A few weeks ago I headed north to visit a dear friend at her cottage for several days of summer relaxation and reconnection, aka girlfriend bonding. And did I mention talking? I think it goes without saying, but there was lots of talking.
Before we go any further here, please out check out my friend’s blog InsideFifty.com, where she impresses me with her turns of phrase and keen insights into a wide range of life events and issues. Her most recent post, July, captures the essence of what she calls that “one golden month of the year.” Time spent with her at the cottage is indeed golden.
Now the thing about my friend is that, while entertaining and hospitality seem like second nature to her, everyone in her circle is well aware that her interest in cooking hovers around 2.5 on a ten-point scale, if that high. We joked that we should join forces to start a well-rounded food and hospitality blog: while I’m passionate about cooking, I rarely entertain, and the opposite holds true for her. Yet while I was there she turned out meal after tasty meal. Good food that was simple, well-prepared and involved no fussing or negative energy on her part. She prepared meals with an ease that made me feel relaxed. That ability is a critical factor in being a successful host.
Sometimes we shared the kitchen duties, but more often than not I sat by and sipped (well, maybe not sipped) a glass of wine. The table was always nicely set, even though I could be forgiven for not noticing, given the beautiful Northern Ontario lake view through the window. We lingered over meals, enjoying good, confiding conversation, our wine and simply being in each other’s company for a few precious days when we are normally over 2,600 kilometres apart.
One evening we were invited to join mutual friends for dinner at their cottage nearby. The refrigerator yielded a bag of apples crying out to be used, so we undertook a joint apple crisp project with no recipe and limited ingredients. It was fun to cook off the cuff with a friend, making do with what we could find in the cottage cupboards. No oatmeal? No problem: bread crumbs and flour formed the base for the topping. With the hot crisp in oven-mitted hands, we set out for the kind of evening that you see featured in magazine articles about cottage entertaining. Let me see if I can paint the picture in words …
A harvest table in front of a wall of windows overlooking the sun setting over the lake. A casual, relaxed vibe with appetizers and wine at the ready as we walked in the door. Grilled vegetables and baby potatoes warming in the oven, and our host on the deck grilling salmon, white salmon and halibut that he had caught on a trip to Vancouver and shipped back to Ontario. Seven smiling people gathered, eager to talk and laugh and appreciate. Delicious food, convivial atmosphere, and an air of welcome, ease and enjoyment.
In addition to enjoying the peaceful setting and good times with friends, my holiday taught me a lot about the art of entertaining. I also came away with this intensely flavoured chickpea recipe. My friend got the recipe from a friend of hers, and talked me through it. I made a tweak or two as I made it from memory in my kitchen, as I expect you might wish to do in yours. One of the hallmarks of good recipes is how shareable and adaptable they are.
Intensely Cumin Chickpeas
This dish calls for a lot of cumin seeds. A lot. I put in two tablespoons and thought that looked like too much. Then I remembered my friend’s instructions (it will look like too much and then you add more), so I went with three. Note about the chili powder used here: it’s the powdered form of chilies, not the blend of seasonings that combine to form the familiar southwest style chili powder. If you don’t have Kashmiri red chili powder, substitute another fairly mild chili powder. You can find some guides online to assist in making substitution decisions, but always let your palate be your guide, adding chili powder in increments until you achieve the desired heat level.
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1/2 large onion, sliced
- 1 large orange or yellow bell pepper, or 1/2 of each, sliced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 14-oz can chickpeas, rinsed
- 1 28-oz can whole tomatoes
- 1 small red chili pepper, halved, seeded or not, and sliced
- a generous grinding of black pepper
- 1/2 tsp Kashmiri red chili powder
- 3 tbsp cumin seeds
Heat the oil over medium high heat in a large, deep skillet, then add the onion, peppers and garlic and cook for a few minutes to soften. Add the chickpeas, then the tomatoes, breaking them up with the side of your spoon or spatula. Add the seasonings and blend everything together well. Cook covered for about 20 minutes on medium low heat, stirring occasionally. Then remove the lid and continue to cook until the chickpeas are tender, the vegetables soft and the sauce is beautifully melded together and a Goldilocks consistency (not too runny, not too dry; just right).
Serve as a side dish, or as a main feature, depending on your fancy. It reheats well, and can see you through two or three days.