to taste
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 T turmeric
1 T pimenton agridulce
Pinch of cayenne pepper

2 C chickpeas, soaked in water overnight and drained
1 qt chicken stock
1 qt water, warmed
Bouquet garni of parsley and cilantro, tied with twine

1 T tomato paste
2 T harissa, plus more for serving

2 C couscous
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 C stock (reserved)
1 1/2 C water
1/4 C dried currants, plumped in warm water, then drained
1 t finely grated orange zest
3 T fresh mint leaves, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

In a heavy medium dry pan lightly toast the coriander, cumin and carraway until fragrant. Grind in a spice grinder and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven over medium heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it is tender, about 5 minutes, and stir in a generous pinch of salt, the garlic, coriander, caraway, turmeric, pimenton and cayenne. Stir together for about a minute, until the garlic is fragrant, then add the drained chickpeas, stock, water and the bouquet garni. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 1 hour. Add the tomato paste, the harissa and salt to taste. Bring back to a simmer and simmer another 45 minutes, until the chickpeas are tender. Strain but reserve and keep warm 1 cup of the broth and set aside for the couscous.

Add the couscous to a heavy large saucepan with olive oil over medium heat and stir. Then add the warmed stock and water. Gently stir with a fork to combine and cover. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Add the currants and orange zest and fluff again with a fork. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in the mint, tossing gently to combine.

Pass harissa in a bowl at the table.

Harissa

2 T cumin, toasted and ground
1 t coriander, toasted and ground
1 t carraway, toasted and ground

1 lb small hot red chilies, roasted and peeled
2 large red bell peppers, roasted and peeled
Juice of 1 lemon
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled

1/4 C cilantro, roughly chopped
1 T sea salt
Extra virgin olive oil

Lightly toast and grind the cumin, coriander and carraway. Finely mince the chilies, roasted peppers, lemon and garlic with a knife or food processor. Combine with the cilantro and salt. Transfer to an airtight jar and cover with a light splash of olive oil and place in the refrigerator until needed.

What is important is to spread confusion, not eliminate it.
~Salvadore Dali

Nearly peerless Middle Eastern street food, gracing joints, trucks, carts, stands, stalls, markets and kitchens across the globe. Falafel (فلافل) is a fried ball or croquette made from chickpeas, fava beans or both, often pocketed in pita or wrapped in flatbread known as lafa. Whether standing alone or housed in a sandwich, they are routinely served as part of a meze, a mingling of small plate apps.

Of disputed ancestry, these fritters may have originated in Egypt, possibly savored by early Christians called Copts as a substitute for otherwise forbidden meat during Lent. The dish later migrated northward to the Levant (now comprising most of modern Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Israel) where chickpeas often trumped favas. Others posit that falafel was concocted during Egypt’s Pharaonic rule or perhaps even first emerged on the Indian subcontinent. As usual, confused culinary lore. Befuddled history aside, there is no denying the warm spice and crunch of these fried balls and how they play on the soft pita, fresh vegetables and nutty tahini sauce.

FALAFEL

1 1/2 C dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water

Chicken stock and water, in equal parts
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 bay leaf
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 rib celery, roughly chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
Sea salt

1 T coriander seeds
1 T cumin seeds

1/2 C cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1/2 C fresh flat parsley leaves, finely chopped
1/3 C breadcrumbs
Pinch of cayenne pepper
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, smashed and finely chopped
1 T lemon zest
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and diced
Flour
Sea salt

Grapeseed or canola oil, for frying

Tahini Sauce
3/4 C tahini
1/4 C Greek yogurt
1/3 C fresh lemon juice
1/4 C finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, smashed and finely chopped
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch paprika
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt

Pita bread, warmed
Lettuce, cored and chopped
Fresh tomatoes, cored. seeded and diced
Red and/or yellow onion, finely chopped
Peeled, diced English cucumbers

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the tahini, lemon juice, cilantro, garlic and cayenne. Purée until smooth, and while the machine is running, add the olive oil and about 1/2 cup water. Season the sauce with salt. Taste and season, if needed. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve.

