High on the list of dishes I’d like to be able to make without a second thought, a special trip to a special store and that I hope to still be cooking when we spend our days in his-and-hers creaking rocking chairs, lamenting that Jacob never calls us anymore, is a hearty white bean stew.
Odds are, this week is full of sugar for you. Chewy sugar, hard shiny sugar, sugar molded into candy corn, fluffed into marshmallows, coating adorable little popsicles of cake, wound with brown butter around grains of puffed rice and that doesn’t even include the peanut butter cups you’ll pilfer from your kid’s trick-or-treat bucket this weekend followed by the sweet slide from Thanksgiving’s marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes and December’s minty candy canes.
[Er, croutons not pictured.] Here’s the thing: If you told me you were serving succotash with or for dinner, I’d inwardly groan. People, I’ve had all sorts of succotash — a summery stew of corn and lima beans, often with tomatoes, yet still so bland that no added butter or cream saves it for me, and when adding butter and cream don’t save something for me, you know something is terribly wrong — and can’t think of one that I wanted to run home and make for myself. It might be because it’s usually in the off-season, when the above come frozen and no, it’s just not the same. It might also be because I once had a roommate that would open cans of succotash, not drain it, heat it in the microwave and eat it straight and guys, it’s been many, many years and still, my stomach turns. Don’t ever live with me. I’m a jerk.
First off, this dish is not called “spinach and chickpeas”, it is espinacas con garbanzos. Don’t you agree? “Spinach and chickpeas” is something you eat because you should — it is healthy and you aspire to be. Espinacas con garbanzos is something you eat because it sounds sexy, and doesn’t taste half bad either. It’s hearty and smoky with a little kick, you eat it on little fried bread toasts at a tapas bar in Spain.
My latest snap of cravings for Indian food hit a couple weeks ago, and because I haven’t learned anything over my two stints in the East Village, we ordered in from a restaurant on 6th Street and received puddles of oily, listless and weakly spiced curries that we dragged our way through only to be rewarded with bellyaches. Also, regret. I have an archive of Indian recipes I make several times a year, that I crave like clockwork as soon as we hit a cold snap and never disappoint, a cabinet full of robust rust and mustard-colored powders and seeds and yet I let someone else put lackluster chana masala in our bellies.
So, I told you about the brisket. Or, the way we talk about it, thhhuuuuh brisssssket, it’s deliciousness making our syllables stretch out melodramatically. We pulled it into tacos with slaw and pickled onions and it was a great end to a great year. But I bet I know what you’ve been wondering since then, “But no appetizer?” Well, let thie question vex your brain no longer: we had soup. (Jacob, however, got into the margaritas. Again.)
So here’s a little eating-out confession: When we go out to restaurants, no matter how old-school posh or hot-new-It-chef-on-a-grungy-block, I rarely find myself moved to exclamation points over a piece of steak or a pasta dish; instead, it most of my ooh-ing and aah-ing is formed over the earnest piles of beans and grains and greens that form a bed for the main attraction. I’m always applauding the way a chef managed to get such flavorful beans, grains and even unloved greens, cooked so perfectly that I clean them out long before I stick my fork into the duck breast. I guess what I am trying to say is: A lot of people cook steak well. Making kale and wheat germ taste like nirvana itself is what really blows my mind.