Habeas Brulee » Essays http://habeasbrulee.com Sun, 17 Mar 2013 03:04:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.21 Kabocha Beef Tagine with Chickpeas and Preserved Lemon http://habeasbrulee.com/2006/11/29/kabocha-beef-tagine-with-chickpeas-and-preserved-lemon/ http://habeasbrulee.com/2006/11/29/kabocha-beef-tagine-with-chickpeas-and-preserved-lemon/#comments Wed, 29 Nov 2006 16:12:36 +0000 http://habeasbrulee.com/2006/11/29/kabocha-beef-tagine-with-chickpeas-and-preserved-lemon/

The preparation for this dish must begin a month in advance, unless you already have a jar of preserved lemons lying around. The lemons are preserved in water and salt with a layer of oil on top, and for the first week you must shake the jar daily to redistribute the salt. After that, the lemons sit and cure. They must cure for at least a month before you can use them.

Under the cut, I have included instructions for preserving lemons and steaming couscous.

This is slow food. The long wait for the lemons to cure, and all the anticipation as you check in on them and tilt the jar to watch the increasingly viscous fluid flow. The soaking of the chickpeas overnight. The time taken to cut the meat and kabocha squash into chunks of equal size, and to grate the onions. The long, low simmering of the tagine. The rinsing of the couscous and the time for it to soak, followed by two or three steamings with additions of cold water and oil as you rub the lumps between your fingers to break them up. This is not the thing to make if you are in a rush, or not in a position to plan in advance.


All right, I confess: The kabocha squash was a last-minute thought, because we happened to have one lying around. You can use canned chickpeas instead of soaking dried ones overnight, and it will be fine. You should set up a jar of preserved lemons right now in any case, because you will think of something to do with them once they’re ready to be used. (For example, they’re brilliant when finely chopped and slipped under the skin of a chicken along with some garlic and parsley before you put it in to roast.) The tagine does take a few hours to simmer, but if you’re willing to eat late, you can get it started when you get home from work without a problem. A good vegetable cleaver makes the chopping go quickly, and costs less than $10 in Chinatown. Steaming couscous is a meditative, enjoyable task, and only requires a few minutes of attention in between steamings, with plenty of down-time where you needn’t worry about it at all.

It’s nice to think that we take the time to do things right, the slow way, the old way. It is also nice to think that we have time for activities other than work and cooking.

It can be frustrating to think about slow cooking when we lead such busy lives. My friends here and I are all typical overscheduled New Yorkers. Getting together requires taking out our calendars and planning weeks, if not months (and often, yes, it has to be months) in advance. Many of us work long hours, and when I get home from work, I’ve started to take on pro bono cases that fill my evenings. We take classes, go to events, spend time with our families and friends, and there is very little left for us.

It is strange to realize that my time is so much more valuable than it used to be. (This thought occurred to me as I was taking my time to sort cocoa nibs out from among bits of husk the other day, and realizing that I would rather spend a little more for pre-sorted, pre-roasted nibs in the future.) In school, I grew used to thinking of myself as having a lot of time, and very little money. Now, I have very little time, and a little more money, if not much. I have learned that sometimes I am willing to spend money in order to save time. A few years ago, I would never have considered that a reasonable exchange.

Still, we make it work. While tagines simmer, we work on other projects. When we go out, we make quick meals, and I can admit to having a penchant for frozen pelmeni. Dave and I try to set aside a weekend to ourselves once a month or so, where we slowly simmer stock for hours to freeze for later use, and cherish the time we have together without any other obligations as the stock cooks. We have to be fairly vigilant, or those weekends slip away too easily; there is always a last-minute invitation to an event we’d love to attend that weekend, and it is hard to turn those things down. But it is important to us to have that time together, so we do.

We want to make it work without having to sacrifice anything. We want to work hard at our jobs, spend time with our friends, work on many and varied projects, learn all there is to learn about the things that interest us, have time alone and time alone together, read constantly, and cook the sort of food that can’t come together in half an hour.

How do you make it work?

Kabocha Beef Tagine with Chickpeas and Preserved Lemon
(Adapted from Paula Wolfert’s basic beef tagine recipe.)
2 lbs. beef stew meat, cut into 1 1/4″ chunks
1 small Kabocha squash (the smallest you can find), peeled and cut into 1 1/4″ chunks
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 C vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp csípős (hot) paprika
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 pinch cayenne
2 onions, grated
1/8 C chopped cilantro
1/8 C chopped parsley
2 1/2 C soaked and peeled chickpeas (a/k/a garbanzo beans)
1 preserved lemon
salt and black pepper to taste

One month in advance.