In a dry sauté pan, toast the coriander and cumin seeds over medium heat until they are very aromatic, about 2-3 minutes. Pulverize in a spice grinder until they are a powder. Set aside.

Drain the chickpeas from the soaking water and place in a large, heavy saucepan. Toss in the garlic, bay leaf, carrot, celery, thyme and onion. Add equal parts of stock and water to the pan until the chickpeas are covered by about 2-3″ of liquid. Put the pan on high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the chickpeas are very soft and tender, about 45-60 minutes. Drain the chickpeas from the cooking liquid and remove the veggies, bay leaf and thyme and discard. In a food processor, pulse the chickpeas until they look coarse and grainy but are not fully puréed — too smooth, and the batter may fall apart when cooking.

Transfer the pulsed chickpeas to a large glass bowl and add the cilantro, parsley, breadcrumbs, cayenne, garlic, lemon zest, onions and ground coriander and cumin. Gently stir to combine, and taste the mixture to determine if the mix needs seasoning. Form the mixture into balls the size of walnuts (about 1 1/2″ balls) and gently press down some to almost, but not quite, make patties. Lightly dust with flour on both sides and pat off excess. Place the “patties” on a cookie sheet, cover with parchment paper and refrigerate until firm, about an hour or more.

Add about 2″ of oil to a large, deep sauté pan or Dutch oven. Heat the oil over medium high and then add the falafel in batches and fry on both sides until brown and crispy. Using a slotted spoon or spider, gently remove them from the pan and drain on paper towels. Serve falafel in pitas with lettuce, tomatoes, onion, cucumbers and Tahini sauce.

Clowns & Chickpea Soup

January 20, 2012

The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.
~Mark Twain

While on the folly of moral high grounders, just imagine that during one 24-hour spell: (1) a dropout governor and loser vice presidential candidate, who was woefully under scrutinized by her own party before “they” recklessly placing her on the ticket, ironically excoriated the country for electing the current president without properly vetting him; (2) in an embarrassing vote recount, a bigoted, right wing former senator was now declared the winner of a recent state caucus, reversing the previous results and defeating the party’s front running, perfectly coiffed mannequin candidate after all; (3) that same flip-flopping, scantily taxed, front running sycophant who has been warbling patriotic–even misinterpreting America The Beautiful–and touting good old fashioned homeland work values, has been surreptitiously shifting his funds to offshore tax havens; (4) a current governor with decidedly conservative, homophobic values has dropped out of the race and now endorsed another candidate, a former House Speaker who has repeatedly heralded the sanctity of established monogamous marriages; (5) while the second wife of this same pontificating Speaker gave a tell all interview where she revealed that this self-annointed high browed historian sought an “open marriage” with her all the while having a sordid affair with his now third wife; (6) then later that evening, the remaining pretenders suit and tied up to spew their pious demagogy onstage before raucous partisans at a national “debate.”

The stuff of statesmen and diplomats? Not even Twain or the esteemed dramatist Molière could have concocted such inane political satire. Makes me want to take a long shower, slip into some jammies, pop some popcorn, and tune into Fox “News” or CNN while humming And where are the clowns?…Send in the clowns.

Given yesterday’s lunacy and in honor of the ancient Roman orator, linguist and philosopher Cicero (from which ceci was derived), some velvety, soulful chickpea soup seemed in order. Often, solace can be found in legumes.

