Spiced Chickpea Stew with Coconut and Turmeric and Plant-based Eating

 Watching: Reply All Episode #155 – Friendship Village

I don’t want to read your ramblings, I just want the recipe: Spiced Chickpea Stew with Coconut and Turmeric (this might also be paywalled – I’m really taking advantage of the NYT Cooking free trial that I’m not even sure how I enabled – so I copied the recipe below).

Star Rating: Three stars ⭐⭐⭐

At some point in the last year I was sucked into the Dax Shephard ‘Armchair Expert’ podcast. I can’t remember which episode I listened to first, and I definitely don’t recall loving it out of the gate, but overtime I’ve been wooed into those long episodes of meandering conversations. If there’s one episode I recommend you start with it’s this one with California’s first Surgeon General, Dr Nadine Burke Harris, talking about the impact that childhood trauma has on health and longevity. Certainly not a conversation I expected from that random dude on Punk’d.

I got a little behind on my listening and late last year while playing catch up I was taken by the episode with Jonathan Safran Foer. He was the novelist wunderkind in the early 2000’s who wrote ‘Everything is Illuminated’ and ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’. More recently he’s turned to non-fiction covering factory farming in ‘Eating Animals’ (highly recommended read), and climate change in ‘We Are the Weather’.

A few events coalesced very early this year which made me seek out more information about climate change – most notably the fact that the majority of my home country, Australia, is on fucking fire. Australia’s successive governments have ignored all climate change warnings and continue to be in the pockets of the coal industry, and it seems like this fire seasons we’ve really reaped what we’ve sown. Current estimates suggest that over 1 billion animals have died so far, and those that remain will not have an ecosystem to support them. It’s been the hottest year, in the hottest decade, on record. Fires have been burning for over two months without any sign of when they’ll stop. If this isn’t the time for action, I’m not sure when is.

I wanted to know what I could do on an individual level to reduce my impact on the planet. Recalling the topic of the podcast I listened to late last year, I downloaded ‘Eating Animals’ and devoured it (don’t worry – books are vegan) in a matter of days.

And something in that book changed me.

I’m not going to go into the science – I’ll misrepresent it, or get it wrong – but factory farming, beyond being incredibly cruel and producing meat with literal faeces in the flesh, is one of the biggest – if not the biggest – contributor to climate change. The logic of moving to a plant-based diet was so clear that it was hardly even a decision. One of the most impactful actions an individual can make to reduce their contribution to climate change is to significantly reduce, if not totally eliminate, animal products. (The other three are getting rid of your car, flying less, and having fewer children.)

Now, I love meat. Steak is delicious and tasty and incredible. Nothing makes me happier than seafood in all its forms. While I’m not a massive fan of pork chops or bacon, you can pile me up with salami, prosciutto, and jamon, and even though I know it’s really, really bad you could find me guiltily eating foie gras about once a year (and LOVING it).

I do have a head start on the dairy part, seeing as I haven’t been able to eat dairy basically my whole life, but especially in the last 15 years. Even a small amount will have me in the foetal position within 20 minutes so it’s a non-starter. I’ve been told that for most people moving to a plant-based diet it’s not the meat that’s tricky to avoid, but dairy. I have a decade and a half of experience doing that dance and this is literally the first time I’ve been thankful for it.

The only one animal product I’m really going to miss (and TBH I’m trying to source a workaround for this) is eggs. God I love eggs. But even if you buy ‘cage free’ ‘organic’ or ‘free range’ they’re still basically factory farmed. Example: for eggs to be classified organic in the US, the hens must be fed organic feed, must not be in cages, and must (here’s the kicker) ‘have access’ to the outside. This could be one square foot of outdoor area that’s only accessible via a tiny opening in an enormous, overcrowded structure which houses literally thousands of hens. The hens are still overcrowded, and while their living conditions are very slightly better than caged hens, it’s only by mere degrees of difference, and the chickens still suffer. Their feed and light is manipulated to optimise growth, and they still produce enormous amounts of waste which needs to go somewhere. If I can find a local source for some happy chickens then I will still eat eggs occasionally – but even with those I’ll be more mindful of my consumption because maybe eggs shouldn’t be an every day food?

