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Don’t let go of summer yet

September 4, 2012

By ALIX HUI

[Setting: Some sort of drafty fold in the space-time continuum. Yes, I realize time-travel is a cheap narrative device, which is why we are time-folding.]

“You know what? School hasn’t started yet. I can still make stock from scratch.” This is what Alix of days ago said.

To which I now reply: “Is this why you bought so many carrots? To make stock? Or were you trying to improve your eyesight in anticipation of what I can now tell you was an overambitious reading load for the semester? I can also tell you now that all the carrots that you/I have been consuming for the last ten days has resulted in an orange hue in my/our fingertips.”

Alix of days ago also said, “I have been travelling for eight weeks straight. Packing and unpacking.  Packing and unpacking. I have been eating junk food and camp food and wedding food and, one time due to a terrible misunderstanding, cat food. I have missed my kitchen and just want to cook my own food.”

“You have to admit, that was a lot of couscous, even for a Thursday,” I respond (and then promptly brainstorm all the reduplicate food words I can — couscous, mahi mahi, kavakava, bonbons, etc.). I further point out to Alix of days ago that now that school has indeed started, slow cooked food is out. The bustle of the new students and familiar hurricanes and traditional pastimes requires one to now be efficient. “Summer is un-American,” I mutter to myself glumly.

“But I am making a Moroccan Tagine!” past Alix exclaims.

“Ohhh.” I now say with a slightly patronizing tone, knowing this anyway (because I am from the FUTURE). Alix of days ago has a point. Tagines, the word for both the curious pots with a rounded bottom and conical top and the foods that result from said pots, are efficient in the sense that you get an enormous amount of rich, flavorful food, as the result of very little energy. Don’t worry if you don’t have a tagine. A sturdy Dutch oven or deep pan with a snug-fitting lid works fine. Just chop your vegetables and toss them in. Then toss in coucous. Yes, it takes some time, since it all needs to simmer but while it’s doing that you can wander off to ponder the relationship of time and energy in Einstein’s famous equation.

Alix of days ago thinks about Neil Armstrong and smiles to herself, glad that he is still around. She tells her favorite Phyllis Diller joke.

Alix of days ago had foresight. Though it was an enormous meal for two people last Thursday, the leftovers continue to last and only taste better with time. And keep in mind that much of it can be prepared a day in advance if need be. In the steps below, the tagine can be made ahead of time up until the step where the couscous is added.

Also, I suppose because the list of ingredients is so lengthy, none are critical for the dish besides, I suppose, the couscous. Which is to say that it is very flexible and you should add or subtract ingredients as you like. Add zucchini or two. Leave out the pepper flakes. Add a Tablespoon of honey. Leave out the yogurt. 

Alix of days ago was Alix of summer. She would be dismayed to see you so stressed out by the bustle of a new school year and mass-energy equivalences. Don’t let go of summer yet. Slow cook your food on Thursday.

Thursday Tagine

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots or raisins (or both)
1 1/2 cups tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped (or one can, drained and chopped)
2 cups vegetable stock
1 can chickpeas, drained
4 carrots, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 small head of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized chunks
salt and pepper
1 cup couscous, pearl or regular
1/2 cup chopped almonds or pistachios
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
~ 1 cup plain yogurt
 
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or deep skillet with a snug-fitting lid. Add the onion and cook it over medium-high heat until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger cumin, turmeric, cinnamon and red pepper flakes and continue to cook, stirring continuously for about 2 minutes.

Add the dried fruit, tomatoes, stock, chickpeas, carrots, and cauliflower. Also add a large pinch of salt and a large pinch of pepper. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce the heat so that it gently simmers. Cover and cook until the vegetables are just tender. While the veggies are simmering, toast your chopped almonds or pistachios by shaking them in a small pan over high heat (just a minute or two — stay vigilant, they will burn quickly) then set aside to cool.

Add the couscous and cook until it is al dente, 5 to 10 minutes depending on whether you are using pearl or regular coucous. Taste for salt and pepper.  Serve with a spoonful or two of yogurt on the side and cilantro sprinkled on top.

Alix Hui is an Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi State University.  She can be contacted at alixhui@gmail.com.

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