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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

NPR's How Low Can You Go Cooking Challenge and Me

I love the concept: great family meals for 4 for under $10.00. I heard the first one, chickpeas and spinach, on the way home from work. Sounded great! Here is the recipe:

9 ounces dried garbanzos (chickpeas)
Pinch bicarbonate of soda
6 garlic cloves, peeled and whole
1/4 cup Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces white sliced bread, with the crusts removed
2 tablespoons pimenton (Spanish sweet paprika)
1 pinch Spanish saffron
2 tablespoons Spanish sherry vinegar
1/2 pound spinach, washed and cleaned

1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and white pepper to taste

The day before you cook, soak the chickpeas in cold water with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda. The next day, drain and rinse the chickpeas.

In a big saucepan, combine the chickpeas with 2 1/2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for two hours, until the chickpeas are tender. Every 10 minutes or so, add 1/2 cup of cold water to slow down the simmering. By the end, the water should have reduced so it is barely covering the chickpeas. Turn off the heat and let sit.

In a small saute pan over medium to low heat, brown the garlic in 1/4 cup of the olive oil. When the garlic is browned, after about 3 minutes, remove from the pan
and set aside. Add the bread and brown on both sides, about one minute each side. Remove the bread and set aside.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Add the pimenton and saffron to the saute pan, and the sherry vinegar immediately afterward to prevent the pimenton from burning.

In a mortar, smash the reserved garlic and the browned bread to make a very thick paste.

Bring the chickpeas back to a low boil and add the spinach. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the pimenton mixture along with the garlic and bread paste, to create a thick, stewy sauce. Simmer for another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

Jose's Tips

When the chickpeas are soft and cooked, only about one finger's depth of water should remain in the bottom of the pan. If there is more, remove some water from the pan before adding the rest of the ingredients. By the way, if you're in a rush and want to make a successful dish without cooking for two or three hours,
you can use good quality chickpeas from a can or jar.

Recipe adapted from Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America by Jose Andres, published by Clarkson Potter.

If I hadn't made Mark Bittman's chickpea soup a few days ago, I would have made this one right away. Honestly, though, just under $10.00? Oh....the saffron. Without the saffron, this recipe would come in at under $4.00 and that's a stretch.

Really, the stretch often is to spend $10.00 on a home cooked meal. Tonight I am having Thai curry with shrimp. I explained how to make this earlier. I am also using a pack of frozen Asian-ish veggies that has been in my freezer for a while instead of my usual fresh. This will serve the two of us twice. Here is our cost breakdown:

shrimp (10 count is on sale for $3.80/lb!): 2.80
veggies (Steamfresh): 1.00
coconut milk: 1.00
Thai curry paste: 1.00
rice (a guess): 1.00

Total: under $7.00. Now I know I am always showing off about the low prices for fresh shrimp around here, but I also know you can get bags of frozen shrimp pretty cheaply anywhere, especially if you don't want the big ones. So you can still pull this off for under $10.00.

I can't wait to see what else the NPR chefs will come up with, but home cooks know that home cooking doesn't cost very much if you stick to in-season items and stay away from exotic ingredients and convenience items. The money you save will fund nice meals out or expensive ingredients or a nice bottle of wine.

Bon appetit.


Duchesse said...

So spanish! This recipe would be better (IMO) with a smidge of pancetta or shreds of serrano ham in it. Tasting it in my mids' eye, I would cut the cumin to avoid the hippie-casserole effect.

I sometimes wonder why people put cutting food costs as such a priority; it's great to manage food costs but cheap as the sole criterion isn't conducive to the art of the table. My DH, from a deep French culture, is mystified by this attitude.

Duchesse said...

On reflection, would not cut, just reduce the cumin.

Also- I understand cooking to a budget, and guess NPR thinks people with a heavy order-in habit might need help. But I am also a disciple of Michael Pollen's advice to buy good-quality food, local whenever possible.

clairz said...

When I first heard this series on NPR, I certainly thought that $10.00 seemed high for a home cooked meal for four. It's making me look more carefully at what I use to make a meal and how much it costs. Even though I'm cooking for two, I'll bet our suppers are usually way under $5.00, especially since most dishes provide ample leftovers.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse-You are right as always. I think the French roots of Louisiana cooking culture also lead to better eating. Great cooking is not all that expensive anyway, as you note (I think)--I love cumin, btw.clairz

@clairez--Thanks for coming by. I visited your blog and love it. My son has written about his cooking here and there on this blog.

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A good story

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I believe cheese and wine lovers should be told about this publication.