This may not have been the most elegant meal ever made, but it was very good to eat, and it illustrates a useful principle of home cooking that can, when applied properly, make homemade food taste more interesting than restaurant food.
This meal began a few nights ago as a chickpea stew, flavored medium assertively and in an approximately Moroccan manner with preserved lemon, fennel, ras el hanout, and lots of garlic. The liquid was the water from the soaking and first cooking of the chick peas plus some homemade smoked salsa and a bit of black olive brine. It also included mirepoix and shredded kale, and I served it atop whole wheat couscous for a lovely and remarkably vegan meal. And there were leftovers, on purpose.
When I make legumey things like this, I usually make a lot. Stewy stuff in general always tastes much better after a day or two in the fridge, and it’s most useful to have cooked beans and the like on hand for enhancing quick weeknight soups and such. A quart of frozen stock, some leftover greens, a grain of some sort, and a container of lentils/beans/chickpeas from a previous meal do not, when combined in a pot and heated up, make the worst soup in the world. With that in mind, I spent a little bit of time gussying the chick peas up to a much more refined level, also moving them many thousands of miles in their flavor profile in a way that did not clash at all with the original seasoning.
Taking some of the ground lamb that arrived the other day, I made kofta, mixing in garam masala, smoked paprika, ginger, garlic, and pepper and forming the meat into smallish balls. I browned them in a skillet and them removed them to a plate while I sautéed kale, carrot, onion, and spices (fenugreek, coriander, ginger, mustard, cumin) until soft, then blended the mixture into a thick paste with some Greek yogurt and tomato paste (both homemade). I returned the meatballs to the pan, adding the old chick pea stew and the new vegetable mixture and let it all bubble and harmonize for about twenty minutes.
Besides tasting like a very persuasive curry, the additional notes of the preserved lemon and the browned meat and the magic couple of days that the chick peas spent in the fridge added the sort of complexity that one tends only to find in this sort of domestic cookery, where leftovers are strategically deployed after they have accrued the extra depth of flavor that is their exclusive quality. Because there is a vast overlap between Moroccan and Indian spices—only the preserved lemon fell outside that area, and it’s not too far from lime pickle—the second go round for the chick peas let them easily become a completely different dish with no dissonance. You might be surprised how often this can work; especially if the original food is a smaller proportion of the remixed version, those flavors which fall outside of the overlapping zone (to keep going with the Venn diagram image) can add interesting, subtle grace notes, enlivening a standard beyond its normal parameters. They can also not work, which is why I made the original dish the way I did, planning all along for curry as round two.
Leftovers are the secret weapon of the home cook, and their intentional creation and liberal inclusion in my cooking is a big part of why I don’t miss eating out very often. And meals like this make for a very happy wife, so she doesn’t either.