As a Gaelic, haolie, druid of sorts, I have to be careful with any spice that packs a whollop. My people consider a shake of black pepper on a boiled potato to be getting crazy with the spices. For as long as I could remember, I was always the first one at the table to burn his tongue or start sweating.
(Left: everyone needs a little helper in the kitchen.)
One time in Korea, I became particularly infatuated with a slow-burn garlic sauce that we were using with the pork and chicken kabobs grilling on our table-top hibachi. The sauce had zero mouth-burn, but after about five minutes in the belly one could feel the body heat. After a couple of bites, there was a light mist of sweat on my brow. Ten minutes later, I looked like I had just finished a 10K, which prompted the waitress to bring me more napkins. A few more bites and my head was dripping, and she brought me a cloth napkin and another glass of ice water to dunk it in. By the end of the meal she had positioned a table fan behind me and was sitting to my left, wiping my head with her iced cloth and fanning me with a menu.
Hard to get that kind of service at Appleby’s.
M. has always had a higher tolerance for Asian and Mexican spices than I do. At a Thai restaurant, she’ll order a 4 and I’m heading for the exits if I go higher than 2. She can cover a Chipotle’s burrito with the red chile sauce, their hottest, which I can only stand if I dilute it 1:10 with sour cream. But recently we made a Moorish garbanzo bean stew, and not having pimenton (Spanish sweet paprika), I substituted smoked Spanish paprika, at half the required amount. I thought it was just about perfect, but M. was on fire after a couple of bites. And the same thing happened not long ago with an Indian veggie dish. So, is it a male / female thing? Are our tolerances changing as we get older? Is there a hotness difference between Asian, Mexican, Persian, and Indian dishes? We can measure relative hotness with the Scoville scale, but is there a way to measure the difference between mouth-hot and belly-hot, the kind of heat that burns your lips and tongue vs. the kind that slow burns and makes you sweat ten minutes later?
And why is it that this pasty-faced who grew up on Heinz ketchup now can’t get enough Sriracha on just about everything?
From NPR’s How Low Can You Go series – dinner for four for under $10
(The stew’s on the left, and on the right you have peanut butter and herb fried chicken.)
Chef Jose Andres’ stew is super-easy to make but takes a day and half to make. The day before, you soak the chickpeas, and then the day of, you slow cook them, constantly watching them, and adding water by the cupful until they are done.
We used canned chickpeas and made the whole thing in about twenty minutes, start to finish.
Using canned chickpeas also meant we had to swap around a couple of steps, because the spice concoction should have been added to the simmering chickpeas. But this also serves to shave a few minutes off of the process, making it a better weeknight option. However, because the broth isn’t flavored by the chickpeas, we had to add about two cups of chicken broth to the equation.
Full recipe here, and modified recipe below.
6 garlic cloves, peeled and whole
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 slices bread
2 Tbs pimenton (Spanish sweet paprika)
(We used smoked paprika for a hotter stew, and only used one Tbs)
1 pinch saffron
1 tsp ground cumin
2 Tbs sherry vinegar
1/2 pound spinach, washed and cleaned
1 can garbanzos (chickpeas)
2 cups chicken broth or 2 cups water
Salt and white pepper to taste
To make this a one pot dish, sauté the garlic in the same stock pot that you’ll use for the stew. Add a splash of olive oil, maybe a sliver of butter, and sauté for about five minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently to brown it evenly. Remove the garlic to a cutting board or mortar, and then brown the bread in the same stock pot. Smash the garlic into the bread using the back of your chef’s knife, the bottom of a mason jar, your mortar and pestle, or what have you. Make a thick paste and set aside.
Add the sweet or smoked paprika, saffron if you have it, and cumin to the stock pot, and then the chickpeas, and stir to coat. Add the broth and water and bring to a boil, then reduce to a slow-rolling boil and cook for about five more minutes. Add the spinach and cook for five more minutes. Finally, add the bread-garlic concoction and simmer for five more minutes, stirring to create a thicker sauce.
Serve with flatbread.