Chorizo, Chickpeas, Clams & Potatoes

Time is galloping. My thesis is plodding.

I have two days left in which to spit it all out on paper–or, rather, onto the screen. This is an internal deadline, but one that is crucial to my mental health. I have promised myself that, if I can bang out a serviceable rough draft by the time I make my presentation on Tuesday, I can take a couple of days off to reconnect with the world before I buckle down and finish my damn degree.

I started this blog five years (minus six days) ago, when I had been admitted into the master’s degree program in Food Studies at NYU. I was giddy, impatient and somewhat terrified at the prospect of being back in the classroom after 16 years. Would I be the oldest one there? Did I remember how to write an academic paper? How would I find my classroom? Had my study skills miraculously improved over the past couple of decades? Did I need a new set of crayons and a protractor? Would I ever figure out the newfangled computer systems?

It’s strange to look back at those first entries and glimpse an earlier version of myself. A lot has happened in the intervening years. I passed 40 and kept right on aging. I left my job as Executive Director of one nonprofit organization in order to lead another. I left that organization and struck out on my own as a consultant and teacher. I lost the tiny and impossibly sweet cat that had been with me since my early years in New York City and gained a bolder, fluffier model. I wrote a lot of papers. I took an unexpected departure into art and performance. I chalked up more than my fair share of learning experiences on the romantic front. I overcame my fear of public speaking. I learned that I could, in fact, love a second nephew just as much as I love the first. I broke an ankle and an indeterminate number of toes. I raised upwards of five million dollars. I made lifelong friends who may actually be more food obsessed than I am. I read so many books that the wall nearest my dining table is an endlessly rotating literary staging area. I took a few epic trips–to Argentina, to Paris, to India, and to Nahunta, Georgia to see a man about a grill. I finally mastered the poached egg.

Tonight I declared the research phase of my thesis over and got serious about writing. But first, I made dinner.

Chorizo, Chickpeas, Clams & Potatoes

  • 24 small clams
  • 12 new potatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil.
  • 2 links fresh chorizo, uncased
  • 1 large leek, rinsed and chopped
  • four cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon hot paprika
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas (If you didn’t happen to reserve some chickpeas from the massive batch of hummus you made this afternoon, canned will suffice.)
  • 1 cup white wine or rose
  • 1 handful flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper (maybe)
  1. Sort through your clams, making sure that any that are open close back up when tapped. Give them a rinse and place in a bowl covered with cold water for at least 20 minutes. I added some cornmeal and a hefty dose of sea salt, but suspect neither is actually necessary to the purging process. The goal here is to get the clams to spit out any sand they may be harboring.
  2. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil and toss the potatoes in. Cook just until tender and then drain.
  3. Bring a large cast iron skillet up to medium heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil. Then add the chorizo, breaking it into chunks with a wooden spoon. Stir frequently. When the sausage has started to give up its fat, add the leek and continue to stir frequently. After a couple of minutes, add the garlic. If the pan gets dry, add some more olive oil. When the leeks have softened but aren’t yet brown, add the paprika, thyme and potatoes. Stir to combine, positioning as many of the potatoes as you can cut-side down. Cook without stirring until the potatoes start to brown. Stir in the chickpeas and wine. 
  4. Rinse the clams under cold water, taking care not to stir up any of the sediment at the bottom of the bowl. Nestle the clams in the pan and cover. If you don’t have a lid that fits, foil will work just fine. Check them after five minutes, giving a quick stir to move any that haven’t opened toward the boiling spots. When all of the clams have opened (or you’ve given up and discarded that stubborn one), remove from the heat.
  5. Give it a taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with some crusty bread to soak up the juices.

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Sweet & Sour Curried Chickpeas with Spinach

Sometimes just making it to Friday night seems like a Herculean feat. I came home bruised, battered, and hungry. While I had just about made my way through the Homemade Hummus from last weekend’s chickpea extravaganza, I still had a pint and a half of whole chickpeas left to consume. Today was bitterly cold and I found myself craving something warm and spicy.

