Tender (plus beet)

After a bit of a dry spell, we bought ourselves a new cookbook: Tender, by Nigel Slater. Nigel is one of those people that could write a shopping list and I’d buy it. When it’s a discussion of fresh vegetables and home gardening and things to cook in season, there’s definitely no question. I brought it home and immediately read it cover to cover.

The way I envision using this book is the all-too-frequent case where I have a vegetable languishing in the fridge and I can’t think what to do with it. I might not follow one of Nigel’s recipes – much of what he does is very similar to what I do when I’m winging it – but having all the possibilities laid out at once is tremendously helpful, and his tone is deeply encouraging. In this case, I had some beets.


We ate the greens off the beets a couple of weeks ago, and it was about time to use up the roots. Nigel’s recipe for beet tzatziki actually only used one beet, but it reminded me of their existence and I made borsch with the remainder a few days later.

beet tzatziki

Beet tzatziki is pretty darn simple: just yogurt seasoned with garlic, fresh mint, and grated raw beet, in pretty much any proportion. The trick seems to be finding any middle ground between the moment you start stirring it together and the moment (very soon afterwards) when it suddenly looks like thickened Pepto Bismol. Or raspberry ice cream. Something very, very pink. In any case, it tastes good. It makes your dinner plate look kind of awful, though.

beet tzatziki

about to process

The chickpea fritters that Nigel suggests to go with the tzatziki were a lot of fun. I’ve made falafel many times from a mix, and read recipes for making it with soaked, ground chickpeas, but it never really occurred to me that I could just puree cooked chickpeas with herbs and an egg and fry it. It might not be a true falafel but they were extremely good. They’re very soft-textured, though, so I think they’re best eaten with a fork rather than stuffed into a pita, which would just mush them into hummus. Not that that wouldn’t be tasty, too.

falafel ingredients



Chickpea Fritters

adapted from Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater

  • one can chickpeas, drained
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 egg
  • bunch of parsley
  • handful of mint
  • salt and pepper

Roughly chop the parsley and mint leaves and the garlic. Put everything into a food processor and whirl it around until it’s mixed but still just a touch chunky. Let it sit for ten minutes (apparently this is important, although I didn’t notice much difference).

Heat a film of olive oil in a nonstick pan (or two, if you don’t have a pan big enough for all of the fritters at once). Add the chickpea mixture in dollops – it will be very soft. Smooth out the dollops with the back of the spoon, then leave them the heck alone until they begin to brown on the underside. Don’t poke at them, they’ll fall apart! When they seem to be getting a good crust, flip them over quickly with a thin spatula and cook the other side.

Serve with tzatziki (beet or otherwise) and a green salad.


mushroom pakoras

For a brief, interesting period, a Punjabi grocery store set up behind the outlet mall in the town just north of us. It was hard to find and only occasionally open, but they carried all sorts of things that we normally need to go to Seattle, or at least Everett, to find. It closed, of course – but we had stocked up on several ingredients first, including a bag of chickpea flour – which I inexplicably did nothing with for an embarrassingly long time.

Finally I decided it was stupid to have chickpea flour and not use it, so over the holidays we made pakoras to go with cocktails. Pakora is like Indian tempura: vegetables dipped in a batter of chickpea flour and spices, then deep fried – a bit of a production, but not at all difficult. I used a batter recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s first cookbook, but decided to use mushrooms after looking at my parents’ copy of Alford and Duguid’s Mangoes & Curry Leaves.

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farro risotto with sage and orange


The way I decided to make this was typical: I had found a new (to me) cookbook at the local used bookstore, and bought it partly because it included a number of recipes for farro. I decided I would make one of the recipes this week, but as I was scanning them I was suddenly reminded of a dish in The Italian Country Table that I had been intrigued by. So I made that instead. I’m easily derailed when it comes to menu planning.

herbs and onions

I thought this was a cool recipe, pairing the sweet taste of farro with bright orange zest and fresh herbs, and chickpeas for added flavor and texture. It made a nice change from the cream and mushrooms often used in farro dishes. We had it alongside a roast chicken and a chunky beet salad (which went great with the orange in the farro).

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drinking wine, hitting pomegranates

celebratory wine

I can’t remember now when it was that we went out to visit the Boudreaux winery. Maybe summer before last? Anyway, it’s not all that far from my parents’ house, but it takes a while to get there, being way way up Icicle Creek and over a slightly alarming bridge. We know Rob, the winemaker, from back when he worked at KOHO radio – he interviewed our band several times. Now he’s making really kick-ass wine from some of the best vineyards in the state, working out of a winery which is completely off the grid. Not bad.

Rob’s wine isn’t cheap, so we didn’t exactly stock up while we were at the winery, but we did indulge in a bottle of his 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon. We were saving it for a special occasion, and we finally decided there was no time like the present – as in, last Friday. I am pleased to announce that the wine was worth the wait – it’s definitely a fruitbomb, but it’s a fruitbomb with character and nuance. It had woodsy, charry notes along with the jam, and every sip seemed a little different, depending what food we were eating at the moment.

To support the wine, we decided on a dinner of lamb rib chops, rubbed with salt, cumin and berbere powder, alongside our new favorite side dish of chickpeas cooked with garlic, pomegranate molasses, saffron and cilantro. The combination was amazing. We did do one thing differently with the chickpeas this time: we actually followed the full recipe and added fresh pomegranate seeds. I don’t always like the fibrousness of the seeds, but it seemed worth it this time.


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a nifty little chickpea salad

impromptu salad

This was a spur of the moment side dish that I threw together last week. I had originally intended to make a Turkish salad of chickpeas, cumin and lemon, but then I got sidetracked by pomegranate molasses and fresh garden tomatoes – one of those cooking moments that seem to happen to me so often, where I have two or three cookbooks open and end up ignoring all of them. Fortunately, this turned out delicious.

Impromptu Chickpea Salad

olive oil
1 red onion, minced
a spoonful of pomegranate molasses
1 can chickpeas, drained
handful fresh spinach leaves
fresh mint, chopped
fresh parsley, chopped
several little red tomatoes, halved

Combine the chickpeas, spinach and herbs in a bowl large enough to hold the salad. Heat the olive oil in a skillet and saute the red onion until just softened. Stir in the pomegranate molasses, then add the hot onion mixture to the salad bowl. Toss to wilt the spinach. Add the fresh herbs and tomatoes, and extra olive oil if desired. Let sit at room temperature for half an hour or so before serving.

chickpeas with pomegranate molasses

asparagus, chicken and chickpeas

Nothing really groundbreaking here, just a really nice thing to do with chickpeas for a little side dish, bringing in a bit of North African flavor to an otherwise ordinary dinner. I was wanting to make something else out of Casa Moro, but wasn’t feeling very ambitious, so this is what I landed on. It’s really easy, assuming you have a can of chickpeas hanging around in your pantry and you happen to have some leftover pomegranate molasses lurking in the fridge, like we did.


Chickpeas with Pomegranate Molasses

adapted from Casa Moro by Sam & Sam Clark

  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • about 1/3 cup water
  • 30 threads of saffron, steeped in 2 Tbsp boiling water for a few minutes
  • 2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
  • salt and pepper

Fry the garlic in the olive oil until it just turns golden. Dump in the pomegranate molasses, water, saffron infusion and chickpeas, stir it up well and let it simmer for ten minutes. Add the cilantro, then salt and pepper to taste. You can add pomegranate seeds, too, which looks pretty, but I’m not fond of the texture.

The book suggests serving the beans with fish, but I thought it went splendidly with roast chicken. Follow your own taste, as always.