PASSATO DI CECI (TUSCAN CHICKPEA SOUP)

Extra virgin olive oil
1/4 lb pancetta, cut into 1/2″ lardons

1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Sea salt

1 lb (2 C) dried chickpeas, washed, then soaked in water overnight
2 qts chicken stock
4 sprigs fresh thyme, tied in twine
2 bay leaves
1 qt water

Extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 sprigs rosemary, stemmed with leaves finely chopped
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 C artisanal bread, crust on, cut into 1/2″ cubes

Extra virgin olive oil
Mint leaves, chopped

Lightly coat the bottom of a large pot or Dutch oven with olive oil, add the pancetta and bring to medium heat. When the pancetta starts to become crispy, add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, crushed red pepper and season lightly with salt. Cook the vegetables until they become aromatic and begin to soften, about 6-7 minutes. Do not brown.

Drain and discard the water from the soaked chickpeas, rinse them in a colander and add to the pot. Add the chicken stock, thyme, bay leaves and 1 quart of water. Bring the liquid just to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer until the chickpeas are very soft and nearly falling apart, about 1 1/2-2 hours. Turn off the heat, season with salt and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, deeply coat a large skillet with olive oil, add garlic cloves, rosemary leaves, and crushed red pepper and bring to medium heat. Remove the garlic once it is golden and before it burns. Then add the cubed bread and cook until just crispy and golden. Season with salt and remove the croutons to a bowl for use later, reserving the garlic-rosemary oil.

Add the garlic-rosemary oil to the soup. Purée (in batches if necessary) the soup by pulsing in a food processor or blender. Correct the consistency, if necessary–if too thin, cook some more to reduce, or if too thick carefully add more stock. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Ladle into shallow soup bowls, drizzle very lightly with olive oil, then top with croutons and mint.

The day hunger disappears, the world will see the greatest spiritual explosion humanity has ever seen.
~Federico Garcia Lorca

On a somber note, every 5 seconds a child dies of hunger related causes in this world. If you find that less than morally disturbing, skip over these thoughts and move on to the Betty Crocker part.

It is time to move beyond this stagnant state of denial about regional and worldwide food shortages. The ever bountiful agricultural economy of the last half-century that was taken for granted is drawing to a close. A new era has arrived where food scarcity shapes global politics and may well lead to upheaval and conflict. While the world’s burgeoning population has created a marked increased in the demand for food, climate changes and irrigation woes have made it nearly impossible to boost production to meet these needs. This may not happen tomorrow, but it will likely paint a bleak picture for our youth and their progeny. Hungry and thirsty people will by nature contentiously compete, protest, riot and even wage war to feed and water their offspring. And yes, Virginia, this will affect Kansas too.

In an article entitled The New Geopolitics of Food which appears in a recent issue of Foreign Policy, author Lester Brown explores how food shortages drive geopolitics and create volatility. The forecast appears dire and reeks of unrest.

Begin with basic demand: soaring world population growth. Each year, the world must feed an additional 80 million people, most of them in developing countries. The global population has almost doubled since 1970 and is projected to reach an ominous 9 billion by mid-century. Quite a few mouths to feed. Several billion people are meanwhile entering the “middle class” and trying to move up the food chain, consuming more grain-intensive livestock products. These new yuppies create additional demand for grains to feed these animals.

Next, consider supply: supply and production are simply lagging behind the booming demand for food. The reasons for shortfall are manifold, including reduced water tables, depleted wells and aquifers, irrigation overpumping, eroding soils, and the ever-present consequences of climate change. Consider that more than half of the world’s population lives in countries where water tables are falling; that for a temperature rise of every 1 C farmers can expect a 10% decline in optimal grain yields; that coincidentally the politically roiling Middle East is the first region where grain production has begun to decline due to water shortages; that new deserts are being created due to soil erosion and mismanagement, undermining the productivity of one-third of the world’s crops; that without consulting locals, nearly nearly 140 million acres of land and water rights grabs have been secretly negotiated allowing more affluent countries to grow grain for themselves in far away lands. Such warning lights on our collective dashboard should not go unheeded.