Set up a jar of preserved lemons.

Get a jar, a carton of kosher salt, and a lot of lemons. Organic, thin-skinned lemons are better than regular lemons, and Meyer lemons are better still.

Pour about a tablespoon of salt in the bottom of the jar. Quarter each lemon the long way, making sure the cuts stop about 1/2″ from the stem end of the lemon, leaving the quarters still attached. Pack the cuts with plenty kosher salt, at least a tablespoon per lemon. Press the lemons firmly into the jar, pushing them down as much as you can. You only use the skin when cooking anyway, and you want to squeeze the juice out so that it will cover the lemons. If you like, you can still more salt in between layers of lemons. Fill the jar as tightly as you can. Add another tablespoon salt on top. Pour some olive oil on top to keep out the air.

If some lemons are still sticking out at this point, it is okay. Over the next few days the lemons will release more of their juice and settle down further. Shake the jar once a day for the first week to help distribute the salt. If after a few days all the lemons are not actually covered with juice, add more freshly squeezed lemon juice and/or weigh down the lemons with a non-reactive object such as a clay or glass weight or a ziplock bag full of water.

It is important that you not stick your fingers into the jar after you’ve finished filling it up. That may introduce bacteria to make it go bad. Paula Wolfert says that if the lemons go bad, they will smell like furniture polish, and otherwise they are fine.

Let the lemons cure for at least a month. You’ll notice that the liquid gets thicker and the lemons more translucent as the lactic acid fermentation takes place and the pith begins to dissolve in the brine.

Once you open it up again, keep the jar in the fridge from then on. They probably don’t do that in Morocco, but I do, just in case.

When you use the lemons, you peel out the pith and flesh and throw them away. It is astonishing how easily they part from the skin. Then you rinse the skin well to remove the oil and brine, and you can use it in many dishes.

One day in advance.

Soak dried chickpeas overnight. If you are using canned chickpeas, skip this step.

Starting the tagine.

Remember, a tagine must be heated slowly and cooled slowly. Never add anything cold to a hot tagine or hot to a cold tagine.

Put the oil, spices, grated onion, and herbs into the tagine and stir them into a homogenous paste. Add the chunks of kabocha and coat them in the paste, then remove them. Add the chunks of beef and coat them, then pile the beef in the center and bottom, and pile the kabocha chunks on top.Add very little water; when you check in on it, you want to always make sure it has just enough water to keep from burning, and no more.

Turn the heat on low under the tagine. Bring it up to a slow simmer. Simmer it for several hours, or until the beef is tender. Check in on it from to time, adding water if need be (which is very unlikely).

Prepare the chickpeas (if you are using dried ones)

If you are using dried chickpeas, boil them in lightly salted water until they are tender.

If you are using canned chickpeas, just drain and rinse them.

Rub the chickpeas to remove their skins, and set them aside until later on.

An hour (for two steamings) or hour and a half (for three steamings) before the tagine is done.

Rinse the couscous in a lot of water. Drain the water, and leave the damp couscous to absorb what remains for about ten minutes. Spend the next ten minutes raking through the couscous as it continues to dry, breaking up any lumps with your fingers.

Steam the couscous over broth or water for twenty minutes. I covered the steaming rack of my rice cooker with a paper towel and poured the couscous onto it. Leave the couscous uncovered as it steams.

Pour the couscous out into a deep baking pan or large bowl. I like to wear nitrile or latex gloves for this step to protect my hands from the heat. Cover your hands in olive oil and add cold water slowly, raking the couscous and breaking up any lumps with your fingers as you do so. The couscous expands more from the cold water it absorbs during the raking than it does from the steaming. The oil you are rubbing into the couscous helps keep the grains separated. Add enough cold water for the couscous to stay damp and absorb, but not so much that you soak it. For two cups of couscous, I probably added about a cup, cup and half cold water.

After about ten minutes of raking, return the couscous to the steamer. Steam twenty minutes, uncovered. Remove from the steamer and repeat the process above with the cold water and oil and raking. At this point, you can either serve the couscous or return it to the steamer for yet another twenty minutes of steaming followed by another addition of cold water. For store-bought couscous, two steamings is certainly adequate.

This process makes couscous that is fluffy, silky, and tender. It is entirely unlike couscous cooked in water according to the instructions on the package. Yes, this method takes some time, but most of it is spent ignoring the couscous as it steams, and it is worth the effort, at least for me, and at least once in a while.

Half an hour before the tagine is done.

Pull the pith and flesh from one preserved lemon and discard. Rinse the peel well. Chop the peel finely, leaving some long slices for garnish.

