If You’re Not Careful, You Just Might Learn Something

This was a simple one, but made exceptionally flavorful by a couple of small steps. We’ve been digging chick peas lately; they’re leguminously sturdy without being too beany, if that makes any sense, and they take well to a wide variety of flavors that beans might not fit quite so seamlessly with. That curry I mentioned recently was good eating, and in the case of last night’s meal it was all about the sympatico that Moroccan flavors also have with garbanzos. Step one was using dried beans rather than canned ones; there’s just no comparison in flavor. These were bone dry and pebble hard three hours before dinner, too, but a brief soak in water followed by 45 minutes of hissing yielded lovely, tender peas ready for their second cooking with all the flavors.

The flavors began with a panoply of spices that I had the kid grind up in the small suribachi: coriander, cumin, mustard, caraway, hot pepper, lemon salt, black pepper, and a clove. Grinding spices is the other important step that elevated this above a regular weeknight phone-in, and best of all I used child labor so it didn’t add any extra minutes to the prep time. While he ground spices, I peeled half an orange and diced the outer skin. He juiced the rest of it, and only drank some of it. We added peas, spices, juice, and some water to a pan in which diced onion had been sweating, then added a fistful of oil-cured olives, some salt, a glug of vinegar, and a big bunch of pak choi I had picked and chopped a bit earlier. I planted them in March, and they’re ready to eat. This spring has been wonderful.

While all this got simmery, I took carrots–expertly peeled by the prep cook–and tossed them about in olive oil, orange juice, hot pepper, cumin, honey, and more cider vinegar until just tender, reducing the liquid to a glaze that coated them with a sweet and piquant shininess. This dish is a clamor-inducing favorite of the small person, and he demanded the biggest portion and all the leftovers in his lunch the next day. Besides all the efficiency of having a helper, having kids help you cook gives them an investment in the outcome of the meal, and an appreciation of all that goes into it. They’ll try anything they help make, and enjoy almost all of it. This was no exception.

So, to recap: dried chick peas, fresh-ground spices, child labor. Oh, he chopped the scallions and cilantro for the garnish, too, which explains the… uh… wabi sabi aesthetic at work there.

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I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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