If one was ever to question their lifetime of unwavering devotion to New York City, February would the month to do it. It’s cold and has been for some time. It’s cold and will be for some time. And somewhere out in California, a “friend” — but really, are they if they torture you so? — is welcoming their first strawberries. You get strawberries in New York, too, but for about 5 minutes every June and they cost about as much per square foot as real estate in a neighborhood with multiple pour-over coffee outlets.
So, yes, February is the month. But this February? I never thought it would be the one. This is, by every measurement known, the mildest winter we’ve ever had, and the shortest too. I am, by almost every measurement I can invent, the most loyal and content New Yorker you’ll meet (but not the shortest, although close). But every night for the last week, I’ve pestered my husband with talk of Los Angeles, a mythical place where it’s warm and sunny all year round, where the tacos are unparalleled, where the avocados are exceptional, where you apparently don’t need to be a millionaire to have a home with more than two bedrooms. This is probably what happens to even the most stalwart New Yorker after too long without a vacation.
Fortunately, for times of great flux and inner turmoil, there are always cookbooks offering an escape. Like many a shivering East Coasters, I’ve been gazing lovingly over the Gjelina restaurant cookbook this week, an understandable side-effect of cookbooks photographed by Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott. That cover! Maybe I don’t even want to move to LA, I want to move into that cover, a tucked-in nest of fiery squash, protecting you from the slab concrete.
We should talk about the cooking too, and while it occasionally feels the tiniest bit formulaic, when that formula happens to be stunning gently charred vegetables, fish and meat, dabbed with something acidic (a yogurt sauce, bagna cauda, salsa verde and all of the other sauces I write across my heart), something rich (avocado, cheese, a bit of fruit), something fresh (herbs or another shaved vegetable) and something crunchy (seeds, nuts, crushed croutons, crispy onions, hiii ily), it is clearly in the service of greatness. I feel a responsibility to warn the home cook that sub-recipes abound (ocean trout rillettes has four; there are three within the rye rags with sausage, mushrooms and fennel that I’m going to make anyway because you read that title, didn’t you?) but there’s so much else in here for us — an enviable pizza section, a chickpea stew with tomato and turmeric I would swan dive into if I could — it would be a disservice to us to let this keep us away. The 30-deep vegetable section alone is worth the cover price; there isn’t a thing in there I don’t want to eat for the rest of my life.
Because I’m back in the kind of place where I roast sweet potatoes all of the time for children tiny and mid-sized, I was drawn to the yams first. They’re roasted in long wedges with a bit of honey, olive oil and a tremendous amount of pepper flakes (adjust to taste, of course) until singed and steak-like then drizzled with a sharp lime yogurt and thinly sliced scallions. For my purposes, I felt like I needed to add one more thing to make this more of a dinner centerpiece and that thing was chickpeas, roasted until crisp with smoked paprika and salt. My husband and I will unapologetically admit that we usually only eat sweet potatoes begrudgingly; they’re fine, but we mostly keep them around for the kids. Not this time. We didn’t even offer to share, just decimated the dish after they went to bed; my sole regret is having not doubled it so I’d have more left for today’s lunch.
One year ago: The ‘I Want Chocolate Cake’ Cake
Two years ago: Morning Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel
Three years ago: French Onion Tart
Four years ago: Fried Egg Sandwich with Bacon and Blue Cheese
Five years ago: Piña Colada Cake
Six years ago: Thick Chewy Granola Bars
Seven years ago: Hot Fudge Sauce and Red Kidney Bean Curry
Eight years ago: Escarole and Orzo Soup with Meatballs
Nine years ago: Baked Tomato Sauce
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Crispy Peach Cobbler
1.5 Years Ago: Strawberries and Cream with Graham Crumbles
2.5 Years Ago: Key Lime Pie Popsicles and Butterscotch Pudding Popsicles
3.5 Years Ago: Leek Chard and Corn Flatbread
4.5 Years Ago: Zucchini Fritters
Roasted Yams and Chickpeas with Yogurt
Adapted from Gjelina
You’re going to end up with more yogurt and more chickpeas than you probably need — or fewer potatoes. It’s all a matter of perspective, really.
Serves 2, hungrily, 4, humbly
3 large yams or orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, cut into 4 lengthwise wedges, or 8, if your yams are very thick
1 to 2 tablespoons honey (I used 1; 2 are called for)
1 tablespoon crushed red-pepper flakes (Espelette are called for; I used mild Aleppo)
1 3/4 cups (1 15-ounce can) chickpeas, drained and patted dry on towels
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Greek-style plain yogurt
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice, from approximately 2 limes
2 scallions, both green and white parts, trimmed and thinly sliced, for garnish
Heat oven to 425 degrees F.
Line two baking sheets with foil, for minimal mess. Coat one, the one you’ll use for the yams, with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Toss yams with honey, 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/2 tablespoon of pepper flakes. Let sit in bowl for 5 to 10 minutes. Toss chickpeas with 1 tablespoon olive oil, smoked paprika and salt, to taste.
Spread yams out on olive oil-ed baking sheet in one layer. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, until nicely toasted underneath. Flip/move wedges around and roast for 5 to 10 more minutes, until soft and singed. For extra color, run them under the broiler for a final minute.
Meanwhile, spread chickpeas on second uncoated baking sheet. Roast in oven for 20 minutes, rolling around once or twice so that they cook evenly, until lightly browned and crispy on the outside. Set aside.
Whisk yogurt, remaining tablespoon olive oil and lime juice together in a small dish, then season with salt and pepper to taste.
Arrange yams on plate or platter, drizzle some of the yogurt over, then about half the chickpeas. Garnish with scallions and remaining pepper flakes, plus flaky sea salt, if you have any. Keep extra chickpeas and yogurt on the side. Dig in.