Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Adapted from The Original

I had set aside a recipe for a pork stew with dried apricots to try soon. Actually, what attracted me to the recipe was neither the pork nor the apricots, but the generous amount of parsnips for which it called. I’ve been carefully storing parsnips from our CSA (okay, so they’re jammed somewhere amongst the other long-storing root vegetables on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator) for a few months and wanted to use them up.

I don’t remember exactly how it came to me, probably from reading Indian and vegetarian cookbooks, but I thought perhaps I could replace the pork with chickpeas. I had more dried chickpeas in the cupboard (a couple bags from the bulk bins totaling roughly three pounds) than I did pork in the freezer (roughly none), so this seemed to be the simplest (and most frugal) thing to do.

Since I was using dried chickpeas, I decided to cook them along with the other vegetables (onions, celery, carrots and parsnips). For me, the key to working with dried chickpeas is soaking them for plenty of time, at least overnight and usually for 12 hours or so, so that they are fully rehydrated. Only when they can be popped in my mouth and chewed like a vegetable rather than breaking my teeth like a rock do I put them to the heat.

I’ve heard from and read in many sources that beans should not be cooked with salt or acids until near the end of the cooking time. The beans can become tough and will never reach the creamy state we’re looking for. While I’ve never tested this myself, I’m sacrificing nothing by going along with conventional wisdom in this case (not always my preferred practice). I resisted the temptation to salt the vegetables while they sautéed, and waited until the chickpeas were nearly cooked to add the tomato paste.

The pork may not be essential to this pork and apricot stew, but the dried apricots sure are. They add a sweet and tangy fruitiness that I enhanced with some lemon juice. I like to use California dried apricots as opposed to the Turkish variety. They are darker in color, more leathery, and less plump, but they are also more tart, fruity and flavorful. I think the Turkish apricots, which are probably both easier to find and more economical, would also work in this stew. The result is likely to be a little sweeter.

After I replaced the sage, thyme and black pepper with a little oregano, lots of cumin and some hot red pepper flakes, this dish no longer much resembled the original inspiration recipe. After a few spoonfuls, however, my interest in the pork stew diminished to mere fleeting curiosity. The chickpeas are hearty and the broth is sturdy but light and a little tangy. The carrots, parsnips and chewy bits of apricot make it a little sweet, but by no means cloying. I served it with a homemade naan flatbread (a recipe I hope to post later this week) that was great for dipping in the yummy broth and sopping up all the last little puddles at the bottom of the bowl. This recipe makes a huge pot of stew, and I’m looking forward to revisiting it a few more times this week. I don’t expect the pork to show up any time soon.

Chickpea Stew with Dried Apricots

12 ounces dried chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 cups chopped peeled parsnips (about 1-inch chunks)
2 cups chopped peeled carrots (about 1-inch chunks)
6 cups water
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup chopped dried apricots (preferably California apricots)
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
chopped fresh parsley for garnish

1. To prepare the chickpeas, rinse them well, remove any debris or bad-looking chickpeas and place in a large pot or bowl. Fill the vessel with water to cover the chickpeas by a few inches. Cover and let stand at room temperature at least 8 hours (no more than 24 hours). When the chickpeas are completely rehydrated, drain them well and discard the soaking water.

2. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, parsnips and carrots. Saute until the vegetables begin to soften and the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes, stirring often.

3. Add the drained chickpeas, 6 cups water, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, cover and cook at a low boil for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the chickpeas are almost tender.

4. Add the tomato paste, apricots, 2 teaspoons salt, cumin, oregano and red pepper flakes. Return to a boil and cook uncovered for 30 minutes or until the broth has thickened somewhat and the chickpeas and vegetables are very tender.

5. Stir in the lemon juice. Taste the stew for saltiness. Add more salt if desired. Remove the bay leaves. Serve garnished with chopped parsley.

Makes about 8 servings.

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