On the First Cool Evening

Some nights my body is so weary I almost forget about my love of food and wish there was a microwave dinner I could heat up. Then I remember that it’s not a microwave dinner I want at all, just the ease of it. I love my box of vegetables and my piles of produce from the farmers’ market, but they are undoubtedly more work.

There was food in the fridge that Chimp had made, so without the energy to cook I ate pasta, chickpeas and tomato-zucchini stew without ceremony. As badly as I felt, I decided I deserved extra cheese on my dinner. A lot of extra cheese.

I closed up the house at around 7 p.m., with the temperature starting to drop. Tonight’s the first night that turning the oven on has felt like a welcome idea. I put some figs in to roast, and pulled from the refrigerator the bag of shelling beans I got from John on Saturday. I sat down to get them out of their pods.

He had told me there were three types; I put three bowls in front of myself. I quickly found three types, then four, then five; I incorporated two similar types into one bowl, then two into another.

The pods were of varying maturities. Some peeled open easily and the beans fell into the bowl almost without effort. Others I had to pry open with great attention. Every so often I misjudged the amount of force needed, sending a loose bean careening into space in a grand arc. The cat watched one fly and sniffed it on landing. It was swiftly deduced that it was clearly not cat food nor a cat toy and it and subsequent missiles were disregarded.

I combined one batch of beans with another, coming down to two bowls. Eh, I figured, even if they have different cooking times and some get softer than others, they’ll still look pretty together.

The warmth of the oven began to reach my spot at the table, warming my back. I sat shelling, aware of the darkness gathering outside and the rising smell of the roasting figs with a sweetness like a batch of molasses cookies.

The beans went in a bowl and the pods went in a growing pile. I thought for a long time about a friend struggling with a still-evolving problem and the difficult decisions that lay ahead. I thought about how much more pleasant it is to think on others’ troubles than your own, and how much easier it is to solve others’ problems in your mind than your own.

The last of the pods snapped open, I looked at the two bowls. I decided the difference between them was not really important. I combined them into one.

I got up and took the figs out of the oven and watched their edges curl around their flesh as they cooled.

I decided I would cook the beans plain, with butter.

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What You Missed at the Market

About my absence: I am just swamped at work and it’s keeping me from doing much else. I’m not even cooking…Chimp has been keeping us fed.

Saturday was the first sweaterday at the market since the spring. It sure was nice.

I picked up some of these beans from John of Flower Garden of Madera. He said they’re three different types – I need to shell them still to find out what I’ve got.

I got a pint of jalapenos from Michele, thinking Chimp would certainly find something to do with them. He loves cilantro, lime juice, jalapenos, garlic and salt buzzed together into a fresh seasoning, as do I.

I also picked up another eggplant! I’ve been making this dal recipe that’s just been great – one more try and I think I’ll have it perfected.

Radish, Cucumber, Onion & Chickpea Salad with a Lemon-Parsley Dressing

Frankly, given how often I make this, it’s hard to belive it hasn’t made it to the blog before now.

This is one of my favorite dinner salads. We make it in spring, when the first radishes appear, along with green onions and green garlic. At that time of year, it tastes like a spring tonic after a winter of cooked green vegetables. The salad gets a rest during the height of the summer when the heat is too much for radishes here, and then it returns with the fall crop. This time of year, we use mature onions and garlic, and it’s a reminder that the days are starting to gather in.

Part of my love for this salad is that it’s super-easy – if the chickpeas are already cooked, it’s just a little chopping and getting the dressing ingredients into the food processor. Sometimes I’ll toss a little cooked grain into this salad – bulghur is my favorite, but quinoa or millet or even some cold brown rice would be nice. I do that – as I’ve mentioned before – because the grain picks up the dressing nicely and also gives the salad a bit more heft and a pleasant chewiness.

We had this with Yukon Gold potatoes from our CSA box that I roasted with olive oil and tossed with lemon juice, parsley and garlic after they came out of the oven. They were the sweetest-tasting white potatoes either of us had ever had.

