Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lent 2012: Punjabi Chickpea Stew

I'm Catholic, and I guess you could say I am devout, but that term seems so "not me" I hesitate to use it.   So let's just say that I do my best to practice my religion.   Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, and so it's a day of fasting and abstinence, which means only one full meal and two smaller meals which together are not greater than a full meal and abstinence from meat.  I wasn't perfect on the abstinence part, because for breakfast I had yogurt and granola before I even remembered it was Ash Wednesday, and I had plans to go to Hamtramck at lunch today with some coworkers, so I ordered sauerkraut pierogi and potato pancakes, which isn't exactly a "small meal".  So for dinner, I needed to make something meat free for my family to eat, and I decided to go totally vegetarian instead of using seafood to try to make it be a "smaller meal".   While in Hamtramck, we visted beautiful St. Florian's Church.  I can't wait to attend a Mass there. 

I just recently read a great book of essays about eating locally (and it has some excellent recipes interspersed) by Michigan native Robin Mather called The Feast Nearby.   I have always loved Robin's food writing - she was an early inspiration to me long before I started this blog, when she wrote for the Detroit News.   She was a casualty of the Detroit Newspaper Strike of 1995 and then she went on to do other things.   But she recently came out with this book and I loved that she took on writing about eating local food on a budget. My whole gripe with the Slow Food movement, until very recently, didn't give a rip about affordability.    Because in this economy, anything talked about these days must include the bottom line.  So yes, I eat local whenever I can, but that doesn't mean I need to subsidize every local farmer, no matter how far fetched their business plan is or how inefficient they are at what they do.   The Slow Food movement was right when they changed their approach - local food shouldn't be a privilege of the rich.   It should be for everyone.

I found the idea of this recipe on Robin's blog, but I made some significant changes.   First,  I much prefer using dried chickpeas instead of canned.  They have better flavor and a better texture and no sodium.   Canned chickpeas contain HUGE amounts of sodium - one cup accounts for 30% of an adults recommended daily value.   Making dried chickpeas is easy - just put them unsoaked in a crockpot with plenty of water on low for 8 hours.  I make them this way and freeze them for later use.    I added some kosher salt to add flavor, as well as more cayenne pepper and the juice of 1 lemon to brighten the flavors.  I also simplified some of her techniques and used a more traditional method of  Indian cooking which is heating all the spices first.

Punjabi Chickpea Stew
6 servings as a main dish

2 hot peppers, split and deseeded (I used jalepenos)
2 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into chunks
10 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use safflower oil)
3 large onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 cups cooked chickpeas
1 14.5-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups water
2 t. kosher salt, or to taste
Juice of 1 lemon

For serving:
chopped cilantro

Combine the peppers, ginger and garlic in the blender and puree.  Set aside.

In a large Dutch oven  heat the oil over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add the onions and cook, stirring, until the onions’ juices have cooked away and the onions begin to sizzle in the oil, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the chile-ginger-garlic paste and cook, stirring, until the mixture is fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander and cayenne and heat for another 2 minutes or so.  Add chickpeas and tomatoes,stir to mix and then add the water. Give it one more generous stir, cover and reduce the heat to a simmer and cook 15 to 30 minutes.

Add salt to taste and lemon juice Serve in bowls with a dollop of thick yogurt and a scattering of chopped cilantro.

Robin's note: If you have leftovers, the chickpeas will drink up the broth. Add a little water to reheat them to regain the stew-y consistency.

I plan on eating the leftovers Friday for lunch, when I have another day of fasting from meat.    For Lent 2012 I am hoping to walk for an hour per day and to blog about as many Lent friendly recipes as I can.    Happy Lent!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Winter Canning Project: Grapefruit

As a canning instructor, I have noticed that most people get interested in canning when strawberries show up at the farmer's market in June.   The first impulse is to try to make strawberry jam, which actually is one of the harder things to make.   I always recommend that folks start out with something simpler like a pickle.  It's hard to mess up a pickle, but pretty easy to screw up a jam - it burns easily, it takes practice to know how if there's enough pectin involved so the jam will set up, etc.     But perhaps the best thing for a novice canner to try might be citrus.  After all, the citrus season is winter, and there's not much else to can in wintertime, and often folks are spending lots of time inside anyway.  Why not spend it in the kitchen? 

To learn how to can, I suggest getting a really good canning book - there are tons of canning books out there because all the hipsters are in to canning these days, but my go-to book I recommend is the Ball Complete Book of Canning by Judi Kingry and Laurie Devine.  This IS NOT the "Ball Blue Book", which is really just a canning magazine that is issued yearly.  There's nothing wrong with the Ball Blue Book, (or as my friend Ann and I like to call it - the "Blue Balls Book",  because our sense of humor is permanently stalled in the 7th grade) but for the price, the Ball Complete Book will teach you how to can in exquisite detail and it offers many helpful canning tips you won't find in the magazine.  It also has lots of interesting recipes in it.   There's also a trusted online source you can check out - the University of Georgia's National Center for Home Food Preservation, but I find the book much more user friendly. 

Last year, I canned grapefuit and we loved it so much, I made some again this year.   I experimented with a different technique I read about online for peeling grapefruit - it worked like a charm!  All that you have to do is put the unpeeled grapefruit in boiling water for about 5 minutes.   The peels come off easily and leave very little bitter pith behind. 

Crimson Honey Grapefruit (printer friendly)
(makes about 9 pints, more or less)

1 large bag (18lb) grapefruit - I used ruby red grapefruit, but any kind would work
1 large can frozen cranberry cocktail, thawed and undiluted
2/3 c. honey

Peel grapefruit as described above.  Cut each fruit laterally (side to side) in 1/4 inch slices Measure fruit and juice until there's 16 cups. Mine came out almost exactly that for an 18 lb bag, but it depends on how big the grapefruits are. Don't worry too much. If you end up with more, you could make some more syrup, or less, you can use less. Note that grapefuit is acidic enough to can on it's own without anything added - the cranberry honey syrup is for color and flavor, so don't worry too much about exact proportions. If you want to make it sweeter, add more honey.

In a large dutch oven (or a big pot), heat up the grapefruit and it's juice, the cranberry cocktail syrup and the honey and heat until the honey dissolves. Using a slotted spoon, pack hot grapefruit into hot jars (I used pints) until you have 1/2 inch headspace. Ladle some hot syrup in, leaving a half inch or so, and use a cocktail stirrer or a chop stick to get the air pockets out and add more syrup if you need to. Wipe rim, put on the lid and band and tighten until fingertip tight. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. Remove canner lid and let jars sit for 5 minutes, then take them out of the canner and let them cool for 24 hours. If you have extra syrup, save it. It makes a pretty grapefruit cocktail by shaking it in a cocktail shaker with some crushed ice and vodka.