I’m a bookworm at heart, my mother always said so. Give me a good book, fiction or not, and I’m lost in another world, absorbed in the lives of strangers and gone until the final page is turned. Which is what makes me a terrible cook.
Because I can sit in the kitchen, as I did this morning, with a pot of beans bubbling merrily on the stove and a good book spread out before my eyes, and as I get pulled deeper and deeper into the book (in this case David Grossman’s To the End of the Land, an irritating but absorbing exercise), the liquid in the bean pot gets lower and lower and I am vaguely aware of a pleasant aroma of roasting beans, almost like coffee, rising on the edge of the Israeli mountain where I’m hiking with Grossman’s characters, and the roasting aroma becomes stronger and stronger and then turns to a defiant smell of – yipes! I’ve burned the beans! Yet again!
So I’ve had to start over again and this time set the timer to rouse me from my bookish wanderings before the beans begin to char on the pot bottom.
Many cultures cook beans for new year’s. In Italy it’s always lentils with cotecchino sausage—the lentils, little brown coins, symbolize money for the new year, the sausage stands for good fat luxury. In South Carolina (and throughout the South indeed) it’s black-eyed peas for hoppin John. But for my new year’s luck, I’m cooking chickpeas, aka garbanzos, in a made-up-on-the-spot recipe that pulls together a bunch of different parts of the Mediterranean. Once the beans are tender (and not burned this time), I’ll mix them with some steamed, chopped spinach, then stir in a little grated orange zest and a pinch of chili. Maybe a pinch of cumin too. And I’ll finish it off with a Catalan sofrito, made by gently sauteing a grated onion, a chopped garlic clove, and a grated fresh tomato (or a chopped canned tomato) in a couple of tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil until the onion bits are soft, then stirring that taste-booster into the beans and spinach. Call it Mediterranean fusion or Greco-Catalan cuisine.