So… what does that mean for what I’ll be cooking this year? My diet already contains a lot of vegan food, but everything I write about here is going to be vegan moving forward. Thankfully plant-based food is delicious, and something everyone should be encouraged to include more of in their diet whether it’s for health reasons, or climate, or simply to mix things up. I can’t promise that the food I like is going to be the same as what you like too, but what I can promise is to be honest about the things that I make. If they suck, I’ll say that they suck. If I’ve made changes to the recipes, I’ll outline them. And if I’m super enthusiastic about something (like these chickpea pancakes which I’ve been making for about two years now and feel as passionately about as I did when I first made them), you’ll know about it.

~~~~~~~

So after all that – on with the show.

I was meant to cook dinner at Emily and Andy’s on Monday this week. And then it snowed very lightly in Seattle which means the whole city shuts down and Seattle’s notoriously terrible drivers get even more dangerous. We rain checked for the following night, but more snow ensued, and then our re-reorganised Thursday night was also a bust, so I didn’t actually get to make this recipe for an audience as I’d hoped.

That probably wasn’t the worst thing, because while this was good, it’s going to need some playing around with to make it great. It was missing some kind of extra earthy spice base like cumin or curry to add to the turmeric and coconut – the flavour just wasn’t deep enough. I seasoned it only two out of the four (!!) suggested times and still found it to be a little salty, but I think I’m particularly sensitive to salt. When I make it again I’ll season once while sautéing the onions and aromatics, and then once more after the stew has reduced for about 30 minutes as I think it got too concentrated in the reduction process. I had some fresh coriander in the fridge so I added that as garnish with the mint, as well as some thinly sliced radishes because they needed to be used and have become my latest obsession. I finished it with a squeeze of lime which helped cut through the salt and made the whole dish a little brighter.

I served it with Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Medley, which was delicious AND a good source of iron. I was turned away from giving blood yesterday because my iron levels were too low, so now I’m paying special attention to how I can boost my intake. This is not something my body is doing in reaction to my new diet – I’ve been anaemic for ages, even while eating meat. If anyone has any hot tips (beyond the vitamin C one) for how to increase iron intake and absorption, I’m all ears.

Overall, there were elements of this dish I loved (the mashed chickpeas to thicken the stew especially) and I think it would be really great if the flavours were a little more robust. I’d also add another vegetable, like broccoli or zucchini, to bulk it up a little more.

If you’ve made it this far, well done. When I started this blog I promised myself the intros wouldn’t be any longer than three paragraphs because GODDAMN no one cares, but here we are.

Spiced Chickpea Stew with Coconut and Turmeric

INGREDIENTS

  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 (2-inch) piece ginger, finely chopped
  •  Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground turmeric, plus more for serving
  • 1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more for serving
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, kale or collard greens, stems removed, torn into bite-size pieces
  • 1 cup mint leaves, for serving
  •  Yogurt, for serving (optional)
  •  Toasted pita, lavash or other flatbread, for serving (optional)

PREPARATION

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and ginger. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until onion is translucent and starts to brown a little around the edges, 3 to 5 minutes.
  2. Add turmeric, red-pepper flakes and chickpeas, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, so the chickpeas sizzle and fry a bit in the spices and oil, until they’ve started to break down and get a little browned and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove about a cup of chickpeas and set aside for garnish.
  3. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, further crush the remaining chickpeas slightly to release their starchy insides (this will help thicken the stew). Add coconut milk and stock to the pot, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, scraping up any bits that have formed on the bottom of the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until stew has thickened and flavors have started to come together, 30 to 35 minutes. (Taste a chickpea or two, not just the liquid, to make sure they have simmered long enough to taste as delicious as possible.) If after 30 to 35 minutes you want the stew a bit thicker, keep simmering until you’ve reached your desired consistency. Determining perfect stew thickness is a personal journey!
  4. Add greens and stir, making sure they’re submerged in the liquid. Cook a few minutes so they wilt and soften, 3 to 7 minutes, depending on what you’re using. (Swiss chard and spinach will wilt and soften much faster than kale or collard greens.) Season again with salt and pepper.
  5. Divide among bowls and top with mint, reserved chickpeas, a sprinkle of red-pepper flakes and a good drizzle of olive oil. Serve alongside yogurt and toasted pita if using; dust the yogurt with turmeric if you’d like.

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