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comfort food for troubled times

patrick | Sep 12, 200104:11 PM

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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