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.

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To perceive is to suffer.
~Aristotle

This is not meant to be some hefty harangue or diatribe on writing. To the utter contrary. But, it does seem like the revered trait for writers is not will, bravado or grit, but rather vibrant prose, empathetic and fluid storytelling, rich and beloved character creation.

A blank screen or paper alone can be daunting (have been there and done that), leading to lengthy stares, dire anxiety and idle fingers. Then comes disjointed prose, inapt words or topics, insipid imagery, worthless metaphors, and feeble punctuation. Writing, as with many art forms, is just really arduous labor; a brutal, almost crippling, job.

So, a poetic lilt, even just an enlightened brief passage or paragraph, lifts souls and so often makes us return to re-read, even aloud. Think of Toni Morrison, Saul Bellow, Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, William Shakespeare, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Samuel Beckett, John Barth, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, David Mitchell, Joseph Conrad, Leo Tolstoy, Umberto Eco, Jane Austen, Vladimir Nabokov, Victor Hugo, T.S. Eliot, Gustave Flaubert, John Updike, Kingsley Amis, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Stendahl, Günter Grass, Heinrich Böll, André Gide, Jorge Luis Borges, et al. — this is just a smattering of prose writers and does not even mention the magical creations of preeminent poets. But, their words and perceptive imagery can flat illuminate your universe. By arranging selective words, creating characters, telling stories, and placing punctuation or not on a page, skilled novelists, poets and playwrights reveal their minds and extend ours. Even when disruptive to our psyches, their heedful art has unearthed and unveiled human nature, the bare bones of our biology, our anthropology. Alexithymia untethered, so thank you all so much.

So, why do I write about food and stuff? Well, repasts and convo are damned pleasing, and one of our primary hobbies happens to be cooking. The ruminations just came along for the ride. So, the blog seemed a fit, a natural, making little mention of Mom’s Joy of Cooking with her handwritten notes staring at me. Besides being a logophile, my mother gave me a sense of ardor, one of passion, even a feeling of the absurd. Enough of that, as I am not worthy.

Rapturous fare below.

ROASTED ROOT VEGETABLES WITH EGGS & HERBS

3 lbs root vegetables, cut into rough wedges (local multi-hued carrots, rainbow beets, new potatoes, turnips, white and red radishes, fennel bulb(s), zucchini, celery root — some peeled, other’s not)
1-2 plump, fresh garlic heads, cut transversely
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 bay leaves, dried

Local eggs
Extra virgin olive oil

Fresh herb leaves (rosemary, basil, thyme, lavender) torn and chopped
Capers, drained

Heat oven to 400-425 F.

Toss local vegetables with olive oil, garlic(s), sea salt, black pepper, and bay leaves in a heavy pan. Let stand at room temperature. Then roast, stirring thrice or so until slightly browned, about an hour. Discard the bay leaves.

Serve with fried eggs just sautéed in olive oil and partially cover the roasted vegetables, with egg spaces here and there, ground black pepper, then strew with fresh herbs and capers atop.

A vivid and savory tapestry.

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.