Updated: Nov 17
The theme this week was what tasty meals I could make out of our store of cans as we eagerly await the opening of farmers' markets next month. This one comes together very fast, and if you skip the addition of the roasted squash and rely entirely on the canned goods, it can be made in a few minutes. Total cost of the ingredients, not including the rice and spices, was about $7 and could serve about 4 people or more.
Canned food was first mass produced for Napoléon, who looked for new ways to feed his Grande Armée, assuming correctly that the conquest of Europe would not be catered. Napoléon sponsored a contest with a prize of 12,000 francs for anyone who could develop a method for preserving food on an industrial scale. The winner was Nicolas Appert, a chef who owned a candy store, the Renomée, in the Beaubourg neighborhood of Paris. History would have remembered Appert as a leading Jacobin in the French Revolution and, as a section committee member, apparently one of the keener ones (he was one of the revolutionaries who personally escorted Louis XVI to the scaffold), except that under the reign of Bonaparte, Appert leveraged his knowledge of pickling and candy-making to create a factory method for canning all types of food. He was also the inventor of the bouillon cube. So tricorne hats off to Nicolas Appert. Le jour de gloire est arrivé.
The Decavore is trying to decide what college to choose from among the schools that accepted him. One of the factors in his decision is what career he may want to pursue when he completes his education. Like most young people, he is not sure what he wants to do, but is currently assessing what undergraduate programs would best prepare him for one of the following occupations:
1) Cult leader
2) Dictator of a medium-sized European country
I have a good memory of being almost 18. I recall planning to be a French public intellectual and freelance wine-taster. My husband thought of being a poet, but decided that he would go to film school so that he would have a practical job like movie director to fall back on. I await with interest what the progeny of such people will do when he is released into the wild this fall. I am disappointed that no one among the three of us ever thought of becoming an insurrectionist Chef Boyardee.
This particular dish is a variation of a curry created by Melissa Clark, who has written her own panegyric to canned food. Frequent inspiration for my weeknight cooking comes from Dakshin: Vegetarian Cuisine from the South of India. It's one of those cookbooks that offer new ways to think about flavor and teach (to non-Indian cooks) a whole new set of techniques. While the recipes often feature hard to find ingredients like snake gourd and elephant foot yam, they work very well with substitutions of local supermarket vegetables and greens. There is an initial investment in mustard seeds and a few spices and pastes, which then allow you to riff endlessly on the simpler dishes of poriyals, kootus and sambars. I don't pretend to have mastered South Indian cuisine. Most of these recipes are forgiving enough for home cooks. This particular recipe does not come from the Dakshin cookbook, but applies some of its ideas to canned ingredients.
vegetable oil for frying
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
curry leaves if you have them
1 large onion, chopped
1 inch of ginger, peeled and grated
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
2 serrano peppers finely minced (if you don't have any on hand, you can use red pepper flakes to taste)
salt to taste
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée
1 acorn squash, peeled and chopped into 1 inch chunks
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or more (don't stint on the lime juice, as the coconut milk and pumpkin can be cloyingly sweet without it)
fresh chopped coriander for garnish
cooked rice for serving
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Chop an acorn squash into quarters and brush with oil.
Roast squash in the oven for about 20 minutes, until soft and cooked through.
Heat vegetable oil in a dutch oven or skillet with tall sides.
Add the mustard seeds (and a few curry leaves, if you have them) and cook on high heat until mustard seeds start to pop
Turn down heat to medium and add chopped onion and cook a few minutes until soft (if you are using fresh serrano peppers, you can add them now)
Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant (another minute or two)
Add the spices, chili flakes, and salt to taste and cook for another minute or two
Add pumpkin, chickpeas, roasted acorn squash chunks, and coconut milk
Stir and simmer on medium/low heat until it cooks down and is less soupy (~20-30 minutes)
Add 3 tablespoons of lime juice and salt to taste.
Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve over rice.
The Decavore took a bite and did not run screaming out of the kitchen like his hair was on fire. A strong endorsement.