Monday, September 6, 2010
Squash and Eggplant Stew à la Katie
My wonderful friend Katie lives in Jerusalem. She's pretty much the bomb, and has been ever since we played music together in college. Though I rarely get to see her (Jerusalem isn't exactly 'round the corner), she did recently make a swing through Missoula and bestowed upon me a most fantastic gift: a big 'ol bag of saffron!
Now ya may not know, but saffron is the most expensive spice in the world by weight. And though Katie is generous and amazing (she says it's remarkable cheap in Jerusalem), I could never have expected to come upon such a rare spice in my world...SO THANKS A WHOLE LOT, KATIE! YOU ROCK!
Just as a side note, saffron is so hugely expensive because the plant it comes from is very very hard to grow. Susceptible to all kinds of parasites and other nastys, the saffron crocus needs extremely particular conditions to thrive in terms of humidity and air temp. And once you finally get the thing to grow, you're only going to use a little teeny part of it! So yeah, it's expensive. Here's a picture of the saffron crocus plant:
The bright orangey-red stamen has a bitter flavor and pungent aroma, while the yellow part offers nothing as a spice. These little babies have to be separated by hand and stored in just such a way as to prevent rot....sheesh....that's a high-maintenance spice. Check out these women and all those purple flowers it takes to get just a little bit of actual saffron:
Anyhoo, you can see what I freaked the fudge out when Katie handed me a plastic bag full of this precious stuff. Holy CRAP! And um, well...you may be wondering why I'm even sharing this recipe with you. You're thinking, "How the hell am I'm gonna get my hands on saffron?" The good news is that, hurrah, you don't have to have it...it's just really delicious. This recipe can be pulled off with a good dash o' cumin and some serious paprika action. So, it's the perfect opportunity to experiment with spice combos! Do it. If you're feeling indulgent and aren't lucky enough to have a friend like Katie, you can get it at any natural food store.
Heat up some oil in a stockpot on medium high. Add:
2 onions, diced
1 medium eggplant, peeled and chopped
1 small summer squash, UNpeeled and chopped
Sautee the veggies until the onions are translucent. Then add:
2-3 gloves garlic
2 tsp cumin
1 tbs saffron
heavy dash of cayenne (I like to burn my lips off)
24oz can diced tomatoes (save the can)
Stir until combined, then add:
1 cup dry lentils, red or brown
2 tomato cans of water
salt and pepper
Plop a lid down on top of that whole amazingly good-smelling conglomeration, drop the temp to medium, and let it rock n' roll (you don't want it to be boiling...simmering, ok?) Cook the stew for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft. Check it about halfway through and take off the lid if it seems like there's too much liquid hangin' around.
NOW. Get a beer. Go outside. Taste ecstasy.