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The simple and the unsexy

After a weekend of cream puffs, a girl’s got to take a breather.
Moderation is horribly unglamorous, I know. But, dear reader, I also know that you’re the sort who values truth—ugly, unwashed, morning breath and all.

I’ll give it to you straight: I channel the USDA food guide pyramid. I don’t mean the new recommendations announced last month, which are well-meaning but unrealistic at best—three cups of dairy products per day for the average adult?!—but rather the concept of the food pyramid. I’m not sure how this came to be, but I’m crazy about the five major food groups. I love them equally, the way a mother loves her children. Brussels sprouts speak to me as sweetly as crusty bread, and to my ears, the crunch of an apple is as good as the sizzle of a roasting chicken. Nurse Flinn must have done an exemplary job of teaching health class back in third grade. Someone needs to tell her that I’m still waiting for my hard-earned A+ gold star stickers.

Now, this is not to say that I don’t have fried chicken dreams, or that I can forgo dessert. I think I’ve made it amply clear that I go weak in the knees before any number of things sweet, jammy, fruity, nutty, buttery, crunchy, cakey, creamy, or frozen. But I also want my roasted cauliflower, my grains, and a hunk of beast. I want it all, damn it. If life itself is the proper binge, as dearly departed Julia once said, I've got to make room for everything. Enter that boring “m” word, that thing I mentioned in the first paragraph. If I'm to be civilized and presentable, I must have my daily dark chocolate, but not enough to have me moaning and slumped on the floor. Not often, at least. Well, you know me. Ahem.

The foods and recipes I feature most often on Orangette aren't fancy or complex. I love to eat as much as the next guy, but I also love simplicity—honest food that nourishes, that lets ingredients speak for themselves. And that features all five food groups. Truth be told, the majority of my meals consist of simple, unsexy staples: this winter it's pungent, buttery, melting fontina on coarse bread; unruly greens braised into submission; and, of course, cabbage, the season’s princely toad. Sometimes nothing is more welcome than a sunny-side-up egg, flecked with salt and freshly ground pepper, blanketing a bowlful of red lentil dal. And lately, there’s been a parade of citrus. Around here, it’s an (heirloom navel) orange a day, perfumed and spicy, spraying bitter orange oil over my fingers and wrists; and after a late, loud, smoky night out, I’ve been known to sneak a slathering of lemon curd on whole wheat toast before bed—your typical rock ‘n roll gourmandise.

And this week, after so much whipped cream and whatnot, I’m reaching for warm chickpea salad.

Another standby from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s Splendid Table Weeknight Kitchen newsletter, it’s earthy and clean, sweet with shredded carrots and punchy with red wine vinegar. It’s horribly unglamorous and completely delicious, the sort of thing that makes you want to dive headlong into the bowl—and then have cream puffs for dessert.

Warm Chickpea Salad with Shallots and Red Wine Vinaigrette
Adapted from The Splendid Table Weeknight Kitchen, which in turn excerpted from Fresh Food Fast: Delicious, Seasonal Vegetarian Meals in Under an Hour

Lynne Rossetto Kasper recommends serving this with a leafy tossed salad, but I also like it with braised or sautéed winter greens. Either way, be sure to have a loaf of crusty bread alongside. Leftovers keep beautifully in the fridge and make for tasty lunches.

1 large shallot, thinly sliced
3 Tbs red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained
1 large carrot, coarsely grated
½ cup flat-leaf (Italian) parsley leaves, chopped
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl, combine the shallot, vinegar, garlic, and salt. Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the shallots and garlic to mellow.

In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the chickpeas, and blanch for a minute or two. Drain.

Add the carrot, parsley, and olive oil to the shallot mixture. Toss in the chickpeas, and season as needed with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, while still warm.

Serves four.


Blogger markisdead said...

Oh, yes! Dark chocolate!! Especially with coffee after dinner. It's amazing how satisfying a small amount of 85% cocoa solid chocolate is. I imagine that in such quantities it is actually rather good for you! :-)

7:43 PM, February 16, 2005  
Blogger amylou said...

I too am a fan of the simple and, as you can probably tell from my love of mac and cheese and shepard's pie, the unsexy. This salad sounds lovely and perfect for the mood I'm in. I just might try it tonight. And if my reading really bores me today maybe I'll make my own bread to go with it. Thanks as always for the inspiration.

11:58 PM, February 16, 2005  
Blogger LeeLoreya said...

I completely adhere to your definition of food loving: each and every food item can be elegant on its own, or with one or two complementing ingredients. Ugly squashed brown bananas turn into flavorful muffins. Half rotten tomatoes are saved in a bolognaise sauce.

I think that unsexiness is not in the food itself but rather in the way it is treated: there's nothing less appealing that a cold piece of old meat miserably hiding between two pieces of tasteless industrial bread, served in plastic paper, at a grim vending machine.

1:03 AM, February 17, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Yes, Mark, things get nasty if there's no chocolate after dinner. And sometimes after lunch too. I'm currently working on a bar of Chocolove 77%, with Valrhona 71% as backup.

Amy, I had my first and only shepherd's pie years and years ago at the home of my childhood friend Jennifer, and I LOVED it. I remember going home and telling my mother (who wasn't and isn't much of casserole-type cook) about it in intimate detail, begging her to make it. She didn't. It's about time I did it myself, don't you think? I mean, really.

