Monday, January 20, 2014

Call me old fashioned

Oh, it's a memory now - that bitter cold, that polar vortex. Thankfully. After mostly hunkering down and putzing about* through the coldest of days in early January, we are now finding some days here and there with sunshine; we are out skiing in thermal tops and getting some freckles on our cheeks. Sometimes we are ice skating, too, in the evenings in the dark with light snow falling (and then we come home to hot brothy soup). Yesterday we even fired up the grill on our little snowy patio long enough to torch some chicken wings. Winter isn't so bad like this.

But, it sure was damn cold for a while there.

*There was one exception to the hunkering down, though, and not on my part. On one of the windiest Sundays this month when the temperature was far below 0, Adam and his sisters were sitting in the bleachers at Lambeau Field watching the Packers play against the 49ers in the first week of the playoffs. Wackos. (Not to mention, they loved every second of it. Wackos.)

So I had that cold, bitter day to myself, and wanted to spend my time with cooking projects. I had been eying up a recipe for Hungarian cabbage rolls stuffed with browned meat, rice and sauerkraut, seasoned with paprika and topped with sour cream. Doesn't that sound right for a frigid day? However, Adam and his sisters were driving back from Lambeau Field that night, and he wouldn't be home until maybe 2 a.m. Call me old fashioned, but I decided not to have the apartment smell like sauerkraut when he finally walked through the door, tired and weary, and ready to crawl into our warm bed. They say romance is dead!

So, I went a different route to take advantage of my solo day. With Adam gone, I could cook a vegetarian dinner with no complaints. And that is what I did.

I made one of our classic standbys: an Indian-spiced tomato sauce baked with spinach, chickpeas and feta, served over basmati rice.

This must be the most comforting vegetarian meal in my repertoire. A curry tomato sauce with ginger and cilantro is spread into a baking dish, then topped with a layer of earthy spinach and then chickpeas, which become richly creamy and nutty after baking in the oven. The dish is topped with salty feta cheese, baked until piping hot and just starting to brown, and then served over basmati rice. It's light and packed with nutrients, but fills your belly on a frigid Minnesota day.

And your house will smell lovely when you're done.

Baked Chickpeas and Spinach with Tomato Sauce
Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman

Note: There is nothing difficult about this dish, but it does take a little time (largely unattended). First, you toss together the tomato sauce, and then let it bubble away on the stove until it has thickened. Second, when the tomato sauce is ready, you assemble the casserole, and bake it in the oven to meld the flavors and brown the tops of the feta cheese. If you can plan ahead, it would be great to make the sauce ahead of time. Or, make on a day when you have a little time before dinner needs to be ready.

Basmati rice, cooked (for serving)
1/2 tablespoon or so of butter (to grease a pan)
1 16 oz bag frozen spinach
1 batch of Curry Tomato Sauce (recipe below)
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese

If you haven't already made the tomato curry sauce, do that first and then proceed to the steps below.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and grease a 9x13 inch baking dish with butter.

First, get the basmati rice started - rinse the rice and cook according to packaged directions.

Second, in a medium saucepan, boil 1/2 cup of water. Add the frozen spinach and cover. Boil for 4-5 minutes until spinach is cooked through. Drain thoroughly and, when it cools, squeeze out as much moisture as possible.

Spoon the entire batch of tomato sauce into the greased pan. Next, spread the spinach over the sauce, then add the drained chickpeas over the top. Finally, scatter the crumbled feta over the top of the casserole.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the feta cheese is beginning to brown in spots. Serve spooned over basmati rice.

Curry Tomato Sauce

3 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
One knob ginger (about 2 inches), peeled and minced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeds removed, minced
4 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons sugar
About 4 cups canned diced tomatoes (28 ounce can + 14 ounce can)
1 14 oz can coconut milk, well shaken
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Pinch of salt

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and jalapeño; saute until onion is soft but not browned, 7-8 minutes. Stir in curry powder, chili powder and sugar; cook until spices are fragrant, just 1 minute or so. Stir in canned tomatoes and their juices and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Stir in coconut milk and cilantro; bring back to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened and tomatoes have broken down. You'll end up with a chunky, thick tomato sauce. Season with a pinch or two of salt to taste.