Friday, October 17, 2008

Peasant Food, Truly

So I hear there's a financial crisis/likely-recession-possible-
depression-to-be. Why haven't I posted more lately?

Possibly because I have not been following recipes: they tend to require too many ingredients I can't afford.

I personally have not yet been hit by Wall Street's great fall, nor by the terrifying credit crunch, but I still feel a constant pressure to not buy. Where weather changes normally would've sent me to Loehmann's in search of a few new sweaters, I've been staying in most nights and spending a surprising amount of time fretting over the hypothetical costs of my upcoming heating bills. And, compared to so many people, I have it easy. It has been easy for me to feign frugality, when in reality I'm pretty self-indulgent. I go out to eat and travel frequently. I have more clothes than anyone who calls herself "Economical" should have. And I am pretty confident I will always have a safety net (though, clearly, confidence doesn't count for much).

In short, my so-called economical food repertoire has not changed a whole lot. Still eating a fried egg sandwich for breakfast almost every day; still eating bean- or grain-centric leftovers for lunch; still occasionally grabbing a cookie or four at Baked & Wired in the afternoon; and still munching on whatever's around or testing something new for dinner. Or going out. And let's not forget all the beer and wine I still consume (I gratefully scored five bottles for free last night at the Montgomery County Humane Society's Wines for Canines and Felines event. Volunteering at benefits that rich people attend is quite possibly the most economical thing one can do).

One recipe I have been using, and which is definitely worth posting in light of the global economic crisis, comes from Nepali and North Indian peasants. Seems melodramatic enough to compare my own very lucky financial situation to that of destitute farmers in a frequent war zone. In any case, the real working poor know how to get by in unusually tough times.

Recipe: Dahl Saag (lentils with spinach)

Adapted from a variety of internet sources for the sake of being as cheap to make as possible; spelling remains creative. If you ever come across a used copy of any Julie Sahni book, please buy it for me and I will pay you back in curry.

Traditionally, it pairs with ghee (clarified butter), though it is still tasty enough without. Please scroll to the end of this post for a recipe for ghee. Additionally, it is great in a pita or sopped up by roti or naan or served over rice, but still good on its own when extra carbohydrates are a luxury.

My own version is meant to be easily modified depending on what ingredients you already have; the only real necessities are lentils (or, really, any legume) and spinach (or, really, any green).

Serves 6 and reheats well in microwave.

1/2 bag of lentils
1 lb spinach (for your wallet's sake, please don't buy the bagged version)
1 small onion
1 /2 t ground turmeric
1 t mustard seeds (I used 1/2 t dijon mustard, which complicates the dish a bit with additional ingredients like vinegar, but which still worked well)
1/2 t cumin
1 t garam masala (optional, but highly recommended if you already have it.)
1 t salt
1 t chili powder
2 T ghee (see recipe, following; if you don't have butter to make ghee, use vegetable oil)

Rinse the lentils and chop the spinach. Boil 3 cups of water and add the lentils, turmeric, salt and chili powder. Cook for 5 minutes and add the spinach. Keep on a medium heat till most of the moisture has gone.

Meanwhile heat ghee and in it fry the onions, mustard seeds and cumin seeds till golden. Stir into the lentils and spinach along with the garam masala. Keep on a moderate heat till cooked. The dish is dry, but add a little water to prevent catching.

Recipe: Ghee (best word ever)
Adapted from Alton Brown's recipe

1 stick of butter

Place butter in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring butter to boil. This takes approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium. The butter will form a foam which will disappear. Ghee is done when a second foam forms on top of butter, and the butter turns golden. Approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Brown milk solids will be in bottom of pan. Gently pour into heatproof container through fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Store in airtight container being sure to keep free from moisture. Ghee does not need refrigeration and will keep in airtight container for up to 1 month.


-If you don't have the exotic ingredients required to make a true dahl saag, don't fret: even with just salt and pepper, this dish is more than edible.

-Allegedly, quinoa is a "superfood," meaning it has enough nutrients to on its own sustain y0u for years. Consider serving this dish over quinoa.

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