Improvising with a chickpea stew.

Chickpea stew.

I had a plan for last week, but I treated it more like a framework. Part of the plan included buying ingredients for a set of dishes that I thought would fill my week (and me) nicely. So far I’ve made the tuna salads, mash with meatballs, and this warm and soft chickpea stew. While I didn’t follow the dish schedule to the letter, I stayed within the ingredients that I bought for the week; I consider this a success, the framework succeeded in keeping the takeaway to a minimum.

Let me share this hearty Chickpea Stew, one of my favorite recipes of the week!

Ingredients

  • 60 grs. of dry chickpeas per person. In this case, I made 180grs for 3 people. (When hydrated they weigh way more!)
    All of the following ingredients are approximate recommendations, and it depends on what you like most. Really like onions? Add more. You don’t share my taste for garlic? Remove a clove or two.
  • Pumpkin. 2 small wedges, about 200grams.
  • 1/2 an Onion.
  • 1/2 a Carrot.
  • Salt, to taste.
  • Pepper, to taste, about 5 turns on my grinder in my case.
  • 1 Tomato.
    Optional toppings:
  • Parsley.
  • Pecorino or Parmesan.

I didn’t follow a particular recipe for this dish, it was a full improvisation mashing together some things I know:

  • Boil the dry chickpeas for 5 minutes, and then let them rest for an hour and a half (no fire!). Chickpeas are a particularly hard legume. You can substitute this step with leaving them on water over night. If you don’t do this, chickpeas will take much longer to cook.
  • Bring the water to a boil, and then simmer for an hour. No salt until this point, since it could make chickpeas tougher in the end, and in this case we want creamier. Put the lid on, but not all the way set on the pot, let some of the steam out.

While the chickpeas simmer:

  • Finely chop the onion and carrot.
  • Crush a few garlics. I like it a lot, perhaps too much, so I do 1 garlic per person.
  • Sweat the onion, carrot and garlic together by putting it on a pan with some olive oil over very low heat.
  • Cube the pumpkin.
  • Cut the tomato into wedges.
  • Optional: add tomato paste to the pot to get some red in there and, of course, more tomato flavor!

After an hour has passed, try the chickpeas, they should feel still a little bit tough, but edible. It’s ok, we’ll keep cooking them.

  • Add onion, garlic and carrot.
  • Add cubed pumpkin.
  • Simmer for around 35 minutes.
  • Don’t forget to test the broth, and add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Chop the Parsley if you’d like to have it as a topping, and add it to the served plates or put it on the table for everyone to decide if they want it.

Lessons from the quarantine: Meal Planning.

In the past few weeks I’ve noticed how eating home cooked meals has improved many aspects of my life. I get a sense of accomplishment from feeding myself and my friends, I lose weight because I’m conscious about portion sizes and use good quality ingredients, and I order junk food much less. I also noticed that the amount of food required to make me feel satisfied went down significantly, probably as a consequence of the portion sizes.

I’m still facing some issues, mostly related to consistency and cravings, which are closely related. When I start running low on ingredients it gets harder to improvise dishes and my mind starts going back to UberEats. I start browsing the app, and then just order whatever — usually junk in the form of burgers, but also poorly portioned Thai or Chinese food.

My hypothesis is that if I plan my meals and shop for the required ingredients ahead of the coming week, I’ll be much less likely to fall back to takeout. Another aspect of this hypothesis is that I should include one or two takeout meals, which I can fit into social activities, be it remote or with my co-habitants.

How?

I have already been cooking a lot since March, again because of the self imposed lockdown, so I know which are my favorite dishes to cook and eat:

  • Carbonara. The re al one, with guanciale, Pecorino Romano, pepper and eggs.
  • Lentils with rice. A real classic that really reminds me of home. This includes lentils, rice, pumpkin, some kind of broth and parsley to garnish. Optional is adding a fried egg, sausage or bacon on top.
  • Meatballs and mashed potatoes. Inspired by Alex’s Perfect Meatball series I started making a lot of meatballs, and my favorite companion for them is homemade mashed potatoes. These recipes require ground meat, stale bread or breadcrumbs, whole milk, Pecorino, parsley, pepper, salt, butter, onion, garlic. Optional: lemon and orange for  the tomato sauce, and basil.
  • Fake tabbule. I call it fake because it loosely resembles the real one. I use couscous, and add finely chopped cucumber, garlic, mint, and cherry tomatoes. While those are my minimum requirements, I also add whatever other veggies I have at hand as long as they’re good raw. This recipe requires no cooking, but chopping everything finely enough takes some time.

These are the dishes that I’ve prepared for myself most frequently, but there’s some other quick and easy recipes that I like a lot, including tuna salad, beans with spaghetti or “porotos con rienda”, pasta aglio e olio, chickpea salad, and when everything else fails, just eat chicken or fried eggs with rice.

My idea is to come up with a selection of the previous dishes that allows me to optimize the shopping, and perhaps even have some leftovers for dinner or the next day. For example, I can make a lot of meatballs and freeze some for the next time.

Execution: Ideas for Week #1.

Monday. Lunch: Tuna Salad Sandwich. Dinner: Meatballs with mash.
Tuesday. Lunch: Tabbule. Dinner: Lentils with rice.
Wednesday. Lunch: Chickpea salad. Dinner: Pastrami sandwich.
Thursday. Lunch: More chickpea salad. Dinner: Carbonara.
Friday. Lunch: Tuna Salad Sandwich. Dinner: Takeout.

