This is a tribute to my pantry, some refrigerator luck and online recipes. I had seen Melissa Clark’s latest video on the New York Times cooking website, which turned out to be a godsend. Perky, quirky and sometimes smirky, her videos are fun and an easy way for people who don’t cook much to see how easy most dishes are to make. This one – a Moroccan Chickpea Stew — sounds involved but isn’t. Once everything is placed in the pot, the stew happily simmers away on its own.
During a sudden and severe snowstorm last weekend that made the roads instantly impassable, I headed straight home from the office (yes, the office) without the planned detour to the market. Aargh. I didn’t need anything from the store. The trip was just my way of changing the subject. Instead, I stood in front of my pantry and refrigerator, and there, thankfully, were basically all the ingredients for Melissa’s chickpea stew. This is not so much a lesson in preparedness for me but the realization that something pretty spectacular can come from stuff you probably have lying around, plus a few special items like fennel and chard, but those are interchangeable.
So what did I need? Onions, ginger and garlic, check. Jalapeno, maybe but substitute chilis dried from last year’s harvest, Spices like turmeric, paprika, cinnamon, cumin and black pepper, always on hand. Tomato paste, if not from an available tube or can, check the freezer for the frozen leftovers from another recipe. Dried chickpeas, check. I typically keep dried legumes and beans on hand and when I make a batch, I freeze the leftovers for a quick start on another dish. You need dried here or they won’t absorb the liquid, and you need to have soaked them overnight or for an hour in boiled water.
Then came the challenge of fresh vegetables – carrots, fennel, turnip and chard. Coincidentally, I had these. Normally, I wouldn’t have had chard and would have substituted locally grown low-tunnel spinach. Other vegetable combinations would work, even carrots alone. Finally, the finishing touches: dried apricots and preserved lemons are usually in the pantry and I did have fresh cilantro. Honey would work instead of apricots since they’re there for sweetness. Wow
You basically sauté the aromatics, spices and tomato paste serially in vegetable oil, add the root vegetables and chard stems and sauté. Then add the chickpeas, cover with water, and simmer for a couple of hours. Add the chard or spinach leaves at the end, along with chopped apricots (or honey) and spunky preserved lemon. Serve with chopped fresh cilantro. This was great on top of couscous or bulgur or quinoa or brown rice. The leftovers are going into tomato soup this weekend and it will be great.