Sweet & Sour Curried Chickpeas with Spinach

  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon whole coriander
  • 1/2 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tablespoon whole fenugreek
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil (Ghee or some sort of vegetable oil would be fine.)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 knob (large gumball sized) ginger, minced 
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 1/2 tablespoon garam masala
  • 1/2 pound dried chickpeas, cooked, with liquid (You could use a couple of cans in a pinch, but the texture will suffer.)
  • 2 tablespoons dried tamarind (If my crappy grocery store has it, yours will too.)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • salt
  • 2 bunches fresh spinach, roughly chopped
  1. Bring the oil up to medium heat in a medium-sized heavy-bottom pot. Add the onion and sauté stirring frequently. After a few minutes, add the ginger and jalapeño. 
  2. Meanwhile, toast the cumin, coriander, fenugreek and peppercorns in a dry cast iron skillet, shaking frequently, until they begin to pop and release their smell. Grind these using a mortar and pestle or an electric grinder.
  3. Add the garlic to your onion mixture. Stir constantly for about one minute. Then add your ground toasted spices plus the turmeric and garam masala and continue stirring for one minute, allowing the spices to hydrate in the oil. 
  4. Add the chickpeas with their liquid, the tamarind, the sugar and a nice pinch of salt. (There is probably some dentist-approved way to handle the tamarind, but I just tore it into small pieces with my hands and then fished out whatever seeds I could spot as the fruit disintegrated into the sauce. I recommend doing a better job than I did, though I managed to avert a trip to Dr. Czarnik.) Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and let simmer for a while, adding water as needed.
  5. This is a good time to put some rice on. (While basmati would be traditional, I used some brown Jasmine rice, because that’s what I had, and added turmeric and salt.) When your rice is just about done, taste your chickpeas and adjust the seasoning with salt and sugar as needed. Then add the spinach in batches, stirring to speed the wilting process, and cook until the leaves are just tender.

The resulting meal was a delightful mashup of my favorite Indian takeout dishes. But, with no dairy and just a tablespoon of oil for about four servings, it was much lighter–which is a good thing when you need to buckle down and write a paper at the end of a very long week.

Sweet and Sour Curried Chickpeas with Spinach

Homemade Hummus

As previously reported, I spent six months studying in Jerusalem while in college. This was back in my vegetarian days, and Israel is a great place to be a vegetarian. While the majority of the Jewish population is secular, kosher tradition holds, meaning that most restaurants are either meat or dairy. On top of that, Middle Eastern food embraces legumes and vegetables.

Being the child of hippies, I’d already consumed a lifetime worth of chickpeas. But the hummus in Israel was a revelation–creamy, rich and flavorful–and I indulged with abandon. This came with a price; back in the States, I couldn’t bring myself to eat the lazily mashed canned chickpeas that my college cafeteria tried to pass off as hummus. Even in New York City, where I eventually settled, truly delicious hummus proved elusive.

At some point, hummus started popping up in Korean delis and the fancier cheese sections of grocery stores. I tested them all. Some were as bad as the salad bar glop of my coed days. Some were serviceable. But none were inspirational and, after a tub or two, I always reverted to making my own.

About ten years ago, by sheer accident, I found it: hummus like I remembered. It was a tiny shop just south of Washington Square Park and up half a flight of stairs. A couple of weeks later, over drinks, I announced to my buddy Alex that I had discovered Jerusalem-quality hummus right in the middle of Greenwich Village. Alex interrupted me to announce that he had, in fact, recently found the best hummus in New York City in the East Village. Already a couple of drinks into the evening, we proceeded to argue for the superiority of our individual hummus spots for what must have seemed an eternity to the people seated around us.

