Tapas night

There’s a little tapas place in Brighton I’ve been going to quite a bit. It’s called something like “Bodega d tapa”, and I’d link to it, but their website has been sporting an “under construction” landing page for the last three years. I think it’s the sister restaurant of Solera, and the menu is similar if you want a flavour of the offering. It’s good, but not amazing, and has somehow worked itself onto the list of places I go for a dash of comfort food when I rock up in Brighton shattered on a Friday evening. Anyway, that’s not really the point.

Meatballs with tomato sauce

The point is that I’ve been eating a lot of tapas lately, and thought it was long past time I had a crack at it. Fortunately, the folks behind the immense Spanish cookbook
1080 Recipes  have turned their attention to the subject and produced The Book of Tapas.

It’s good. It’s really good.

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Chana masala with paneer

Chana masala is an Indian restaurant favourite of mine.  Heck, I’ll eat basically anything with chickpeas, but there’s something about the simple rich spiciness that makes chana masala  particularly good.

I’ve cooked it twice in five days now, because the first round didn’t quite nail it. For round two – which worked – I went back to a basic recipe, built around a very simple curry gravy. Then, predictably, I lost my keeping-it-simple nerve at the end, and threw in a load of paneer.

Chana masala with paneer

In my defence, paneer is pretty great.

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Taking the pulse(s)

Delicious Magazine – which is occasionally interesting – publish a bunch of books. One of them – which is also occasionally interesting -, Five Of The Best, contains a rather nifty chickpea recipe. Now, chickpeas, and mercilessly desecrating vegetarian recipes have to be two of my favourite things. So here goes.

The original is a ten-minute sure-fire hit of a dish. Chickpeas in a kind of spicy pulp with wilted spinach, to which my first thought was to add toasted pine nuts – maybe pack it into generous timbales, bitter leaves or slices of mozzarella on the side, as a starter. But that’s because I’m a prick. More interesting is to add chorizo, maybe bacon, and definitely more faffing.

The dish requires chickpeas, spinach, bread, stock (chicken probably) spices, garlic, chorizo, and bacon. The quantities are fairly flexible. A couple hundred grams of spinach, and a thick-ish slice of bread per tin of chickpeas is about the shape of it. Then as much chorizo as you can pack into your craw without sustaining serious injury. But this is far more impressionistic than pernickety. It is also yet another victory for the “bacon is a garnish” lobby.

Use a couple of tins of chickpeas, rinsed, and if (as I did) you open a tin of butterbeans because you weren’t paying attention, one of those too. It actually worked – they go pleasingly smooshy. Which is a word. This is very much a dish of errors – the pulses were warmed through in a splash of stock, as I’d defrosted too much. Oh, it helped, but you can see how the simplicity would be eroded by much more of this shoddy tosh.

Wilt and shred rather a lot (say, 500g) of spinach, pressing dry, but not entirely so, and set aside. Fry some thinly sliced chorizo and bacon in just a little oil, placing the meat to one side with the spinach, and reserving the fat for the next step. Which is to fry three or four cloves of chopped or crushed garlic in the oil for a moment, before adding a teaspoon or so each of cumin and paprika, then frying cubes of bread until heading towards crispy. I guess any kind of bread would do, but ciabatta felt right; four thick slices off a fairly small one, here. Blend (ie food processor) the pan contents with about half a pint of strong stock, maybe a bit more, and stir everything together. That’s basically it.

You could ditch the bacon for some mexicanesque boiled-then-fried pork, making the stock along the way, but this version’s basically sound. I would advise warming the pulses through, at least, and doing this in residual stock is the perfect chance to toss in ore garlic and a couple of cloves. Care, however, should be taken not to let them break up overmuch. I don’t know what exactly you would serve with this. More ciabatta? A salad? I guess it could even become fajita filling. Being a twist on a warm salad, it would – as Former Housemate Ms B pointed out – make a mighty lunch in case of leftovers, warmed through or otherwise. Leftovers are, I humbly opine, unlikely.