Thursday, September 18, 2008

September 17, 2008: Pantry challenge chickpeas

What's a pantry challenge? In our home, once every week or so, I tend to delve into the bottom two shelves of the pantry, looking for a half-finished packet of something that can be entirely finished for dinner. Noodles, quinoa, rice paper sheets or felafel mix - these dry and colourless ingredients can actually be a great launching point for a brand new meal, given a quick trip to the shops for some fresh veges on the way home from work.

That's hardly a challenge, though, is it? Well, on Tuesday night I managed to create a meal using only ingredients already at home. I realise that's par for the course in many households, but it's highly unusual here. We often don't plan our meals any more than hours ahead, and buy groceries up to five times a week. (For the record, my pantry meal consisted of stir-fried mock chicken and shredded Brussels sprouts with soba noodles and Happee Monkee's dark caramelised garlic sauce.)

Kathyrn from Limes and Lycopene has set an even greater pantry challenge. Can you create a tasty and nutritious meal using only ingredients from her list of 15 non-perishable foods? I reckoned I could, though many of the items don't typically reside in my own pantry (Michael eyes frozen vegetables with deep suspicion, and we don't even hoard tinned legumes, though we eat them often). It's not exactly the on-the-table-in-20-minutes affair that most folks are looking for on a weeknight, but that's because I wanted to slow cook the onions for maximum soft sweetness. However this recipe still doesn't require too much effort - just set the onions cooking as soon as you can and spend the next half hour ticking off another task. Answer your mail, write a note to long-distance friend, or give your mum a call!

Moroccan spiced chickpeas

250g box frozen spinach
2 x 400g cans chickpeas
2 onions, sliced into rings
a small splash of olive oil
~1 tablespoon ras el honout (a Moroccan spice mix, or substitute garam masala)
salt and pepper

Put a small splash of olive oil in a non-stick frypan and add the onions. Cook them over very low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30-45 minutes, until very soft. While the onions are cooking, take the spinach out of the freezer to partially defrost, and drain and rinse the chickpeas.

Once the onions are ready, push them to the side of the pan and plonk the spinach into the centre. Gently break the icy chunks up with your spatula or wooden spoon as it thaws. Once it's completely thawed, add the chickpeas and stir everything together. Sprinkle over the spice mix and season to taste.

If I were unconstrained, I'd suggest finishing this off with some lemon juice and a side of couscous. As it is, a splash of vinegar and some toast does very nicely.


  1. Yum! I'll have to try that one... I'm usually the same about last minute dinner planning, but chickpeas and onions are quite often on hand!

  2. mmm! that looks great!
    im the same with my dinner planning, i grab ingredients from the supermarket on the way home from uni pretty much everyday- none of this 'planning' business!

  3. I should follow your example. I always seem to be overrun with half packets of things. It drives me insane. And I love the sound of your dish - it's very interesting. I would have done something boring like a pasta with tomato sauce.

  4. Some thoughts.

    I actually like chickpeas, strange since I hate most other beans.

    Your MacGyver improvisational skills are ever improving. You will become a Jedi warrior one day soon.

    The only frozen vegetable that is good is peas I think.

  5. Every day is a pantry challenge in my kitchen. I wish I could be better at meal planning...

  6. Lovely dish Cindy (and thanks for your Pantry Challenge entry).

  7. Hi Jesska! I hope you like it. Be patient with the onions, they get better and better the longer they cook.

    Thanks Bella! Glad it's not just me. :-)

    Thanks, KJ! Nothing wrong with a good tomato pasta, I ate a *lot* of it when I was a student cooking for one.

    Thanh, Michael might agree with you on the peas but I've always hated them! I am coming around to fresh ones and their season is almost upon us. I'm more partial to frozen corn.

    Mallika, I reckon picking the right spices could be half the problem solved. :-)

    You're welcome, Kathryn!

  8. Ooh, I have all those things in my pantry at the moment... will have to give it a try!

  9. I hope you enjoy it, Theresa! I'm looking forward to making it with fresh spinach. :-)