And LeeLoreya, you put it beautifully. Yes.

10:26 AM, February 17, 2005  
Blogger amylou said...

Molly, I made the chickpea salad tonight. I didn't have any shallot so I used a small yellow onion and it was still delicious. Erik loooved it. I served it along with your recipe for roasted cauliflower, so it was a veritable Molly feast. Except for the rye bread I made that didn't rise and therefore became dense rye scones that are currently refusing to be digested.

A side note, I didn't grow up with shepard's pie either. A boyfriend introduced me to it in college.

11:08 AM, February 17, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Amy, I'm THRILLED(!!) to hear about the "Molly feast"! Even the stubborn doorstop scones. Maybe they'll tide you over for the trip to Hamburg?

And as a side note, I'm getting my first taste of Hakan Hellstrom (En Midsommarnattsdrom) as I type this. Pretty catchy stuff! I like! Soon I may be able to sing along. Wish me luck.

10:03 PM, February 17, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Molly -

I totally understand your love of simple food! I struggle to find a diet book that addresses the maladies of people like myself - I don't eat because I'm stressed, or because I'm bored, but simply because I love food, of all kinds. And it is the simplest essence of food that I love - I'll take a perfectly boiled egg over Sacher torte any day. (Okay, most days!) But truly, is such simplicity unsexy? I've seen some olive oils that are so silky, to call them unsexy would be a disservice to their fruity essence and vibrant, peppery finish. I've eaten peaches that in their perfection, create little - well, you know what I mean. And whipped cream! I don't even need to go there! At any rate, it's so nice to see a celebration of food, in itself. Thank you for this wonderful post.


12:56 PM, February 18, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Thank you, LAA! And for the record, I absolutely agree. I didn't mean to imply that simplicity itself is unsexy--as you pointed out, it's often quite the opposite! I don't think, however, that many people find the staples of day-in, day-out eating to be sexy. Not many think of crucifers, for example, as swoon-worthy, or of balanced eating as anything to get hot and bothered over. Hmph! I say that when it comes to the soulful, sensuous pleasure of really tasting what it is that nourishes you, in all its variety--well, there's a lot to shout (or write!) about.

2:11 PM, February 18, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for another yummy recipe! I made the chickpea salad yesterday and it was wonderful! I couldn't stop eating it!

4:16 AM, February 21, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

That's terrific, Colleen! I'm so glad to hear that it was a hit.

8:59 AM, February 21, 2005  
Anonymous Nicole said...

I made your chickpea salad last night and, like the above readers, absolutely adored it. It also won over a self-professed chickpea hater. This is a feat in and of itself, since he normally wrinkles his nose and covers his mouth as soon as he sees them. (I think he was tempted when he saw the way I was wolfing it down.)

Thank you!

4:48 AM, February 23, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

What great news, Nicole! Three cheers for winning over the chickpea haters of the world! Thanks should really go, however, to Lynne Rossetto Kasper and the author of Fresh Food Fast, since they are the true sources of your victory. Alas, I'm only the messenger...

7:53 AM, February 23, 2005  
Anonymous DC Sarah said...

This was amazingly, shockingly good. Only the strongest willpower I've ever had to muster kept me from plunking myself down on the couch and eating the entire bowl in one fell swoop.

It's funny; every morning now I wake up and think "hmmmm...what will I make from Orangette today?" You've become a fixture in my little apartment :)

11:33 AM, June 23, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Aw, DC Sarah, that makes me so happy!

10:29 AM, June 25, 2007  
Blogger dc365 said...

So, I don't mean to be a spoiler, but I've read ahead, and I am thinking specifically of the entry in which you get all flustered when people ask you about your food philosophy and your cookbook. I think you just summed it up right here! Simple, balanced, and each bite delicious.

Also, having now cooked in DC Sarah's small apartment, I can vouch that you have indeed become a fixture! We are counting down until we can add your book to our collections.

1:43 PM, August 21, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My diabetic husband and I absolutely love this dish. Thankyou so much, you are single handedly revolutionizing the way we eat healthfully. We've made damn near every one of your salads and our favorites are this, and the warm chicken salad.

6:08 PM, March 03, 2008  
Blogger Rosiecat said...

Molly, I think the picture of your chickpea salad might be my single most favorite picture you've ever posted. But there is nothing like a bowl of chickpeas to make a vegetarian's heart race and flutter.

I think I'm going to try out your salad tonight to console myself after American Airlines grounded my vacation plans :-(

4:03 PM, April 10, 2008  
Blogger Lauren said...

The chickpea salad was extremely garbanzo-tastic! Quick, easy, filling and healthful, too, it made a lovely lunch today. I've been on a major Molly-style cooking kick lately. This week alone I concocted the raspberry-blueberry pound cake (for my dad’s birthday), banana bread with chocolate chips and candied ginger, and now these awesome chickpeas. All will be added to my regular recipe repertoire. Thanks!

12:45 PM, September 09, 2011  
Anonymous Tessellate said...

I never comment because it has never before seemed a bit necessary. But this lunch makes me so happy. I'm in college and eating makes me feel like I have learned how to feed myself. Thank you thank you for the simple recipes. (And for the winning hearts and minds cake. I have more friends because of that cake.)

10:14 AM, April 28, 2014  

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