Tuesday, September 2, 2008

45. Swiss Chard and Chickpeas (p. 542)

A small constellation of stars all aligned to get me to make this recipe.* First, I just finished reading In Defense of Food (listening to an audiobook in my car counts as "reading," doesn't it?). Second, Melissa made this dish last week. And third, we didn't have plans for dinner on Friday night. How does that all combine to equal Swiss Chard and Chickleas? Well, I'll tell you.

In his book, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan sets out his simple philosophy of eating: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." This credo really struck a chord with me. My wife and I have always ascribed to the first part of the rule, "eat food," which sounds pretty obvious until you stop and think about it. Most of the things that Americans put in their bodies is not food, but rather, over-processed food-like substances. The Gourmet Cookbook is all about eating food. With a few exceptions (e.g., the Kellog's Corn Flake crust on the Crunchy Fried Green Tomatoes I made this weekend - check back soon for the post), The Book uses fresh, basic ingredients combined to make real food ... really good food, that is. The rest of Pollan's edict, "not too much, mostly plants" is a bit harder to live by, for me at least. Portion control is always a challenge, especially when The Book is involved. Overeating is a hazard of The Project. And while my wife is an avowed "flexitarian" - eating only plants, dairy and eggs, with the occasional bit of fish or poultry thrown in for good measure - I am a flexitarian by default only, since I rarely cook red meat for myself, but I almost always get it when we go out. So, I'm looking for creative and delicious ways to incorporate the "mostly plants" part of Pollan's rule into my own eating life.

That's where the other two stars in the constellation come in. As I was driving home from work on Friday, I called my wife from the car, and we had our usual Friday-night conversation. "What should we have for dinner?" "I don't know, what do you want?" We go round and round for a while until we finally land on pizza or Chinese take-out from one of the places at the end of our street. Our regular Friday-night meal may be a great many things, but it's proably not food, or at least, not the kind of food we should be eating. But, this Friday, my wife changed it up a bit and said, "I want to have something healthy," which is usually code for frozen Veggie Burgers. (I'd have to take a closer look at the list of ingredients on the box, but I suspect that even though they're "good for you," Veggie Burgers might not be food).

And then it hit me. Melissa raved about this recipe, writing that it was easy, tasty, and substantial enough for a meal. Problem solved! I had my wife find the recipe in The Book and read the ingredients to me over the phone as I took a detour to the grocery story. (I haven't yet taken to keeping The Book in my car like other Gourmet cook-through-ers. Not that there's anything wrong with that, since I'm sure that eventually I'll start doing the same.)

I brought the ingredients home and got to work. And dinner was on the table in about thirty minutes (take that Rachel Ray!). This dish is great! The sliced onions were tender and sweet (I used a medium Vidalia instead of the two small regular onions called for by The Book). The single clove of sliced garlic was just enough to give flavor without overpowering. The diced tomatoes, lemon juice and olive oil melted into a subtle sauce. The chickpeas were soft and stacrchy, almost like little gnocchi. But the real star of the dish was the Swiss chard. This green is substantial without being chewy; flavorful without being bitter.

We enjoyed this dish with some nice crusty bread, and we ate the whole potful. So much for the "not too much" part of Pollan's rule. But, hey, two out of three ain't bad.

Date Cooked: August 29, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: A

* The epicurous.com recipe is almost the same as the one in The Book.


The Mediocre Cook said...

Looks fantastic! One of these days I will have to give Swiss Chard a try since I've only ever heard people say great things about it!

Anonymous said...

I make a variation of this recipe from Claudia Roden's Arabesque - spinach with cannellini beans, onions and garlic. Delicious. Now I can't wait to try this version, especially since chard is very in season at my farmer's market.