I stock my kitchen the way survivalists in Montana stock their bunkers, except instead of industrial-sized cans of pork and beans or hundreds of pounds of dry milk powder I store lentils, dried chilies, olives, saffron, preserved lemons, Thai chili jam, a variety of olive oils and soy sauces, sea salts, esoteric grains, and enough frozen meat, fish, and poultry to last until doomsday. I am not proud of this -- this excess -- because it smacks of greediness, of a fear of deprivation, but I understand where that fear comes from: if you are told, from the time you can first understand what people were saying, that you eat too much, you learn to look at food as the thing  you shouldn't want. And when your plate is taken away even when you want more, you learn to look at food, forever, as the thing that can be taken away. So you learn to equate "plenty" with "plenitude": quantity becomes peacefuness -- if you were really loved, your childish brain tells you, no one would make you feel bad about wanting to put another bite in your mouth. You wouldn't hate yourself for it, either. All that shame at one's own hunger, instilled in you from your youngest days, is now assuaged by the fullness of your cupboards --  now you are a grown up and you can revert to that childish equation of food and love, and start loving yourself one can of imported tuna packed in olive oil at a time.

Thank goodness the consequence of this strange and sad calculation of enoughness is not gluttony, but preparedness. It means that at any moment, when the mood strikes, I can whip something up, seemingly out of thin air -- culinary magic! Or, at least, that's how it works in theory; my attempts at pantry cooking are still almost always brought to a screeching halt when I realize that I need the one thing I don't always have on hand.  When I was married and living on the Upper West Side of New York City, I could send my husband out to the greengrocer on the corner -- there were greengrocers everywhere! -- to get those things I forgot, but now that I am in my village, with the lazily-stocked grocery store some distance away, I've grown used to relying more on what I have and less on what I can get. Now that my tiny excuse for a garden is coming in -- I plant a few vegetables and lots of herbs in and among the flowers -- I can grab a handful of green beans, a few cherry tomatoes, some hot chilies, some parsley, basil, thyme, perhaps.

It all works out in the end. Amazing what can be concocted from a well-stocked pantry. Amazing how comforting it can be to know that there will always be enough for you, and for the people you love.

Makes 2 cups

1. Soak 1-1/4 c chickpeas in warm water for several hours or overnight. Drain water and rinse; put in a pressure cooker with fresh cold water and cook at full pressure for 20 minutes. Allow pressure to come down naturally. (Alternatively, boil in a pot for 1.5 hrs until very soft.) Reserve 1 c of cooking water, and drain chick peas in a colander.

2. Put chickpeas, juice of 2 lemons, 2 crushed garlic cloves, salt, and 4 TB tahini paste (sesame paste) in a food processor, along with kosher salt to taste (somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 tsp). Purée, adding the reserved cooking water as necessary to create a smooth and creamy texture.

3. Pour onto a shallow dish. Dribble with extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle with smoked Spanish paprika and some minced parsley, and serve with warm pita bread.

Eggplant in a Spicy Honey Sauce
Serves 4

This North African recipe, shamelessly stolen from Claudia Roden's excellent The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, is perhaps the best thing I've ever cooked or eaten; this was in part no doubt because I made it with an eggplant that I grew in my very own garden.

1. Cut 2 medium eggplants into 1/3" thick rounds (do not peel). Pour a generous coating (3-4 TB) of olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet; put the eggplant in one layer on the sheet, flipping over each piece so that both sides get covered with some of the oil. Broil the eggplant slices until lightly browned, flipping them over once. (The eggplant need not be cooked through; it will continue to cook in the next step.)

2. In a large skillet, sauté 3 cloves of garlic, crushed, until fragrant; take pan off heat. Add 1 TB grated ginger root, 1.5 tsp ground cumin, two crushed dried red chilies or a large pinch of cayenne pepper, 4 TB honey, the juice of 1 lemon, and 2/3 c water. Put pan back on medium-low heat and add eggplant slices in as close to a single layer as possible. Let the eggplant slices simmer and absorb the sauce, shifting them around so they all get a turn in the liquid.

3. When the sauce is absorbed and the eggplant is glossy and beautiful, remove to a serving bowl. Serve at room temperature, sprinkling with some chopped herbs (I use a melange of cilantro, mint, and parsley) and pita bread.

Green Beans with Crushed Garlic and Preserved Lemons
Serves 4

The green beans come from my garden, the rest I have on hand. You can find preserved lemons in the Middle Eastern/North African section of a well-stocked grocery store.

¾ lb fresh green beans
¼ c blanched, slivered almonds
1 preserved lemon
2 TB olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 small red chilies, chopped

1. Top and tail the beans, and cut into 1.5 inch lengths. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Salt the water generously (two big pinches, say), and add beans. When beans are bright green and tender, drain, and immediately plunge the blanched beans into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and reserve.

2. While the beans are cooking, toast the almonds in a small skillet; when golden, remove and set aside.

3. Rinse the lemon under cold water. With a sharp knife, remove the skin from the lemon and discard the pulp. Cut the peel into julienne strips.

4. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and the garlic. When the garlic sizzles and has become fragrant, add the red chilies and the blanched beans. Add salt and pepper, and toss in pan until beans are well-coated with the garlicky oil. Add preserved lemon and almonds and toss; adjust for seasonings.

5. Transfer to serving dish. Serve at room temperature.


Kat said…
I am obsessed with eggplant this summer. The eggplant with honey sounds delicious.
Katie said…
Sounds SO GOOD. I am missing you and and your beautify daughter and your food and your welcoming, warm, kitchen... Nothing like that here yet. Don't think I'll find anything to approximate it, really. But I can try to create a poor facsimile and start gathering folks here...
Anonymous said…
I found your site through a Google search for sai bhaji. The recipe was wonderful and I spent a happy hour poking through your site reading essays - so relate-able as a fellow semi-Sindhi, single working mother with Issues. I'm making plans to try some of your other recipes- I can't get that mushroom risotto out of my mind and and this eggplant dish looks truly mouth-watering. You're a wonderful writer. - Anita, Nashville
Kat, it's totally delish -- and I take no credit beyond having had the good sense to try out the recipe. I also like eggplant like this:
Katie! We miss you guys, too! And don't give up yet on finding the warmth you crave -- it's early days, love.
Anita from Nashville -- so glad you found me! I had no idea there was anyone who shared my experience so closely -- so comforting. Glad you've been enjoying the recipes, and the writing. Thank you.
Paul S.V.II said…
Will try the hummus recipe this week! <3