Who would have thought a broken refrigerator could teach me something about myself and my kitchen? When it died, last week, I transferred most of the perishables into coolers that lived in the backyard for three days, and I cooked as much as I could of what I had on hand.
Four days into this camping experiment, after much research and comparing, a new fridge was purchased and promptly delivered the following morning.
Like most American kitchens, mine has a built-in space where the fridge is supposed to slide in so I was constrained by the measurements the previous homeowners decided upon. I carefully measured and, once I found the model I wanted, I pointed out to the ever patient sales assistant that the fridge’s width was exactly the same as the opening and, hence, it wouldn’t fit. Why I believed him when he said the doors were slightly wider than the back and I wouldn’t have a problem is explained, not by my gullibility, but by my habit of purchasing objects based on their lines and how pleasing they are to my aesthetics, not on practicality. I figured I would solve the problem somehow.
Sure enough, my new appliance didn’t quite fit but I didn’t have the heart to ask the delivery men to take it back, after they hauled the damned thing up my steep driveway by hand as their van was too big. My first instinct was to call Juan, the handyman – then I thought “how hard can it be? it’s only a smidge of a frame that needs to be sanded off. I can do it.” Deep down, I harbored doubts as my DIY gene is not exactly well-developed, mainly because I lack the patience required for any manual labor lasting more than 30 minutes, cooking excluded.
Let’s just sum up the experience by saying that, on March 8, International Women’s Day, I celebrated my new-found independence from the handyman, by sanding for four hours non-stop: first, with the little machine I found in the garage and, two hours in, with little progress made, with a much larger, faster and heavier monster borrowed from a kindly neighbor. I briefly watched an instructional video on YouTube and then proceeded to work with no bathroom breaks, no food or water, propelled by an I-will-finish-this-if-it-kills-me spirit I hadn’t experienced in quite some time. When I finally pushed the fridge in its new opening, I was exhausted, my right arm was numb, my back killed me and I was covered head to toe in fine sawdust. And the kitchen was a disaster area in need of a UN rescue which required three vacuuming sessions, multiple mopping and an hour of scrubbing. I was still brushing dust off the spice rack this morning.
I will admit that, half-way through, I thought with great intensity of waiting for my husband’s return in a few days but not wanting to admit defeat I ploughed through. And, somehow lucid in my frenzy, the job looks professional enough, with straight lines unwarranted by my fury.
So, here is what I learnt:
- An old dog who can still learn new tricks;
- My determination is undiminished when I want something, which was a good reminder at this point in life;
- Refrigeration is overrated. There is food that can be cooked and kept at room temperature for a couple of days which won’t kill you. The spicy stew/soup I am offering here has it all: flavor, protein, vegetables and a low caloric content. And I subsisted on it for two and half days quite happily. My suggestion is to use dried chickpeas (about 200 grams/half a pound for 3 or 4 servings) and go to the trouble of soaking them overnight, as they retain a much nicer bite. But canned ones will work in a pinch.
- Start by making about three cups of vegetable broth, either by boiling some past their prime veggies or dissolving a couple of cubes in hot water.
- Saute a small, diced onion in some olive oil in a big soup pot. Add a peeled garlic clove and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes and powder ginger and cook for a couple of minutes.
- Add a diced carrot, small diced fennel and turnip and cook until the vegetables have lost their hardness. Then add a few spoonfuls of canned tomatoes, a little bit of turmeric, paprika, an itty-bit of cinnamon and cumin, a whisper of cayenne, the vegetable broth and the soaked chickpeas. Let simmer for about an hour. If the broth is being absorbed too much for your liking, add some water.
- Ten minutes before the chickpeas are done, add salt and pepper to taste, and the leaves (torn) from a bunch of kale or chard.
- The end result is a bit spicy and smoky and hearty but light. And a meal in itself, which I kept in an air-tight container for a couple of days with no mishaps.
This recipe was inspired by a much more convoluted one that can be found here.
Spice image courtesy of Giovanni Arcovito. Stew image from Prospect: The Pantry, a lovely cooking site (I didn’t think my recipe would turn out so good, so I didn’t take my own pics).