As much as I dread winter, I tend to do my best cooking then, when the warmth of the oven is welcoming, and work keeps my fingers warm and occupied in the long months before spring arrives and frees me from the cold. When a snowstorm hits, and all the town is back from scavenging like madmen for food to sustain them through the long hours before the streets are cleared, I tend to choose something warm and spicy and new to spend an afternoon making. On such days, I don’t mind grinding a thousand spices by hand, or trying out something that just might work, if only I give it a try.
These afternoons are more fun when I don’t have everything I think I need. When I’m missing a few ingredients, I’m forced to improvise, to think about what each ingredient does to the dish, and to figure out how to achieve the same effect with what I have at hand. I get to have taste tests, and run around the kitchen, searching for some forgotten spice or obscure ingredient that all of a sudden seems essential to the finished dish. These eureka moments are quick and satisfying, unlike science, and that, perhaps, is why such experiments are so frequent in our household. James and I both come home after a long struggle with some obscure problem or another, and create new ones: ones we can discard or change as we see fit, with only the judgement of our tastebuds to concern ourselves with.
This meal is the outcome of one such experiment, and was my first attempt at cooking Ethiopian food at home. An impending snowstorm cut my shopping trip short, so I made do with the ingredients I had at hand, and was mostly happy with the results. My mock injera was a semi-disaster (though edible enough), so I won’t share the recipe here, but the chicken stew (doro wett) was spicy and complex, without being overwhelming, and the cabbage dish was sweet and subtle. The pair complemented each other surprisingly well, balancing sweet and spicy, rich and wholesome. Both are worth trying out, especially if you’re craving hearty winter fare like I am. And yes, you can skip the berbere. It won’t be quite the same, but I think the stew and cabbage will be satisfying nonetheless.
Recipes after the jump.
Filed under cabbage, chicken, chili, comfort, Ethiopian, lentils, main, onions, soup, squash, stew, Uncategorized
Pumpkin saag paneer
I’m never a one-dish girl. Even at my favorite restaurants, I can’t pick up a menu and order something that I’ve had before. God forbid I miss their best dish, even if I know I had it two weeks ago, and there’s no way in hell I’ll ever come close with anything else. Call it a handicap of mine.
With one exception, that is. I cannot stop ordering saag paneer.
It’s as if I’m channeling some inner Popeye the second I step into an Indian restaurant. Seriously, it’s a problem, because frankly, I’m a little ashamed of myself. Until now, that is.
I’ve tried to make saag paneer at home before, to no avail. The cream and ghee they use in copious quantities in restaurant cooking doesn’t really make it into most cookbooks, because seriously, do you really want to know what you’re eating? It’s never tasted quite as good. But this recipe, which I adapted from Veganomicon, is genius. That creamy consistency? They achieve it with squash.
Kind of surprising, right? It makes total sense if you think about it, though. There is a reason butternut squash soup is kind of creamy, even without any cream. If you’re not easily convinced, you must go cook this now. Seriously — I really think you’ll thank me. My version is not vegan, because James really wanted to make cheese, and I kind of like paneer, but I think it would have actually been better without it. (James, by the way, agrees. And he had seconds — for a dish with no meat! If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will).
This is a great start to the “eat less meat” challenge I unofficially took on a little while ago. (It’s been going well — more on that later).
When my week’s kind of crazy, I need something hot, filling, and nutritious. NOW. I don’t want to wait for the oven to finish pre-heating. And I certainly don’t want to bother making everything from scratch.
Or do I?
Let’s just say I was procrastinating a bit. Taxes, tow truck adventures, experiment planning, and lobbying for better health care packages make for an interesting week. An exciting (and potentially, fairly fulfilling) week, I admit, but I needed a little break. So I did what I do best — turn a potentially quick, healthy dinner into a three hour play session, starting with fresh, made-from-scratch corn tortillas, shaped ever so clumsily with my very own palms. And you know something? It was worth it. I’d give up my evening in a second for hot-off-the-pan tortillas, with a bit of melted cheese, a little snack to hold me over until the vegetables finally roasted into the perfect succulent sweetness that only a bit of patience can yield.
But the best part of this story? You can do this in pretty much no time at all, with a bit of preparation. You don’t have to muck about in your fridge, mixing this and that, like I did. Throw your vegetables in your toaster oven to roast, bake the squash ahead of time by simply cutting it in half and throwing it in a hot oven for an hour (or use a microwave, if you dare). And those tortillas? All they are are a bit of masa and water, mixed and shaped. You don’t have to make more than you need for dinner, and they cook up in minutes. Minutes!
And that’s only if you, like me, have no clue what you’re doing. Which, I assure you, only adds to the fun.