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Sep 12, 2001 04:11 PM

comfort food for troubled times

  • p

yesterday my whole household stayed home, huddling around the phone and staring at the television. Several friends of ours came over after work rather than go home alone. I ended up putting together a meal for everyone and it made me realize how important good simple warm food can be, especially in times like these.

I made an Indian dish called a charchari, which is a big pot of vegetables, spices and water that is cooked unstirred until the veggies cook, the water evaporates, and the bottom chars a bit. Simple to cook (and really delicious) but very time-consuming, so while everyone waited, I cooked some quick greens as a first little course, and when more people showed up later, I cooked some red lentils as well so that everyone would have enough to eat. I'll not list the charchari here, since it's a bit long (write me if you'd like the recipe), but the greens and the lentils are worth a mention since they're cheap, easy, and good. Feed your friends.

Greens a la Wilcoxen
Wash a bunch of greens (kale, chard, etc) and strip away and discard the stalks. Tear the leaves into pieces. Drain off excess water. Slice thinly three or four cloves of garlic. Get a large stockpot. Cover the bottom of the stockpot with a thin layer of tamari or soy sauce, add the garlic, and turn on medium heat so that the garlic warms in the tamari. Once it's bubbling or reduced a little, toss in the greens, stir, and cover. Leave to cook for about 10 minutes, checking to ensure that the greens don't dry out. The water from the greens should blend with the garlicky soy sauce to make a nice "broth". Serve the greens in small bowls with a little bit of broth, and make sure to include some bits of garlic in each serving.

Lentils with spice finish
Sort and rinse one cup of red lentils. Put in a saucepan with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, boil for 5 minutes, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes or so till the lentils are soft and the texture is cloudy and soupy. Stir in 3/4 teaspoon (or more to taste) salt.
Meanwhile heat a tablespoon of ghee or oil in a small skillet. when it is hot, add a teaspoon of panch phoran spice mixture (see below, or just add mustard seeds, cumin, turmeric, or whatever you've got) and stir around until the seeds have darkened a few shades. (YOu can add a chopped tomato here if you like, and cook till saucy.) Then add the spicy oil to the lentils, taking care as it will spatter. Stir well and serve in small bowls. This is incredibly good, with or without the panch phoran. Panch phoran is equal portions cumin seeds, fennel seeds, kalonji seeds, fenugreek seeds and mustard seeds.

Hope this is of some interest to you all. Cook with love and eat with friends. Much peace -- patrick

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  1. Thanks, Patrick. These both sound delicious, as well as comforting. I love Indian food, but am a bit intimidated by it and know little. I'll definitely try the lentils on one of the cold, rainy nights this winter. Thanks for sharing the recipes. One question, what are kalonji seeds? Are they easily available at an Indian spice store? Maybe Vic's in Berkeley?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Ann Leneave

      Just got it. Nigella.

      1. re: Ann Leneave

        kalonji seeds are sometimes called black onion seeds, but they are not actually onion seeds. they are the seed of the _Nigella sativa_ plant. In Middle Eastern groceries they are often sold under the label "black seeds" or "siyah daneh."

        This paraphrased from _The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking_ by Yamuna Devi, E.P. Dutton 1987.

        I don't think I have purchased kalonji in the bay area yet, but I expect you can find it at most Indian groceries. some of my favorites are

        Punjab Bazaar at 45th + San Pablo in Emeryville
        Milan at 9th + University in Berkeley
        and, as you mentioned, Vik Distributors, on 4th just north of, um, Allston?, in Berkeley, which is an incredible place, a whole post in itself, and definitely worth visiting for lunch (with the search for kalonji as an ironclad alibi).


        1. re: Ann Leneave

          Taking the plunge into Indian cooking can be rather daunting, but the rewards are outstanding. Only then, can you discover the nuances of using just three or four of the wide range of spices associated with the cuisine. May I suggest a few Indian Cookbook authors that helped demistify the cuisine for me? Madhur Jaffrey, Charmaine Solomon and Yamuna Devi. You reaaly can't go wrong with any of them. The dishes can seem a bit laborious, but none of requires handstands or rocket science. (some of the breads can be a bit tricky, so leave them for when you're feeling bold). In fact, Charmaine Solomon's "The Complete Asian Cookbook" (though only partially devoted to Indian) is a must have for any enthusiast of Asian flavors. Typically I would be wary of someone publishing an authorative on so many different cuisines, but she nails 'em all. I've found Madhur Jaffery to also be quite adept outside of Indian foods as well with her "Vegetarian Foods of the East" and others. Come on in! The water's great!

        2. A variant of your `Greens a la Wilcoxen' recipe, which is fairly standard, I guess, but which I have always enjoyed:
          saute garlic and onions in olive oil (or better, butter) until the onions are translucent. Add any good greens (kale, chard, etc.) and a bit of water, then cover and steam until they wilt (on a medium high heat). Near the end, add balsamic vinegar and perhaps a bit more olive oil. Season (salt, pepper, and whatever
          else you fancy), and that's it. Very simple, but if you use a nice balsamic in the right proportions (just experiment!), this is terrific.

          1. After lunch yesterday in Old Oakland, I went into Ratto's looking for more comfort food. Ratto's is only a shadow of its former glory, but they did have one thing I was looking for: bulk Callebaut Gianduia (hazelnut chocolate).

            I used it to make a luscious (if I do say so myself!) pot de creme (using Joy of Cooking's stove-top method). I shared it -- still slightly warm -- with friends who had gathered for the evening. Definitely comfort food.

            1. j

              Last night after finding my best friend who lives a few blocks from WTC was safe and 9000+ of my NY colleagues had been successfully evacuated I, too, decided to make comfort food. I made a huge pot of chicken soup. The entire house smelled inviting. I shared the overcooked chicken with the dog and cats (they'll never go back to pet food now) and looked forward to a wonderful dinner tonight of soup and fresh bread. Tonight I searched the refrigerator for the soup but it wasn't there. Turns out I had left it out all night! Oh and the aroma therapy was therapeutic and the animals are grateful.