The pervasive rich-or-poor-each-one-for-themselves mentality which forsakes global energy, water, soil, population and climate change policies directly causes food insecurity and destabilizes broad swathes of the world. A form of humans as pestilence. Sorely needed are cohesive narratives coupled with conflict-resistant agricultural strategies shared by all. A risk rife geopolitics of food scarcity has emerged and must be earnestly addressed before regional and global breakdowns are at hand…and not until “once upon at time, long ago,” right?

So, chickpeas seem not just timely, but regionally apt.

CHICKPEAS & OLIVES

1 1/2 C dried chickpeas
Equal parts of chicken or vegetable stock and water, to cover
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and gently smashed
1 bay leaf

3 T extra virgin olive oil
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 C green (such as Lucques or Picholines) and black (such as Kalamata or Niçoise) olives, pitted and roughly chopped
Several sprigs fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
Zest and juice of 1 fresh lemon
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Soak the chickpeas in a bowl of cold water overnight. Drain and rinse well, then put in a heavy saucepan with the onion, garlic and bay leaf. Just cover the chickpeas, with equal parts of stock and water. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, until very tender, about 45 minutes. Drain, discarding the used onion, garlic and bay leaf.

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat, and briefly cook the garlic, about 30 seconds. Add the chickpeas, salt, and pepper, to taste, only to heat through. Smash some with a potato masher, leaving some chickpeas whole for looks. Remove from the heat, and stir in the olives, tarragon, and lemon zest. Stir in lemon juice, to taste.

Drizzle with olive oil, and serve as a base for roasted, sautéed or grilled fish, chicken or meat.

POLENTA WITH CHICKPEAS & LEMON

1 1/2 C dried chickpeas
Equal parts of chicken or vegetable stock and water, to cover
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and gently smashed
1 bay leaf
Juice of 1 lemon

2 C whole milk
1 C heavy whipping cream
1 C chicken stock
2 plump garlic cloves, crushed
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 C quick cooking yellow polenta
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 T freshly grated lemon peel
Pine nuts, for garnish

Soak the chickpeas in a bowl of cold water overnight. Drain and rinse well, then put in a heavy saucepan with the onion, garlic and bay leaf. Just cover the chickpeas, with equal parts of stock and water. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, until very tender, about 45 minutes. Drain, discarding the used onion, garlic and bay leaf. Toss well with lemon juice. Set aside.

Then, in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk, cream, stock, garlic, and thyme to a simmer. Discard garlic cloves and thyme, and remove saucepan from the heat. Let stand for 10 minutes. Place saucepan to the heat and return the liquid to a slow boil, slowly pouring in the polenta. Vigorously whisk, until it reaches the consistency of oatmeal, about 5-7 minutes.

To finish, grate fresh lemon peel over chickpeas and combine with pine nuts, gently tossing them well. Then, spoon polenta into shallow bowls or on plate, topping each with a generous mound of lemony chickpeas and pine nuts.

Pourboire: there is nothing wrong with substituting canned chickpeas that are well drained. But, they will need to be briefly simmered in some stock with onion, garlic and bay leaf to impart flavor. Just take care not to overcook the canned species.

Words do not change their meanings so drastically in the course of centuries as, in our minds, names do in the course of a year or two.
~Marcel Proust

With steady overdoses of dissonance — the BP gulf cataclysm, insecure financial markets, Wall St avarice, rampant unemployment, poverty, malnutrition, endless wars, species depletion, global warming, political antagonism, and the like. Anxiety, animus, and acrimony all run amok, urged on by the madding crowd. Makes me apoplectic sometimes.

Little wonder the Scripps National Spelling Bee is such a welcome relief and maybe a cause for optimism. Youth, words, and a gathering of beautiful minds…and sometimes helicopter parents.

