Saturday, November 27, 2010

Chickpea-Eggplant Stew with Kale and Harissa

I love Thanksgiving, but the holiday definitely has the potential to incite controversy and discomfort, perhaps especially among vegans.  As I've written before, for me eating vegan goes hand in hand with trying to be more aware of the relationships between our food choices and the matrices of social and political power from which those choices will never be independent.

So when a friend of mine--whose passionate dedication to Palestinian liberation I really admire--told me she couldn't come to Thanksgiving because she would be boycotting US imperialism and settler colonialism... it made me pause.  And while I respect her decision, I think this is what I've decided for myself: To be sure, the origins of Thanksgiving are pretty icky (though, to further complicate things, it's worth noting that Thanksgiving wasn't institutionalized as a US holiday until much more recently).  But surely a holiday that celebrates our connection to the seasons and to local foods, thus fostering mindfulness about how we eat and whom we eat with, has the power to be one of the greatest forces for good among the holidays we celebrate.

Of course, there are other reasons why Thanksgiving can be problematic.  As with other family-gathering-feast type holidays, eating vegan among omnivores (depending on how those omnivores eat) can be... weird.  I'm not talking about the squeamish having-to-look-at-meat kind of crap--get over it; it's really not a big deal.  But if you're trying to fit your eating practices into what everyone else is eating, it's often easiest to just switch things in and out rather than reconfigure the entire way you (or your family) think about constructing a meal.  Now, I've never had a Tofurkey; I'll bet it tastes okay, despite its coming from a box, but I'm pretty sure that Tofurkeys just make vegans look bad.  That kind of thing plays right into perceptions of a vegan diet as characterized by lack or fakeness... and there is some serious gendering going on here in how our culture talks about meat-eating.  The very possibility that there need not be one main dish in relation to which everything else is backup seems an idea whose radicalism goes far beyond American food culture.  Is it any wonder that William Blake was a vegetarian?

All of which is to say... where was the protein in this Thanksgiving feast?  Well, it was everywhere: in the wheat berries in the squash salad, in the squash seeds, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, almonds, and hazelnuts that graced almost every dish, even in the whole wheat flour in the pie crust.  And, of course, in the chickpeas in this stew:

Finally, I've used up my harissa.  Time to start all over.  Or maybe I should try to use all that berbere?

This recipe uses a very interesting combination of flavors: basil and oregano as well as roasted eggplant and harissa.  And fennel might, but doesn't usually, come with either.  The result is a delicious mixture of tastes, with just enough heat.

I changed only a few things in this recipe from urban vegan: I roasted the eggplant over the stove to get that mouthwatering, if carcinogenic, flame taste.  Since the tomatoes I got last minute from the supermarket looked a little waxy, I roasted them too (though in the oven) and peeled off their skins before chopping and proceeding.  Every kitchen appliance I own failed to turn onions and garlic into a paste, so I just chopped them finely by hand and moved on, weeping about my lack of a proper food processor.  Oh, and I used fresh parsley and cooked dried chickpeas, rather than dried and canned (respectively).

Chickpea-Eggplant Stew with Kale and Harissa
(adapted from urban vegan)

1 medium eggplant
1/3 cup olive oil
1 large sweet onion, peeled and finely chopped
6-7 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
large dollop of harissa
3 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped or oven-roasted, skinned, and chopped
1 cup kale, trimmed and chopped finely
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp dried basil
3 TB fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 15-oz can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 450. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray it with cooking spray. Prick the eggplant all over with a fork, and place eggplant and tomatoes on cookie sheet in heated oven and roast for about 45 minutes or until they're pooped. Remove from oven, allow to cool. Then scrape out the insides, chop, if needed, and set aside.  Alternatively, roast the eggplant directly over a gas-stove flame (like so).  This makes it more flavorful, but if you're roasting the tomatoes too, it's not the most efficient way to do it.
2. In a large casserole or high-sided pan, heat oil over medium low. Add onion, garlic, and harrissa. Cook about 10 minutes, or until everything is translucent. Be careful not to burn.
3. Add remaining ingredients, including eggplant pulp but excluding the chickpeas. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to low. Cook for 1-2 hours, adding more oil, water, or veggie stock as needed. This is the most important part of this dish...the longer it simmers, the better it will taste, since the flavors need to meld.
4. Add the chickpeas about 30 minutes before you want to eat. Cover and simmer, adjust the seasonings, as needed, then enjoy.  Serves about 4.

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