He has, if the truth be told, been putting it off for months: the moment when he must face the blank page, strike the first note, see what he is worth. -J.M. Coetzee (Disgrace)
May, the Emerald month, has arrived in all of its glory, bringing with it its usual companions of bright colors, blossoms, sunshine, strawberries and asparagus. Time seems to have catapulted forward to get us here. The Greek’s parents, who it seemed had only just arrived, have sadly gone again. The mouse, too, seems to have departed for good; there are no longer any traces of midnight perambulations. Really, after all of the struggles of the past months, the semester is now over and I feel that I have finally attained some semblance of freedom.
But there is no time to rest on my laurels; while I will turn 30 (!!!) this Thursday and walk in the graduation ceremony on the following Thursday, there is much work to be done. I am in the process of applying for a job–one that I would very much like to have–and there is still the Big Old Dissertation, my eternal companion, to consider. I was so tired this week, though, that these things didn’t really register; this was a time of healing from the rapid pace of the semester. For most of the week, the Greek and I were eating all kinds of leftovers, from Greek Easter to the farewell Chinese meal that his parents requested; the thought of going into the kitchen, which was still in a state of disarray because of both our midnight visitor and the recent holiday, proved too much to bear.
But on Thursday night, I was feeling inspired. I set aside A Feast for Crows (yes, my Game of Thrones obsession is now back in full force) aside in favor of more elegant bedtime reading, Nigel Slater’s Tender. I received this book for Christmas from my aunt and had looked through it many times; despite my love of reading it bit by bit–I find the way the book is divided by vegetable and also how it incorporates gardening tips for each vegetable to be incredibly illuminating–I had yet to cook from it.
I found myself in the beet section, since, no matter what the season, beets remain a constant favorite of mine. I love eating them, raw or roasted, on toast smeared with ricotta for breakfast, sliced thinly in a salad with oranges and walnuts, or just plain with a bit of salt and pepper. This time, however, I was drawn to the Greek way of preparing them–perhaps in a way to keep the memory of all the good Greek flavors I enjoyed with the Greek’s parents alive–in a garlickly, lemony yogurt tzatziki. This tzatziki was intended for crispy and herbed chickpea fritters; if you didn’t know this about me, I adore chickpeas (as Nigel so aptly puts it, “The chickpea possesses a dry, earthy quality and a knobbly texture that I find endlessly useful and pleasing to eat,” 46) and will put them in almost anything. Also, say the word fritter and you will find a friend in me.
These secrets aside, this is the kind of meal that I want on a Friday night or for a weekend lunch. Not only is it simple, but, with the tzatziki on the side, it hits all the right notes in terms of flavor and texture: you’ve got your crunchy root vegetable in a tangy condiment, roughly shaped patties with mint and parsley and a bit of lemon to bring to mind the Mediterranean.
I deviated from Nigel’s directions quite a bit, though. In addition to using fresh, instead of canned chickpeas, I also skipped the hot paprika in favor of sumac and added lemon zest to both the tzatziki and the fritter mix, wanting more lemony notes than spice. I also found, with trial and error, that one egg didn’t quite cut it for me and my fritters; the first night I made these (yes, I’ve since made them twice), the one egg led to crunchy and tasty, yet broken fritters; with two eggs, however, I got the texture and wholeness I craved. But even with two eggs, I found Nigel’s advice to “flip [the fritters] confidently but tenderly” invaluable since these fritters are, at best, quite delicate. The extra required effort aside, this was just the right meal for my return to the kitchen.
P.S. A happy mother’s day to all the mothers out there!
Chickpea Fritters with a Lemony Beet Tzatziki
adapted from Nigel Slater’s Tender
yields about 8-10 smallish fritters, with enough tzatziki to go around (the perfect dinner for 2)
For the lemony beet tzatziki:
one large raw beet (preferably a Chioggia, an heirloom variety with white and pink rings, which makes for a pretty tzatziki)
zest and juice of half a lemon
one clove garlic, crushed
200 grams (3/4 cup) plain Greek yogurt
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
a few fresh mint leaves, torn, for garnish
-Grate the beet roughly in a bowl and then stir in the lemon zest, juice and crushed garlic.
-Mix in the yogurt and stir until well combined.
-Season with salt and pepper and garnish with the torn mint leaves.
For the fritters:
one 14-ounce (400 gram) can chickpeas (drained and rinsed) or 350 grams freshly cooked chickpeas
2 cloves garlic
1 heaping teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 heaping teaspoon sumac
zest of 1/2 lemon
a small bit of sea salt and freshly ground pepper
a small handful of both fresh flat-leaf parsley and fresh mint, chopped roughly
olive oil, for frying
lemon, for serving
-Place the chickpeas in a food processor with the garlic, cumin, coriander, sumac, lemon zest and salt and pepper.
-Pulse a few times to combine.
-Add the first egg and pulse to combine, then add the second egg and pulse again. Be careful not to pulse too much since you want the mixture to be textured, rather than smooth.
-Scoop the pulsed chickpeas into a bowl and stir in the roughly chopped herbs.
-Let sit for 10-15 minutes.
-Once the mixture has firmed up a little, heat a shallow layer of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed, nonstick frying pan (I prefer cast iron).
-Add heaping tablespoons of the fritter batter to the hot skillet and press down lightly with a flat spatula.
-Let them cook for 3-4 minutes or until the underside is golden.
-Flip over with a spatula, quickly, but gently, and let that side cook for another 3-4 minutes.
-Remove from the heat and set on a waiting serving plate. Repeat with the remaining batter.
-Serve with the tzatziki and additional lemon for sprinkling.