It turns out that we were arguing over the same hummus. Ori Apple, an Israeli who bemoaned the lack of good hummus in New York City, had opened the first two locations of Hummus Place just months apart. I am happy to report that, since then, a number of good hummus restaurants have opened around the city.

But I still enjoy making my own. While I don’t really have a fixed recipe, I have learned a few things over the past 20 years. First, and this is truly important, don’t use canned chickpeas. The texture and flavor will be off. Trust. Second, use good quality tahini. (I suspect that this may be the secret to Hummus Place’s magical concoction.) Third, use plenty of liquid. Finally, let the food processor run for longer than you think reasonable.

Here’s what I whipped up this afternoon, but feel free to make it your own. So long as you cook the chickpeas enough, it’s honestly hard to screw up hummus. Just keep tasting and tweaking.


Jasmine’s Hummus

  • 1 pound dried chickpeas (or, if you are a sensible person, half that)
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 3/4 cup tahini
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 bunch curly parsley
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon hot paprika
  • juice of 1 lemon (or a tablespoon or so of white wine vinegar in a pinch)
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon sumac (optional)
  1. Before going to bed, dump the chickpeas into a bowl and add enough water to come at least a few inches above the beans. (You could look them over for rocks or odd-looking beans, but it’s late. You’re sure to spot anything amiss tomorrow when you are better rested.)
  2. In the morning–or whenever you are good and ready for a little procrastination–drain and rinse the beans. Add them to a large pot, top with plenty of water, toss in the peeled garlic and the red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Let this go for an hour or so while you get back to whatever duties you have been shirking.
  3. Test the chickpeas. If they are tender, add a tablespoon or so of salt and then let them simmer for another 15 minutes. The water should taste fairly salty.
  4. Realize that you are in danger of making a truly obscene amount of hummus. Scoop half of the chickpeas and some of the liquid out. Refrigerate or freeze for future use (in a soup, stir-fry, curry, etc.).
  5. Dump the cooked garlic and the remaining chickpeas into your food processor, making sure to reserve the cooking liquid. Add the tahini, sweet and hot paprika, lemon juice, sumac (if you have some), plenty of black pepper, and whatever else your heart desires. Pour about half a cup of the cooking liquid in and process away. Let it run for five minutes or so, adding more liquid as needed to achieve a loose but not soupy consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

I ate this for dinner tonight, topped with a tangle of roasted broccoli rabe. Good stuff.

Hummus and Broccoli Rabe

Summer Solstice Salad

Yesterday was the summer solstice. Here in New York City, we hit 97 degrees though it apparently felt like 102. Con Edison warned of likely power outages. My coworkers and I did our part by working with the lights off, which had a calming effect on an otherwise nutty day. I worked late, but it was still steamy by the time I got off the train in Brooklyn. It was 8:00 and I was hungry, but there was no way I was creating any more heat in my stuffy apartment.

Summer Solstice Salad

1 scape, thinly sliced (shallots, garlic and red onion would all work here)
1 tablespoon Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon good quality olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon dried oregano (fresh would be even better, as would Italian flatleaf parsley, chives, etc.)
Pinch sugar
Fresh-ground pepper
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 sweet red pepper, minced

  1. Combine all but the last two ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously. Then combine with the chickpeas and red pepper in a bowl.
  2. Now root around the fridge and pantry and see what you’ve got. I had some red leaf lettuce, baby heirloom tomatoes, feta and oil-cured olives. Hearts of palm or artichoke hearts would have been an excellent contribution from the pantry.
  3. Pack half of your lightly marinated chickpeas away for a future snack, toss everything together in a wooden bowl, and grab a fork. I find that salad for one is best eaten directly out of the bowl.

Midway through my meal, there was a gentle rap at the door. I grabbed my trusty wooden bowl and the remaining strawberries and joined my neighbors on the roof. The sun was just finishing its descent and there was a cool breeze in the air. Wine was poured. Plants were watered. Berries were eaten. And thus concluded the longest–and perhaps hottest–day of the year.