There is huge comfort and reassurance in the possession of a few cans in the cupboard, especially so in times like these. Many have been the time that I have wearily returned home, unhopeful of any good supper, and found relief in a can or two hiding at the back of the cupboard. Tinned tomatoes and pulses are the most common rescue, though coconut milk comes a close second. This stew is one such recipe that requires very little fresh ingredients – or rather, as little as you like, as many of the ingredients can be omitted depending how destitute your fridge is. It is a variation of Alison Roman’s infamous ‘The Stew’, which caused a stir all the way through New York when the recipe was first published in the New York Times. It’s very hard to know what exactly makes a recipe go ‘viral’, but there are certainly no bells and whistles here; I think the secret to this particular recipe lies in its simplicity, wholesomeness, and the comfort it brings in what Nigella has called ‘the solace of stirring’. I often make this is in a big batch and then freeze leftovers in portions, and it never fails to soothe the soul. It’s substantial enough to be eaten on it’s own, but I like it with brown rice and a dollop of yoghurt, though I’ve often served it with naan or roti to mop up the golden juices. This takes 30 minutes from start to finish, but if you’re short on time (or energy) you can always forgo the crispy chickpeas (although they do add a lovely crunch!).
For the crispy chickpeas:
1 x 400g chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1tsp fennel seeds
For the stew:
Oil, for frying
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped
a 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
2 x 400g tins of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tin of full-fat coconut milk
1 stock cube or stock pot (vegetable or chicken)
large bag of baby spinach
Handful of fresh chopped mint (optional)
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Tip one can of chickpeas into a medium roasting dish, drizzle with a glug of oil, spices and salt and pepper, then shake the dish to coat the chickpeas. Place the tray in the hot oven and cook for about 30 minutes until dark golden and crispy, and slightly shrunk in size. You will need to keep checking them every ten minutes or so and shaking the tray so that they cook evenly and don’t catch.
In a large pan, heat a good glug of oil, then add the chopped onion and garlic. Fry over a medium-low heat until the onions are soft and translucent, then add the ginger and spices and cook, stirring, until the pan smells fragrant. Add two cans of chickpeas and use a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon to partly crush the chickpeas so that they’re semi-broken down – this helps to thicken the stew. Once the chickpeas have been smooshed a bit, add the coconut milk, 250ml of boiling water, and the stock pot. Bring to a bubble and cook for about ten minutes, until the chickpeas are nice and soft and the stew has reduced very slightly. Stir through the fresh spinach to wilt, and then check the seasoning. Serve with rice or flatbreads, with mint and crunchy chickpeas sprinkled over.