Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Power of Potlucks and Bitchin' Kitchen - Mediterranean Chickpea Stew with Feta

Every couple of months, a group of my closest buds and I get together to share our love of gossip, each other, and of course, food. The spread is always gorgeous and diverse with our goals being to bridge our different tastes, reflect our cultures, and celebrate our traditions. Sometimes the gathering is themed - for a Valentine's Day potluck we had to make foods in varying shades of red, white, and/or pink (I made a pomegranate-rose ice cream for that one that came out rather nicely). In any case, the food is always delicious and results in hours of holding our tummies and whining about how full we are. 

This most recent potluck was to celebrate our friend Adam's new apartment, and I knew that I wanted to do something special. At first, I was going to attempt my mom's brown stew chicken, but she wasn't able to help me out with it. Also, I found out there was going to be a baked yogurt chicken dish at the potluck, so choosing something else would be smart. I started to look through my newest cookbooks to see if I could get any ideas. After nearly getting a cramp in my hands from turning so many pages, I decided on a Mediterranean Chickpea Stew from Nadia G. of the Cooking Channel show Bitchin' Kitchen:

Nadia's show has brought up a lot of debate in the cooking tv world; people either love it or hate it vehemently. I love the way that she mixes cooking and comedy. You can tell that she was brought up with a strong appreciation for food, and I can't help be attracted to her repertoire. Her incredible wardrobe can't be denied either. The girl can dress

The recipe seemed easy enough and was filled with healthy, tasty veggies. I know I've been lacking in the healthy food department, and I thought this was a good way to get myself back on track. 

Note: I doubled the stew for the potluck, but these are the original numbers for the recipe

I started by roasting some garlic: I peeled off the papery skin off a garlic head, but left the cloves intact. Slice off the top of it, lay it on some foil, and drizzle it with olive oil. Grind on a bit of black pepper and seal up the foil. I roasted my parcel in a preheated 400 degree oven for 35-40 minutes, until the garlic was soft and buttery. My kitchen smelled like the happiest place in the world. 

In a large saucepan, I heated up some olive oil over medium heat until it was nice and toasty. Then, I added 2 cups of seeded, sliced bell peppers, 3 thinly sliced scallions, and a small hot chile pepper, also seeded. If you're not a fan of heat (or a WIMP), you can leave it out. After sprinkling on salt, black pepper, paprika, and cumin, I sauteed everything for 8-10 minutes. The veggies needed to get some color, release their flavors, and soften a bit. 

While the veggies were going on the stove, I took 2 cans of whole peeled tomatoes, and crushed them with my hands to break them up into smaller pieces. The tomatoes went into the saucepan with the veg, along with 4 mashed cloves of the roasted garlic, a half a lemon's worth of zest, and a pinch of brown sugar. 

Okay, let's pause for a minute. The ONE thing I have issue with Nadia and her recipes, is that she adds brown sugar to EVERYTHING. I mean, I know it's to bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes, but damn! What if you were lucky enough to get some really nice canned tomatoes, and they didn't need help? What did I have on hand that would blend well and lend some savoriness to the stew? A quick rifle through my spice rack uncovered some dried oregano and bay leaf. Perfect. I added about a teaspoon of oregano and 1 bay leaf to the stew and let it simmer on low heat, covered, for 30 minutes. 

After 30 minutes, I uncovered the pot and was greeted by the smell of victory. The oregano and bay were perfect in the dish, toning down the sweetness of the brown sugar and melding with the tomatoes and peppers. Now, for the chickpeas. 

I took two cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained, and added them to the stew. The recipe only says to leave the stew on the stove until the chickpeas are "heated through", but canned chickpeas can be annoying hard to me.  I figured that the stew wouldn't be hurt if I left it alone for a while, so I let it simmer on low for another 20 minutes.  I was rewarded with creamy chickpeas and a very tasty stew. 

To garnish my cornucopia of vegetables, I chopped up a handful of fresh mint and parsley, and sprinkled it over the stew. I also spritzed a half a lemon over it for some brightness and acidity, and to keep with the Mediterranean vibe, I crumbled some fresh feta over the top. Gorgeous!

I was really proud of this dish. It's hearty enough that you don't miss any meat, healthy, and it tastes great. It was a smash at the potluck, and I know I'll be making it again soon. If you can help it, try making it the night before you serve it, and let it chill in the fridge. The flavors will get even more intense, and it'll taste even better. 

If you and your friends aren't already in the habit of having potlucks together, start! Bring together your cultures, traditions, and get in the game. Even if the act of sharing the foods that you love doesn't bring you closer, you can always share a nap. Everyone loves a good nap.