The Bee entails arduous vocab prep over countless hours and seemingly endless regional competitions. It is an honor born of toil to even be chosen for the national contest. There, contestants, oversized placards hanging from their necks, try not to fidget in their chairs as they await their turn. One by one, each is given a word with meticulous pronounciation, and if requested, the definition, origin and sentence use. Standing solo before the mike, contestants nervously form letters to spell that word, followed by either applause and ebullience or the knell of dashed hopes. There are so many pitfalls…an “a” used instead of an “e” or “i;” uttering a double consonant rather than a single one; forgetting a soft “c” after an “s;” confusing Greek with Latin or other etymologies. Each speller has their own quirks and rhythms, and the drama is palpable. Tense teens form words like revirescent, congener, laodicean, poilu, schadenfreude, effleurage, pfeffernuss, onomatopoeia, sesquipedalian, appoggiatura, guerdon, logorrhea, succedaneum, until a winner is crowned. This year, stromuhr (an instrument for measuring the velocity of blood flow), was le dernier mot, assiduously spelled by the champion, Anamika Veeramani.

This lamb tajine sounds the usual polyphony, but also has a nectarous tinge due to the bees’ honey, oranges, and cinnamon.

LAMB TAJINE WITH CURRANT COUSCOUS

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 jalapeño peppers (red & green), stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
2 T sweet paprika
1 T turmeric
1 t ground cumin
1 t ground cardamom
1 t saffron threads
1 T ginger, peeled and minced
4 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 bay leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 lbs boned lamb shoulder, cut into 2″ cubes, patted dry

2 C chicken stock, barely simmering
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced
2 oranges, freshly juiced
1 16 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 C honey
1/2 T ground cinnamon
1 cinnamon stick
2/3 C prunes, pitted
2/3 C dried apricots

Sesame seeds
1/2 C blanched almonds, roasted
Fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped

Combine the chopped onion with the chopped jalapeños, paprika, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, saffron, ginger, bay leaves, salt, pepper and olive oil. In a large bowl or heavy ziploc bag, combine this marinade with the cubed lamb shoulder. Coat well and marinate for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight.

In a heavy, large Dutch oven, sauté the lamb over medium high heat until browned, about 8 minutes or so. Add hot chicken stock, reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes. Then, add onions, orange juice, chickpeas, honey, cinnamon, cinnamon stick, prunes, and apricots. Simmer until the lamb is very tender, about another 20-30 minutes. Remove lamb and spoon onto a mound of warm couscous in a shallow bowl. Pour the sauce over the top and garnish first with sesame seeds, then almonds and finally mint.

Couscous with Cumin, Coriander & Currants

1/2 T cumin seeds
1/2 T coriander seeds

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
1 C couscous
1 1/2 C chicken stock

1/2 C black currants, plumped in warm water and drained

In a dry heavy small skillet over medium heat add cumin and coriander seeds. Toast briefly until essences are released, about 2 mintes. Do not brown deeply or burn. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature. Then, using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, grind the roasted seeds. Set aside.

Heat stock in a small heavy saucepan to a low simmer. In a heavy medium saucepan add olive oil and butter over medium heat until butter melts. Then, add the couscous, cumin and coriander. Stir well to coat the couscous with the spices. Add the hot broth and stir with a fork to combine well. Cover and let rest undisturbed for 10 minutes. Uncover, add the plumped currants and fluff again gently with a fork.

Two Resolutions: Quinoa

January 11, 2010

No diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain is entirely fat. Without a brain, you might look good, but all you could do is run for public office.
~George Bernard Shaw

Now that the bubbly clinking and sloppy midnight kisses with bosses and wives have become faint memories, the time has come for many to pursue and accomplish those well intentioned yet often unattainable resolutions for the upcoming year. That annual ritual of setting goals for the new year—an effort to start afresh and recast our role in life—is now in the past. Now, we have to endure the tedium of making good on them. Lose weight, live for the day, find a mate, stop smoking, exercise more, cease biting your nails, get a promotion, find a job, quit your job, get a tattoo, have more sex, travel exotic, sleep more, drink less, bungee jump…and the list goes on.

