While she stands alone among the dripping vines she cannot make a connection that she knows is there. There is a blankness in her thoughts, a density that feels like muddle also, until she realizes: the Annunciation was painted after rain. Its distant landscape, glimpsed through arches, has the temporary look that she is seeing now. It was after rain that the angel came: those first cool moments were a chosen time.
-William Trevor (“After Rain”)
I wish I could say that this was new material, that I was blogging about something that I had miraculously manifested the energy out of nowhere to prepare, but, alas, it is not so. That’s not to say, however, that after 5 solid days of being at home, I’m not finally feeling a little better because I am (yay, right?!). But, before you and I both get too excited, let me state the facts: I still cough, I find it hard to breath without the aid of decongestants and my energy levels are low. I watched a cute Italian movie, Bread and Tulips, a few days ago on Netflix and immediately had to take a a nap. Then, today, in my continued attempt to “Be Human and Get a Few Things Done”, I wrote a recommendation for a student. Again, the need for a nap ensued. Reading is also tiring, even if you’ve got the likes of William Trevor and Nicole Krauss’ Great House to help you through the pseudo-solitary confinement you and your germs have been locked into (really, I value and appreciate my own company, but it’s reaching the point of enough is enough already! No (wo)man is an island!)….So, to make what could be a long and boring story short, I, like most happy people and nations in times of trouble, am relying on the surplus of happier and healthier times to get me through the tedium.
And last Sunday was a truly lovely day. There was a trip to the Temescal Farmers Market; there were tulips; there was even, despite the fact that it’s January, sunshine, not to mention a cool breeze. There was also a ridiculous amount of good food….and a more than ridiculous amount of time spent in the kitchen preparing it. But I’ve always believed that you get what you pay for–both literally and figuratively. 🙂 It was enough of a fresh and healthy food festival to make me consider this past week, while perhaps wrongly under the influence of the earlier-mentioned decongestants, that I should be a vegan….Yeah, I’m small and vulnerable, especially when ill and especially to crazy ideas. Perhaps I’ll just incorporate more vegan cooking into my diet…? That might not be such a bad thing. At the very least, I could invest in a vegan cookbook…?
But back to the Farmer’s Market. First of all, I bought some beets. In hindsight, perhaps not as many as I could have, but enough to be tasty and to act as a hearty side dish. With Martha’s help, they were then roasted in tin foil, drizzled in olive oil (this also helps the skin removing process). They were ultimately served just as simply, sprinkled with salt and pepper and with more olive oil and some vinegar.
There was also tilapia (not purchased at the farmer’s market, however!). In my humble opinion, with fish, it’s generally easy, no recipe required. Just drizzle it with olive oil, add the spices you have on hand–in this case, a mix of oregano, thyme, dill and even some mint–and, most importantly, crush some garlic on top. Because I also had some extra spinach, I sprinkled that into the mix as well. Then, all that’s left is baking or broiling it, which means your attention can be focused on more important things.
In this case, the more important thing was yet another side dish, but, before you get the wrong idea, not just any old side dish. Though it may sound simple and look even simpler, it is anything but in terms of flavor. Of what glory am I speaking? Oh, only Vefa’s Chickpeas with Spinach from my new Greek cookbook. What drew me to this recipe was the winning combination of two things I like a lot and try to eat almost on a regular basis, though not always together. And, truth be told, this was an easy recipe to make, a fragrant joy to have simmering away on the stovetop (the smell of dill is an eternal favorite); the most difficult thing about it was washing the 2 lbs. of fresh spinach that I insisted on having, despite the Greek’s claim that frozen spinach is just as good and not even half the nuisance. But, as we were cooking with almost only fresh ingredients that day, I won. But I will admit that, on other occasions, I have lost this particular debate….and perhaps rightly so.
When I asked what made this dish particularly Greek (a girl can’t help but be curious), I was told that the combination of olive oil, tomato juice and legumes was what did it. It really was a wonderful flavor combination, simultaneously rich and subtle.
Any meal, even one based on seasonal availability and fresh ingredients, wouldn’t be complete without dessert. Don’t you worry your little hearts out, a pumpkin was purchased for that particular purpose, to be roasted and eaten with nuts and honey. Or, as your enterprising chef suggested to her sous-chef, maybe with the spiced honey ice cream that had been as if fatefully made for this very purpose…? 🙂
So, yes, it was a very nice day. And then the coughing began. But there will be nice days again, coughing free days, of that I have no doubt. Fortunately, probably sooner rather than later.
Chickpeas with Spinach (Revithia me spanaki)
Slightly adapted from Vefa’s Kitchen
1 heaping cup chickpeas (**the original calls for dried chickpeas, i.e. garbanzo beans, which would have to soak for at least 12 hours; instead, I
used a can of Cadia Organic Garbanzo beans, which worked just as well and were not at all mushy in the final product)
2/3 cup olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 cup tomato juice
Around 2 lbs. spinach, stalks removed and torn into pieces
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh dill (** about 2-3 handfuls if you, like some, are averse to chopping)
Salt and pepper for seasoning
The juice from 1/2 of a freshly squeezed lemon
-Drain the chickpeas and rinse well.
-Heat half the oil in a pan.
-Add the onions and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent (**This should take around 5 minutes).
-Add the chickpeas and tomato juice and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
-Mix the spinach with the dill and put half in the base of a large and hopefully deep pan.
-Spoon the garbanzo beans on top, cover with the remaining spinach, season with salt and pepper and pour in the remaining 1/3 cup of oil.
-Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30-35 minutes. The chickpeas should be tender, but not mushy. **Here, Vefa also notes that the sauce should have reduced; in my experience, it’s key for you to remove or tilt the lid for the last 15-20 minutes of cooking in order for this to happen. In any case, extra sauce is hardly a tragedy.
-Serve sprinkled with the lemon juice and enjoy!