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Chickpeas in a Curried Tomato Sauce with Black Mission Figs

Today, I figured out exactly what I should make with the rest of the figs that came in our CSA box from TD Willey last week, something I would really enjoy: a chickpea curry with tomatoes, figs and sweet spices.

Often, tomato-based curry sauces are sweetened with jaggery to tone down acidity and round out their flavor. That was the role I imagined the figs playing in this dish – I thought about the depth of sweetness they would deliver – it would be a caramelized note, a rounding note, but not a one-dimensional one like sugar provides.

And it turned out perfectly on the first try: a sweet-hot tomato sauce scented with coriander, ginger, cinnamon and anise, with background notes of cardamom and cloves. I have made a lot of tomato-based curries in my life, but I like this so well it might turn out to be a signature midsummer dish.

Only at the height of tomato season – because they’re insanely plentiful – can I bear to cook this many fresh tomatoes. The rest of the year, I wouldn’t buy fresh ones to make this; not only would it cost an arm and a leg, it just wouldn’t taste the same as what you can get out of a perfectly ripe summertime tomato. I use canned organic tomatoes the rest of the year in tomato-based sauces like this. It’s not the same, of course, but it means I appreciate the flavor of fresh all the more when I can have it.

Who knows – maybe this winter I’ll find myself making a canned tomato curry sauce with dried figs.

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Lemon-Sage White Beans Topped with Roasted Shallots & Frizzled Figs

I have figs on the brain, fairly, I think, following this weekend’s Fig Fest. I’ve been using the combination of figs and roasted shallots recently – I put both on a pizza recently along with blue cheese, which was great.

This idea sounded good, and it was, though I think if I did it again, I’d just enjoy the figs and shallots as a topping for the beans alone – the whole-wheat pasta was a little distracting.

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Corn, Tomato and Black Bean Salad with a Lime-Chipotle Dressing

We’ve been making salad for dinner. Given the heat, we’ve been making salad for dinner a lot. Last week, for instance, we managed to not turn on the stove for five consecutive days.

It’s fair to say that I have a bit of a taco salad problem. It’s been my favorite meal for, oh, about 20 years now. The way I satisfy that ongoing jag has shifted a bit, admittedly; this is light years away from iceberg lettuce in a deep-fried white flour tortilla.

But if you share with me a love for that spicy-cool-tart-crunchy-citrusy combination – not that I’m admitting to anything, but if, let’s say, you did something on the order of driving three exits down the Beltway to hang out at a fast-food restaurant that rhymes with Paco Hell in the middle of the night in high school, but have since turned your heart toward wholesome food – this is the salad for you.

This corn, tomato and black bean salad is one that can only be born at midsummer – it needs perfectly sweet-tart tomatoes, not to mention crunchy-sweet corn. Cilantro backs up the citrusy note of the lime-based dressing, and black beans and bulghur give it the heft that a main-dish salad should have.

Sure, the black beans make sense, but the bulghur might seem out of left field, right? It has a good reason for being there. It adds what I think is an essential chewy note, something that salads often lack. The bulghur fills that textural gap and makes the whole combination much more satisfying to eat.

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Chickpea and New Potato Salad with Shallot-Mint Dressing

I’ve always been puzzled by the heaviness of most potato salads.  It’s a summertime food, but the traditional mayonnaise-laden potato salad rarely reflects the freshness, herbaciousness and lightness I think summertime foods should have.

So though this is a potato salad, it goes for balance and bright, lively flavors rather than the starchy, heavy mayonnaisey strategy.  Shallots, fresh mint, lemon zest and garlic make up the dressing, chickpeas deliver a nutty flavor, and arugula a peppery bite.

This is quite the local salad – potatoes from T&D Willey, arugula and shallots from KMK Farms, garlic also from the market, lemon zest from my stash of Meyer lemon zest prepared during the winter from fruit from a friend’s tree. 

Chickpeas & mint are from WFM, as are the quite non-local pan-toasted slices of Cyprian Halloumi cheese served with it.  If you wanted cheese as part of this salad, a great many sheep’s milk cheeses would be a great match – from crumbled milky-salty Ricotta Salata to cubes of buttery-olivey Ossau-Iraty. Wish I knew of a local sheep’s milk cheese!

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