Monday, January 30, 2012

A good soak

I may have become the shopper I've always wanted to be by making my purchases at the Co-op, but that doesn't necessarily make the me the cook I want to be. Let me explain: my increased access to ingredients like whole grains, healthy oils, organic produce and unprocessed foods--and the low prices for all of this bounty--has certainly led to my cupboards being filled to the bursting, but sometimes those things just find their way in there and stay, never getting the chance to show their stuff in my pots, or in my stomach.

Case in point: dried legumes. Having spent a fair amount of time working on organic farms, where the proprietors grow what they eat and store-bought foods don't often come into the picture, I've eaten some lovely dishes made with dried and soaked beans. And I've noticed that their flavor and texture is exponentially better than the canned stuff. And so when I joined the Co-op, I determined to never again pick up a can of Goya. From now on, I brazenly declared to myself, I will cook exclusively with dried beans! And I lined my shelves with chickpeas, kidney beans, and black eyed peas.

I'm sure you know where this is going. Those bags of beans sat in my cupboards, taunting me, ever since June. Turns out, canned beans are pretty darn convenient: no thinking ahead required. Right? A working farm, though an intensely active place, also has, in its own way, a slower pace than city life, and there's time built into the day to do things like soak some dried beans in water.

The thing is, I don't really even believe the above--that my life is just way too busy to think about my dinner more than an hour before I sit down to eat it. In fact, I do little but think about food and cooking all day long, so I believe I should be able to commit to preparing some beans a day ahead of time.

I had already been stewing over those chickpeas sitting in my kitchen cabinet when I spied a tasty-looking recipe for coconut-braised chickpeas over at the site of my new employer, Serious Eats. The dish sounded like it had some nice flavors going on--lemon, ginger and coconut--and I was keen to try it. The recipe actually called for canned chickpeas, but I would use dried--finally. I knew I would have all the time in the world to cook on Sunday, so on Saturday night, I filled a pot with those clattering little peas, and covered them in twice the amount of water. They'd be (nearly) ready for me when I needed them.

The next day, about an hour before I was ready to cook, I put the pot of chickpeas on the stove, added some salt, and simmered them, covered. Then, as I set to work on the recipe, I simply allowed the garbanzos to steam to toothy perfection before they got to cook for a second time in the dish's flavorful broth.

I used the recipe only as a starting point: though it sounded like a good base, I could tell it would need some punching up. The only spice it called for was ginger and an optional shaking of red pepper flakes, and for me, coconut milk cries out for a complex, heady mixture of aromatics. I also wanted to add some chopped carrot for added sweetness, and some cubed potatoes for some starch to help thicken the broth. The end result was sweet and fragrant, with the tender, creamy chickpeas providing a welcome contrast to the softness of the spinach and the potatoes. Eating it reaffirmed my conviction that cooking with dried legumes is just better. I won't be able to do it all the time--some nights, those ready-to-go Goya beans will still be attractive--but I definitely plan to try this more often. I may not normally possess the virtue of patience, but when it comes to good food, I'm happy to make an exception.

Coconut-Braised Chickpeas with Spinach and Lemon

Adapted (heavily) from
Serves 4 - 6


- About 8 ounces dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in 16 oz. water, or one 15-oz. can, drained
- 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 2 small (or 1 large) onions, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp. grated ginger
- 1 large lemon, zested and juiced
- 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp. curry powder
- 1/2 tsp. turmeric
- 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
- 3 medium waxy potatoes, scrubbed and cut into a medium dice
- One 14-oz. can coconut milk (I used light--I don't notice the difference)
- About 1 c. water
- 5 oz. baby spinach, rinsed
- Fish sauce (nam pla), to taste
- Salt
- About 1/2 c. unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted, for serving
- Chopped cilantro, for serving
- Cooked white rice, for serving


1. If using dried, soaked chickpeas: about one hour before starting to cook, transfer the chickpeas in soaking liquid to the stove. Add a pinch of salt, cover, and simmer for one hour. As you proceed, leave chickpeas covered.
2. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (Dutch oven) over medium heat. Add the onions and carrot, stir, and when they begin to soften, add the garlic and ginger. Add the lemon zest and all the spices and cook, stirring, until onions are translucent and spices are toasted and fragrant.
3. Drain the chickpeas and add to the pot along with the potatoes. Add the coconut milk and water, cover, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 - 20 minutes, until potatoes are tender.
4. Uncover pot and taste broth. Add a few dashes of fish sauce, to taste, and salt. Add the spinach, cover again, and let wilt. Cook for about 5 more minutes.
5. Turn off heat and stir in lemon juice. Check again for seasoning. Serve over hot white rice, garnished with cilantro and coconut.

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