Other primeval civilizations, including Babylonia, celebrated the vernal and autumnal equinoxes with revelrous festivals as a means of ringing in a new year. The western tradition of new year’s resolutions began in ancient Rome when worshippers offered resolutions of good conduct to the deity named Janus, the god of beginnings and guardian of doors and entrances. Always depicted with two faces, one on the front of his head and one on the back, Janus could look backward and forward simultaneously—an innate skill sorely lacking in today’s politicians. When the Roman calendar was reformed, the first month of the year was renamed January in homage to Janus, establishing January 1 as the day of new beginnings. So, at midnight each December 31, the Romans envisaged Janus looking back at the old and forward to the new. Retrospect and foresight at once.

Unfortunately, studies have suggested that new year’s resolutions are often a pointless exercise. Few of us achieve them, and most revert to our previous bad habits. We break our carefully crafted resolutions of self-renewal and denial, and become dispirited, even despondent in the process. Some research has suggested that some 80% of adult Americans completely give up on their new goals by Valentine’s Day (especially the ones about finding mates or lovers). Many of those who fail neurotically focus on the downside of not achieving their declared goals.

Neither new year’s resolutions nor “how to’s” are my bag. And do not expect me to sermonize about “health food.” But, it has been suggested that those who do attain their resolutions usually choose specific and deliberate objectives which have staged or shortened deadlines and commonly treat occasional lapses in the plan as just temporary setbacks. A suggestion for those who absolutely demand resolutions for 2010? Shun the traditional deprivation diet with its woeful success rates and focus instead on eating well. Eat to savor, not to diet. Prepare a simple inventory of healthy foods, preparations and menu options…including a list of wellness foodstuffs (e.g., beets, swiss chard, legumes, nuts, avocados, blueberries) that you enjoy but have not been eating. Food that is vibrant and light, full of nutrients but not spartan or bland. Incorporate them as staples. Then, buy, cook, eat and repeat.

Well textured and slightly nutty flavored quinoa fits that 2010 resolution bill. And stylish to boot, with all those self enthralled Hollywood waifs scarfing up this mother seed of the Incas. From the plant Chenopodium quinoa, quinoa are actually seeds related to their hale and hardy cousins, beets, chard and spinach. Protein rich quinoa’s fully rounded amino acid profile is especially well endowed with the amino acid lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair. It is also a superb source of manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, riboflavin and phosphorus.

Now, on to my flagitious potato pancakes tonight.

QUINOA & CHICKPEAS

1 t cumin seeds
1 t coriander seeds
1 t red pepper flakes

3 C chicken stock
1 1/2 C quinoa, well rinsed
1/2 t sea salt
2 sprigs thyme

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1/2 t sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced

1 C canned chick peas, rinsed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat, and add the cumin seeds and coriander seeds. Toast in the pan, stirring or shaking the pan, until they begin to smell fragrant, and transfer to a bowl. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then add red pepper flakes and coarsely grind by pulsing in a spice or coffee mill. Set aside.

In a medium heavy saucepan, add the chicken stock, quinoa, salt and thyme. Bring to just a gentle boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to reach a low simmer, cover the pan and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 12 to 15 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs. Set aside.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, salt and pepper, cumin, coriander and red pepper, and stir together for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the remaining olive oil and stir in the cooked quinoa and chick peas. Stir over medium heat to heat through, several minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Mold the pilaf into ramekins or timbales and unmold onto the plate.

QUINOA WITH LEMON & HERBS

3 C chicken stock
1 1/2 C quinoa, well rinsed
1/2 t sea salt
1 bay leaf

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C fresh lemon juice
3/4 C fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 C fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1 T fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 t lemon zest
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium heavy saucepan, add the chicken stock, quinoa, salt and bay leaf. Bring to just a gentle boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to create a low simmer, cover the pan and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 12 to 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, basil, parsley, thyme, and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Pour the dressing over the quinoa and toss until all the ingredients are coated. Season to tasted with salt and pepper, and serve.