Saturday and Sunday are reflection days, and can be used to figure out what worked and what didn’t, as well as to catch up with any unused ingredients: everything perishable should be turned into any combination of the dishes above. In the case of nothing being left from the week, the alternatives are ordering takeout or preparing the shopping for the next week early.

I don’t have breakfast other than a cup of coffee, so I’m not adding anything on that category, but that can be sorted by getting avocados and eggs, as well as a few extra pieces of bread.

Week #1 shopping list.

In terms of quantities a kilo of each big veggie, a few hundred grams of each herb, and whatever amount of canned or otherwise packaged goods is the minimum available (for instance, a 300gr can of cubed tomatoes) are good enough estimates.  Each meal will be cooked for 3 adults in this case, so that’s something else to keep in mind. Some of these items, such as the chickpeas, lentils and frozen pumpkin, should last a few weeks so future lists should be smaller if the base items don’t change.

  • Chickpeas.
  • Canned tomatoes.
  • Lentils.
  • Cucumbers.
  • Sandwich bread.
  • Guanciale.
  • Lettuce.
  • Cherry tomatoes.
  • Parsley.
  • Mint.
  • Red onions.
  • Bell peppers.
  • Frozen pumpkin. Fresh pumpkin is just too high maintenance.
  • Feta or any other creamy cheese for the salads, ideall goat’s.
  • Tomate.
  • Couscous.
  • Ground beef.
  • Mayonnaise.
  • Salt.
  • Pepper.
  • Potatoes.
  • Spaghetti.
  • Eggs.
  • Avocado.

Something to keep in mind is to avoid browsing too much outside of this list. Sometimes good things come out of that, for instance adding mushrooms which are very nice on a lot of dishes even if they’re not specifically mentioned in any of the recipes above, but on the other hand, by straying away from the framework the risk of wasting ingredients increases if the improvised purchase doesn’t fit into any dish or is forgotten because it wasn’t explicitly added beforehand. 

The list of ingredients above is very mediterranean, and mostly vegetarian,  keep this in mind when looking for alternatives to deviate a bit from the list for whatever reason. For instance, falafel, roasted chicken with lemon, hummus, tzatziki, pasta salad with tomatoes, and greek potatoes are all possible with this list, and those are just a few.

Expectations.

To summarize, I’m trying to prove that having a clear plan will enable me to avoid waste and takeout, and will keep me healthier. I don’t know how to test the latter, but I will keep track of how much is wasted and how many UberEats orders I make from Monday, and report back next week, with photos!

How journaling changed my perspective on writing.

I’ve been trying to establish a place for myself on the web for a while now. I started blogging in 2004 after listening to a popular radio host talk about it, and realizing that it basically paved the way for his media career. At the time, I didn’t know I was going to study two years of Psychology at a university, or that I would end up going to school for engineering, dropping out of that and in the end working as a Software Developer. The only thing I knew at that time, was that it sounded really cool to set myself up as this pseudo-intellectual teenager who wrote about his teenager problems online. I think that what I secretly wanted was to be found by someone, just like the popular radio host, and build a career founded on my talent for compelling writing — a delusion, for sure, although I’m giving myself a pass, because what more can I ask from a 16 year old?

For some reason I’ve been unsuccessful many times in trying to keep consistency in this online presence endeavor. Instead, I’ve started and immediately stopped quite a few times. I’ve written a few “Welcome to my Blog” posts, some “apology for the delay” posts, and then no abandonment posts, because who cares? So many people are online right now that it’s very likely that no-one will ever find my tiny nook on the internet, I will never be lifted into internet stardom by strangers.

What could be the reason for this failure to launch? Am I just not good enough at writing to share what I create? Boring to the point of not having anything interesting to say, even to a potential audience that will say or hear anything from anybody? It’s easy to fall for these thoughts, in fact I did, for a while, until my girlfriend gifted me my first fountain pen.

I’ve always liked making messes on notebooks. I carry one almost everywhere, and write down stuff that I don’t want to forget, stuff I observe, things I like and don’t like. Sometimes I make note of an email address, a phone number, a name. Other times I just jot the score for whatever game I’m playing with my friends. The arrival of the fountain pen in my life made a huge difference thought, mostly because it’s a pleasure to write with it. In the past 3 months, maybe encouraged a bit by the quarantine loneliness as well, I’ve written over a 100 pages of thoughts, feelings, tasks, and recipes. I noted a recipe for yogurt, and then one for the granola to put in the yogurt; I took notes about the books I’ve been reading, I’ve written about writing, and about the pen and paper I’m using, I’ve written about nothing and everything alike. Just like that, 100 pages went, something that I had never done before.

The consistency feels great, I see myself getting better at it. My handwriting is improving, and I’ve been becoming a bit more concise, but also much less critical of the mistakes I make. Much more importantly, I’ve realized now why my previous attempts failed: I was doing it for the wrong reasons. This is so embarrassingly obvious, but whenever I started a new blog, I would be writing a letter to some unknown person, in the future. I was expecting this unknown person to be so shocked by the content that they would come back, maybe even leave a comment or share, but this is not how it works. I see now that I have to write for myself, to remind myself of things, and to liberate myself from others. I had to rid myself of the expectations of fame and fortune, or even of modest ad revenue, and just deliver.

Journaling in my beloved notebook has taught me a lot. I feel less judgmental, I am more relaxed because I’m offloading some of the work that my brain usually does, I am building a record which I can consult and feed my nostalgia with, and I’ve learned why all my previous blogs have been a failure, and why this one is going to be a success. I’m setting the right expectations this time: I’ll write because I want to, and when I want to.