Naturally, fortification is essential. In this season, I dose myself with color. I find comfort in the bolder tastes of far off places, preferably somewhere very warm and sunny. I can't really afford to hop a flight to Barcelona (is it even sunny there right now?), but if I root around in my cupboard very briefly I can come up with something that will allow me to escape there for long enough to lift me out of my winter blahs.
What I love most about Spanish cooking is the contrast of bold colors with complex, often gentle flavors. I like how ingredients are intended to taste like the best version of themselves. I recently had a plate of fideos cooked in squid ink that had the same rich complexity of flavor as a Mexican mole. Everywhere you looked was a new pop of color: a pink piece of octopus, the green shock of cilantro, a velvet swirl of creme fraiche. Its big, bad blackness played tricks on my eyes, yet its flavors were a sweet and subdued departure. It took me out of Portland, out of my own little world for the 10 minutes it took me to eat it. It completely arrested me, however quietly.
Lately, my go to spice of transport is pimenton. It's a bit hotter than the cupboard paprika we had growing up, and smokier too. And oh! its color is a deep, sienna red that happily lends itself to anything it's added to, in the same fashion of turmeric or saffron. In this simple chickpea stew, it unifies the flavor of the sweeter ingredients like shallots with the more acidic ones like tomatoes. I also find easy recipes like this which are packed with healthy and interesting ingredients are essential when the winter has challenged your spirits and you feel too tired to cook.
When I say I love to cook, I mean that I love to eat what I cook. I am, if nothing else, eater first and cook second. Most of all, I love that quiet moment when you first sit down to dinner and the day's events fall away. When everyone eats together we can be happy because there is good, honest food on the table and it is delicious. Or perhaps, as on a day like today where I plan to dine alone, I can have this little moment to myself before I continue on with everything else.
Chorizo and Chickpea Stew For TwoThis recipe is intended to be flexible. It can easily be transformed as a vegetarian dish, and sometimes I add a little squid or shrimp if I have any in the freezer. I really enjoy the sweetness of sherry against the heat of the pimenton. This is enough stew for two people, or you can be greedy as I am and save the rest for lunch the following day.Ingredients:1 Tbs. olive oil6-8 oz. chorizo4 shallots, thinly sliced1 stalk celery, chopped2 cloves garlic1/4 cup dry fino sherry1/2 cup crushed tomatoes1 can chickpeas, liquid reserved1 teaspoon pimenton (or more to taste)Juice of a half a lemon1 handful of cilantro or parsely, roughly chopped with a few sprigs for garnish (optional)Salt and Pepper, to tasteDirections:1. Over medium heat, swirl 1 Tbs. olive oil around a saucepan with a heavy bottom.2. Add the chorizo to the pan and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.3. Add the shallots and celery to the pan and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Now add the garlic and stir once more. Add salt and pepper.4. Pour the dry sherry into the pan, and stand back for it will throw out quite a bit of steam and make a nice hissing sound. Allow the alcohol to cook off for 2 or 3 minutes, stirring to scrape up any brown bits at the bottom of the pan.5. Add the tomatoes, chickpeas and pimenton to the pan. Bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes. If the stew looks too soupy for your taste, add a bit of the reserved chickpea liquid to thicken it.6. Add the lemon juice and cilantro or parsely. Taste the stew and adjust seasonings if you see fit. I often like to add a little more pimenton. Serve hot with rice or couscous.Yield: 2 servings