Note: The preserved lemon flavor becomes very strong after the leftovers spend a night in the fridge. If this worries you, use the peel from only half a preserved lemon instead, or invite enough people over to avoid having leftovers.

Stir the chickpeas and preserved lemon into the tagine, and let it continue to simmer until done.

http://habeasbrulee.com/2006/11/29/kabocha-beef-tagine-with-chickpeas-and-preserved-lemon/feed/ 9
In Defense of Picky Eaters http://habeasbrulee.com/2006/10/23/in-defense-of-picky-eaters/ http://habeasbrulee.com/2006/10/23/in-defense-of-picky-eaters/#comments Mon, 23 Oct 2006 15:28:49 +0000 http://habeasbrulee.com/2006/10/23/in-defense-of-picky-eaters/

Barbara recently posted about how picky people are a huge pet peeve of hers. She was inspired to write about this by Amy, who wrote about how picky eaters make her a bit crazy. There was even a recent Washington Post article which implied that picky eaters are rare and suffer from some sort of disorder or childhood trauma. It always astonishes me that some people are so intolerant of the food preferences of others.

Barbara did explain in a later comment that it is people’s behavior with regard to their food preferences, and not the fact that they have those preferences in the first place, which actually bothers her. Her further explanation makes her view even clearer. That is a stance I entirely understand, because poor manners are unpleasant to be around no matter what their cause may be. But I do not understand feeling put out simply because the people around you like eating some foods and not others.

This is a conversation that comes up often in my household. My partner, Dave, asked at least one of our guests at our housewarming party whether they had any “eating disorders.” By this, he mostly meant that he wanted to know if they were vegetarian or kept kosher. I was a bit concerned, seeing as how we did have one guest who not only kept kosher but also had a history of bulimia. But even she was relaxed, and just laughed at his choice of words when she overheard him.

Mind, he is perfectly happy to keep track of people’s culinary likes and dislikes and cater to them. He was thinking of programming a database to help us to do so when we host large meals. He himself is probably as picky as I am, in different ways – he won’t eat cheese at all, or eggplant, or most pasta (Japanese noodles are the exception), or potatoes in most forms, or most salad, or olives, or raw tomatoes, and I have had to work at introducing him to more and more vegetables that he can enjoy.

What upsets Dave are not picky eaters, but people who have dietary restrictions with no basis that he happens to consider understandable, and which get in the way of social interaction via shared meals. He considers sharing a meal to be extremely important in developing friendships and bonds with other people. Feeding people is what he does. And when something gets in the way of that for reasons that he can’t understand (say, religion), he feels like his offer of friendship has been in some way rejected, which bothers him quite a lot.

But mere pickiness based on tastes and preferences? He sees those the way I see all sorts of dietary restrictions – as a puzzle we can enjoy solving in order to create the best possible dining experience for our guests.

As you can see, this is something that we end up discussing quite a lot, even as he spoils me by dissecting the fat off of bacon or picking all the mushrooms out of my portion of the food. He is very indulgent, my love is.

I once accused him of only keeping me around because I offer him a challenge in feeding me.

“I love you for other reasons, too!” was his reply.

See, I may be a creative cook and an adventurous eater, but I often describe myself as picky. I can’t stand the taste of peanuts, or oranges, or avocadoes, or pineapples, or pickles (of the used-to-be-cucumbers sort), or mayo, or anything that tastes like licorice. I don’t eat mushrooms, eggplant, or nuts because I find the texture to be unbearable – though I’ll eat things made with mushrooms that are big enough to eat around, and ground nuts in things (or pecan pie, where the nuts change texture dramatically) are fine with me.

The smell of canned tuna fish truly makes me feel physically nauseous. I was stuck on a boat out on the wine-dark sea last summer, with the captain smoking at the bow and everyone else eating canned tuna fish at the stern. I spent an hour or so out in the center of the boat, just below the mast, getting a fine sunburn while trying to breathe.

I tend to avoid olives, uncooked tomatoes, salads, and strong cheeses, because I usually don’t like them, but I will try them anyway on the off chance that my tastes have changed or that the one being offered is an exception. I used to say I didn’t like pork except in Chinese food, but by being willing to try it when people cooked it for me, I discovered that I can actually enjoy it in just about any formation except for pork chops. And I recently learned that I enjoy a salad of mixed baby greens with roasted beets, mild chevre, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.

