#7 Swiss chard, chickpea and tamarind stew

This one started off with so much promise:

Looks good, doesn’t it? And really, how could you go wrong with chard and chickpeas, a little tomato, a little onion, some coriander? (The photo is missing the chickpeas, caraway, cilantro, and yogurt called for in the recipe, but they all showed up later and reasonably close to on time.) Ottolenghi recommended it as just the thing to brighten up a gloomy day, and lord knows, we’ve had some gloomy days around here lately. Seemed worth the try.

And even at the start of the braise, things still looked pretty… and pretty promising:

But what we ended up with looked nearly inedible (thus the tiny tiny monochrome picture):

So, yeah. Kind of meh. By the time I’d doctored it up, it was certainly worth eating. Maybe even a little interesting. But compared to the jazzy ensembles of exciting flavors that Ottolenghi has provided in past weeks, this one felt more like the kind of party where all the attendees are holding court in their separate corners… they’re all making a lot of noise, but no one’s having very much fun. After last week’s extravagance, this was kind of a letdown.

Maybe it was the fault of the tamarind paste. Tamarind — a tropical fruit grown mostly in Africa and South Asia — is extremely tart. I’m used to it being paired with spicy curries, where its sour flavor brighten the heat and sweetness of the curry spices. Here, though, the very small amount of fragrant coriander that Ottolenghi includes was totally overwhelmed by the tart murkiness of the tamarind.

And those caraway seeds? They sure felt out of place, and it’s not at all clear what Ottolenghi was aiming for by including two teaspoons of them. Instead of caraway, I’d add a tablespoon or two of my favorite curry powder (currently Penzey’s), maybe a pinch or two of saffron, and possibly a tablespoon or two of Major Grey’s Mango Chutney and go for something with a much more definite Indian/South Asian vibe.

As for that teaspoon of tomato paste that left an entire can of the stuff languishing in my refrigerator where it is likely to remain until mold begins to form? Can’t see that it helped thicken the stew or boost the tomato flavor.  Next time I’d leave it out entirely.

It took a generous pour of olive oil at the end, as well as some extra help from my shaker of red pepper flakes, and every bit of the allegedly optional yogurt to bring the flavors together. You’ll want LOTS of cilantro leaves, or sliced green onions as well.

The verdict: This one was easy to make (a 2 on the Ottolenghi Perceived Exertion Scale), quite serviceable as a weekday meal, not too expensive to try, but so dull that I am not likely to ever make it again.

Am hoping for better results next week when I attempt the nutty endive with Roquefort  (p. 160). See you then!

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