Thursday, April 26, 2012
A Girl And Her Pig, and a Lentil & Chickpea Salad
The other day I was talking with my friend Meg about being a "late adopter." We both have brand new i-phones and were discussing why (why?) it had taken us so long to bite the bullet and purchase one of these sleek new machines. It turns out we're also the kind of people that wait before buying a book we know we're going to love and abstain from heading the theater the first weekend a movie we're excited about is released. We decided maybe, just maybe, that there's a bit of stubbornness involved. That we don't want to be told we're going to like something, we want to figure it out for ourselves.
Such was the case with the new cookbook A Girl and Her Pig.
I rolled my eyes when it arrived. April Bloomfield is on the front, a pig draped around her neck like an elegant feather boa. She's a celebrity chef, known for her restaurants in New York (The Spotted Pig, The Breslin, The John Dory Oyster Bar), and her gutsy menus of Euro/British inspired pub food.
I had brunch at The Breslin in December. What I remember more than the food was the huge (beer pint sized) latte from The Ace Hotel's Stumptown Coffee. (It had been a long, late night.) I've walked by The Spotted Pig a dozen times. It's on one of those crazy corners in the Village that I don't think I could find if pressed, but always manage to stumble upon while wandering. I hear the burger at the Spotted Pig is killer, but I've never had it.
The point, of course, is that the decision that I'm not going to like April Bloomfield's cookbook is based on nothing but stubbornness. Thank goodness for a rainy Friday, a hot bath, and the Dalai Lama.
The book arrived in the mail on one of those days where the sky opens up and spews rain. Around 4PM, instead of going to my favorite yoga class, I sank into a steaming bath with the contents of the day's mail, including A Girl and Her Pig. I didn't care if it got wet because I didn't care about it. It was going to be given away or sold or something.
But then, I kind of liked it. The best part of the book, written with JJ Goode, it that it has a distinctive voice. I don't know what April Bloomfield sounds like when she talks, but sentences like this are written with such a strong voice I can hear and see her:
"I loved Sundays. That was when my nan had us over for roast lunch, often pork with all manner of veg, much of it copiously buttered. (The next morning, we'd make "bubble and squeak" with the leftovers, forming little patties and frying them up, then eating them topped with a fried egg.) And later there was tea, not just the drink, but the meal: my dad would set out a spread of cakes, like Battenberg and Mr. Kipling Bakewell Tarts, and crisps and sandwiches of strawberry jam or cucumber or ham."
There's also illustrations that look like they were cut from a 1960s cookbook, an energetic cursive font, and chapter headings that could have been twee (meat without feet; the not-so-nasty-bits; potato and friends) but are charming. Never mind that I'm never, ever going to roast a lamb's head or make a tongue sandwich. I'm inspired!
Enter the Dalai Lama -- or rather the Dalai Lama's brother. Sean drove off early Saturday morning to attend a "teaching" with the DL's bro. (Did you even bother to think if the Dalai Lama has a brother? He does.) And I drove off to have coffee with a friend. I wanted to share the cookbook with her, so I packed it with me. By the end of our date it was raining hard enough that I had an intense urge to hunker down, so I drove directly to the grocery store. In the parking lot I hatched a plan: I was going to make something from A Girl and Her Pig.
I picked, at random, the Lentil and Chickpea Salad with Feta and Tahini. This seemingly simple salad took longer than expected to execute, reminding me that sometimes these celebrity chefs aren't respectful of the home cook's time. But it was worth it. Bloomfield calls it a "jumble of different textures and flavors.... It's completely vegetarian, and yet somehow, when I take a bite the cumin, the funky cheese, and the sesame seeds all conspire to create a flavor that I swear reminds me of roasted lamb."
It is indeed savory, and good enough to eat alone, though we paired it with good sausages. I like to think that's what any self-respecting British celebrity chef would do.
Lentil and Chickpea Salad with Feta and Tahini
Bloomfield says, "you might be tempted to follow a recipe loosely --I know I often am-- but on your first go, please try it my way. Then once you've made it two or three times, feel free to tweak as you like."
For the lentils:
Scant 1 cup dried Puy or Casteluccio lentils, picked and rinsed over
2 large garlic cloves, halved lengthwise
2 sage sprigs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
For the dressing and salad
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1/2 large garlic clove
maldon or another flaky sea salt
2 tablespoons well stirred tahini paste
about 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 and 3/4 cups drained chickpeas, low sodium if canned
1/2 small preserved lemon, pith and flesh discarded, rind finely diced
1 very small red onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
A handful of small, delicate cilantro sprigs
A scant 1/4 cup feta, preferably goat's milk
1 and 1/2 tablespoons raw sesame seeds, toasted in a dry pan till a shade or two darker
Make the lentils: Put the lentils, garlic, sage, and olive oil in a small pot, along with 2 cups cold water, and set it over medium heat. Let the water come to a simmer (don't let it boil), then turn the heat to low and cook the lentils in a very gentle simmer just until they are tender -- about 25 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and let the lentils cool, then drain them very well and pick out and discard the sage and garlic. You'll have about 2 cups cooked lentils.
Make the dressing: Mix together the ground coriander and cumin in a small bowl. Mash the garlic clove to a paste with 1 teaspoon salt in a mortar. Combine the mashed garlic, the tahini paste, 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, 1 teaspoon of the ground spice mixture, and 2 tablespoons water in a bowl. Stir the mixture well. Have a taste and consider adding another teaspoon of lemon.
Assemble the salad: Toss the lentils with the drained chickpeas, preserved lemon rind, and 1 teaspoon salt in a large mixing bowl. Pour in the tahini dressing and toss it all together really well.
Put the onion slices in a medium bowl and break them up with your fingers. Sprinkle in 2 good pinches of salt, then add two teaspoons of lemon juice. Add the 2 remaining teaspoons olive oil and the cilantro and toss gently but well. Crumble in the cheese. Give it another gentle toss.
Scatter a few handfuls of the chickpea-lentil mixture onto a large platter in one layer. Scrape the onion and cheese mixture into the bowl with the rest of the lentils and chickpeas and toss it gently so the ingredients are well distributed but the cilantro stays pert. Scatter this mixture on top of the lentils and chickpeas on the platter. Sprinkle on some of the remaining spice mixture and then the sesame seeds and serve.