I try to avoid acting like a jerk or a child when it comes to these things. If someone asks for my food preferences, I’ll let them know. I personally want to know my guests’ food preferences, so that I can be sure to make things they are more likely to enjoy. I can order from the menu almost everywhere I go, and if I order off-menu, it’s only to the extent of asking for no nuts or no mushrooms on top of some dish. I can usually just pick around the stuff I don’t like.

I don’t sit around going “Ewwwwww” about things. I did that as a child, but I grew out of that phase eventually. I just avoid the things I don’t like and eat the things which I enjoy.

Thing is, my preferences are my preferences, and I’m allowed to have them, and I don’t really understand why I should feel bad over having them. I have a fairly wide palate, and I’m very adventurous and into trying new things. If you have been keeping up with this blog, that should come as no surprise to you. But there are things I have tried and not liked and feel no desire to eat again, and I just don’t see anything wrong with that.

http://habeasbrulee.com/2006/10/23/in-defense-of-picky-eaters/feed/ 27
What Makes a Formal Dinner http://habeasbrulee.com/2006/04/03/what-makes-a-formal-dinner/ http://habeasbrulee.com/2006/04/03/what-makes-a-formal-dinner/#comments Mon, 03 Apr 2006 17:45:33 +0000 http://habeasbrulee.com/2006/04/03/what-makes-a-formal-dinner/

If posting is sparse for a while, it’s because we just moved to a new place and this week they’re painting our new kitchen, so it will be a few more days before we can get in there to unpack the kitchen stuff and start cooking. In the meantime, I’ll simply do my best, even if all we have made in the new place so far was lemonade to drink together out of a mason jar in the backyard. We traded the jar and my laptop back and forth, mooching internet access off a neighbor, as we do not yet have our own.

Anyways, here’s a photo and essay from the vaults.

Dave and I wanted to host a formal dinner party last New Year’s Eve, and we had a bit of an adventure trying to determine what makes a formal dinner. In the end, of course, I turned to Miss Manners.

I have trusted Miss Manners implicitly ever since I first read her response to the lady who wrote in asking what she should do when her husband wishes to kiss her after having eaten garlic and developed strongly odorous breath.

“Well, Miss Manners isn’t going to do it for you!” wrote Miss Manners. My hero! She should have also pointed out that anyone who minds garlic breath is not worth kissing at all.

In her Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Miss Manners set out a list of the fourteen courses to be served at a formal dinner. They are as follows:

1. Oysters or clams on the half shell. Fruit or caviar may be served instead.
2. Soup, giving each guest a choice of clear or thick.
3. Radishes, celery, olives, and salted almonds.
4. Fish, served with fancifully shaped potatoes and cucumbers with oil and vinegar.
5. Sweetbreads or mushrooms.
6. Artichokes, asparagus, or spinach in pastry.
7. A roast or joint, as we say, with a green vegetable.
8. Frozen Roman punch, to clear the palate and stimulate you to go on.
9. Game, such as wild duck or little birdies, served with salad.
10. Heavy pudding or another creamed sweet.
11. A frozen sweet. It is a nice touch to have tiny crisp cakes with this.
12. Cheeses. with biscuits and butter. Or you may serve a hot savory of cheese, which is more filling.
13. Fresh, crystallized, and stuffed dried fruits, served with bonbons.
14. Coffee, liqueurs, and sparkling waters.

We followed her guidelines, more or less, but I don’t think we would do so in the future. Formal dinners no longer need follow such rigorous guidelines. Miss Manners may consider that a great shame, but it seems to open the door to far more creativity. We could have such fun serving a vast array of very small tasting dishes to be shared among the guests, and play with all the diversity that allows.

But perhaps we lose something by being so used to small, very different sorts of dishes being served at each meal. My father likes to tell me that when he was growing up, he thought of each record as a work that made sense when listened to in its entirety, each song in order. Each song led into the next, and the record as a whole was the work of art. But I always rip my CDs immediately after purchasing them and listen to the mp3s on shuffle. So many of us have lost the ability to hear a record as more than just a jumble of songs, or a meal as more than just a jumble of dishes.

I know how to cook individual dishes that work in themselves, but I don’t know how to plan a meal where the courses lead each into each in a rising crescendo of taste, until the coda of coffee in the end. I still consider Miss Manners’s fourteen course list to be too restrictive, but it was a good starting point in my quest to learn how to put together a complete meal. I will certainly post about other good resources on this as I come across them.

In case you were wondering, the little birdie in the photo was a seared quail with cranberry vinegar reduction. When that course was served, our guests very formally and correctly put down their silverware and ripped into the little birdies with their bare hands.

http://habeasbrulee.com/2006/04/03/what-makes-a-formal-dinner/feed/ 4