January comes around with everyone lamenting the excesses of the festive season and the pounds they have gained from weeks of feasting. Many of us will drop large sums of money on expensive gym memberships which will not be used once President’s Day rolls around. Others will turn to extreme diets and juice fasts and rail about the evils of white carbs.
I have never understood why anyone would put themselves through such misery in the coldest dreariest months of the year. We need comfort at the table, not penance and fasting.
There is another way. I turn to simple, warming plant-based meals, enlivened with spices and aromatics, such as the dishes that I am sharing for January. They are light and nutritious and will warm the heart and belly of the most hardened meat eater. All the ingredients can be found in your local supermarket and they are very gentle on the post-holiday bank balance as a bonus.
Please be sure to use fresh spices. Any that are more than a year old should be discarded in favor of a fresh batch. Whole spices are so much better and keep for up to two years. I always buy my cumin and coriander whole, toast the seeds for 30 seconds over high heat in a dry skillet, before whizzing up in a small, inexpensive coffee grinder.
Caution, once used for spices, the grinder cannot be used for coffee beans. Here’s wishing you a very healthy and delicious New Year.
Chickpeas Braised with Coconut Milk and Cilantro
1 ½ cups dried chickpeas
2 15 oz cans cooked chickpeas drained and rinsed
5 cups of water
1 ½ cups chopped canned tomatoes
2 cloves garlic peeled and roughly chopped
1 inch piece of ginger coarsely grated
1 small yellow onion diced
2 whole jalapeno pepper, left whole but pierced down the sides with a sharp knife
1 cup coconut milk
1 ½ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garam marsala
1 tsp turmeric
1/3 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mild smoked paprika
½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
Soak the chickpeas overnight in cold water. Drain and place in a large heavy pot with 4 cups water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 1 hour until tender but not too soft. Drain and set aside. Place the garlic cloves in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Add the tomatoes, ½ cup of water, grated ginger and ½ tsp. salt and process until smooth.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy pan and add the onion. Cook over medium heat for about two minutes until translucent. Onion should not brown. Stir the spices into the onion mixture and add the whole jalapenos to pan. Cook over low heat for a couple of minutes, before adding tomato mixture and ½ cup water. Simmer the mixture over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent mixture sticking or burning. Add the coconut milk and 2 ½ cups of cooked chickpeas and adjust seasoning. Slowly simmer mixture for about 10 minutes until cooked through. Remove the jalapenos. Serve spooned over basmati rice, sprinkle with chopped cilantro and a dollop of mango chutney. Pairs well with the spicy cauliflower and potato and is even better served the next day. You can skip the rice, or substitute brown, if you are still eschewing white carbs!
Spicy Cauliflower and Potato
Loosely based on the Indian favorite Aloo Gobi, this dish does not contain a lot of sauce, but cooks mostly in its own steam. Be sure to cut the vegetable pieces small, keep stirring and keep a close eye on the skillet throughout the cooking process. Heating the mustard seeds in the oil adds a nice heat to the dish and coriander and cauliflower are a great match. I love to serve this alongside a chicken curry or with our chickpea and coconut dish. It is delicious as a light supper served with warm flatbread, yoghurt and chutney.
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
4 Tbsp. canola oil
1½ tsp. ground coriander
1½ tsp. turmeric
5 cardamom pods
1 tsp ground cumin
1 small yellow onion diced
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced and seeded
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 small cauliflower cut into small florets
1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into ½ inch pieces
1 large bay leaf
1/3 cup pureed canned tomatoes (not tomato puree)
Heat 2 Tbsp. canola oil in a heavy skillet that has a tight-fitting lid. Add the mustard seeds and cook over high heat for 30 seconds. Turn heat to medium and add the coriander, turmeric, cardamom pods and cumin. Stir the spices in the oil for a couple of minutes making sure they do not burn. Add 2 Tbsp. oil to the pan and add onion and jalapeño and half a tsp salt. Cook low for about two minutes before adding the garlic.
After a further minute of cooking, stir in the cauliflower and potato and turn the pieces in the onion spice mixture until well coated. Continue to cook over low heat stirring and turning for a further five minutes. Add the pureed tomatoes and ½ tsp. salt. Continue to cook, keeping the mixture moving around the pan. Mix ½ cup of water into the vegetables and cover tightly with lid. Cook over low heat for a further five minutes, keeping a close eye on the mixture. Remove lid and stir thoroughly. Replace lid and continue to cook very low for a further five minutes.
Check the potato and vegetables for doneness with a small sharp knife. The pieces should be barely tender but not soft. Give the mixture a final stir, remove from heat and discard cardamom pods.
Alison Boyd-Savage worked in advertising before running a catering business in her native London. After moving to Long Island, she first settled in Bridgehampton, where she worked as a private chef. Five years later, the quiet beauty of the North Fork prompted a move to Southold. On weekends she loves to entertain, and can be found scouting the local farm stands for seasonal produce and visiting the markets for local fish, meat and eggs. Each month, she now shares some of these dishes on the back page of the East End Beacon.