While I've found that cheese-mongering is full of life's rich delights, sadly it is not making me rich -- not with the rent I'm paying. In my new state of horrifying, dizzying penury, I have been investigating all the possible dishes one can make with canned food, and on the cheap. That might mean a trip to your local dented can/remaindered food store, or just finding those good deals at the supermarket. Additionally, I have been taking cues from my little brother, Max, who's an urban livin' off-the-grid type. You know, the guy who's always talking wild-eyed about peak oil and rooftop gardens? Yeah, that kinda fella. These sorts are very handy when it comes to knowledge of affordable eating. I made some giardinaire at his instigation and it is cheap, easy, and a great way of using the odds and ends of vegetables from that stew you made to stretch the roast.
So, as I was saying, I try to get the pick of the dented-can litter, but hey, sometimes you gotta take whatever they throw at you. In the case of a recent excursion it was chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans. I figured out ways to use them in unusual combinations, and some are surprisingly delicious. Let's start there. Here's a nice one, very quick and great on a hot morning.
Cheap Beet/Bean Salad
One can beets, rinsed. Or -- even cheaper! -- boil or roast your own homegrown beets, peeled, with a little oil and salt.
One can chickpeas, rinsed. I guess it'd be cheaper to cook your own but Jesus Christ how far do you expect me to go?
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of one lemon
1 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Whatever greens you can salvage from your new thrifty Chia Pet Herb Garden. Parsley is best.
I realize this recipe is a trifle inane in its simplicity, but it is preferable to other vegetable salads out of cans because: 1. Chickpeas and beets are almost the only vegetables that taste almost as good out of the can. 2. They take FOREVER to cook by hand so you feel smug saving time. 3. You rarely, if ever, taste them together, so it's a refreshingly new taste. 4. Substantial-er than most vegetarian salads, so you stave off hunger to live another day. 5. Very, very nutritious.
Also cheap and good as breakfast is washed, sliced, salted radishes, alongside washed, sliced apples, dried dates and a little honey. Radishes are so great for eating out of hand when it's hot, why are they so neglected? So crispy, so vividly hued! And of course with cold butter and salt on good bread they are absolutely superb. In Romania they eat big spring onions with cheese and salami for breakfast but that's going a little far, pungent vegetables in the morning-wise.
Okay, on to giardinaire. Basically, it's pickled vegetables canned in oil. The benefits are twofold: the pickles are richer, hence tastier; and the oil itself is marvelous. Scramble eggs in it, or pour it over a sandwich in true Brooklyn Eyetalian fashion.
Really you can use any vegetables you prefer, but as a rough guide:
5 carrots, peeled and chopped into sticks or coins
2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped into sticks
8 pearl onions, peeled
4 stalks celery, chopped into sticks
3 red and/or green peppers, chopped
1/2 head cauliflower, florets separated
1 tablespoon capers
5 whole garlic cloves (for real garlic lovers)
Now brine your vegetables.
Mix 10 cups cheap white vinegar with 5 cups water in a large cooking pot. Heat over a medium flame.
As it is heating to a low simmer, stir in
1/4 cup peppercorns
5 cups salt
1/2 bunch parsley (you can use just the stems and save the leafy tops for something else)
Stir to dissolve. Remove from heat. Add vegetables immediately. Let sit until it cools, then cover and refrigerate overnight. Go party.
The next day, shake off your hangover by taking a big sniff as you pour off the brine. Pick out the parsley stems if any stick to the vegetables, it doesn't really matter if you miss a few. Try not to get very many peppercorns.
Sterilize 6 glass jars by boiling for a few minutes. Let cool a bit. Place brined veggies in jars, and pour over enough oil to cover. I use half olive oil and half vegetable oil. You can use all vegetable oil if you are REALLY cheap, or all olive oil for a tastier oil. I find half and half works just fine. Screw the lids on the jars, and Bob's your uncle! I have never had this stuff not get eaten in a few weeks so honestly I am not sure it keeps more than a month. The oil keeps indefinitely, I find.
There is usually some sort of sale on chicken at any supermarket. Be it legs, wings or thighs, any bone-in chicken parts can be used to make delicious one-pan meals for literally two or three dollars. I have noticed men like to eat meat so I make this when I have a deserving date. That I am still single should not be taken as a reflection on the tastiness of this dish.
Manly Chicken and Chickpeas
1 package chicken parts, bone-in (4-6 pieces)
1 can chickpeas
1/2 yellow or white onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, mashed
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon sugar or 1/4 cup golden raisins
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 1/2 cups water, or 1 cup water and 1/2 cup white wine
Heat a large seasoned cast iron skillet over a medium flame until hot, hot, hot (when the end of the handle is very warm to the touch). Place chicken parts skin side down. Let sizzle without moving them for 3 minutes, then peel one up with a metal spatula to see if the skin is crisping and browning. If it's at the desired brown crispiness, remove; if not give 'em another minute or so.
Remove chicken from pan and let rest on a plate. Pour off some of the fat from the pan, leaving enough so there is a nice thick layer on the bottom, maybe a quarter inch deep or a little less.
Reduce heat slightly. Add onion, and stir until translucent. Add all other ingredients except chicken, and stir for two minutes. Add liquid. Bring to a low simmer. Place chicken part crispy skin side up on top of mixture and cover. Let simmer for 25 minutes; check at 15 to make sure there is still liquid covering the bottom of the pan. Give the pan a good shake every 5 minutes to re-adjust the chickpeas.
Good with salad, unsurprisingly. Call your mom and tell her how admirably frugal you are.