Thursday, June 14, 2007

Dinner, Now Now

Once upon a time, Mark and I had a friend from Tonga. One day he invited us to his church for a special celebration. He said the festivities started at 11. Mark and I took the train from Brisbane to the suburb where the Tongan church was located, arriving just before the scheduled hour. We spotted our friend sitting in the shade of a tree, eating oranges. He invited us to sit with him, and handed us each an orange. There was no other activity on the church grounds; Mark and I were slightly baffled. But, we were enjoying the shade, the oranges and the company, so we lazily let time pass.

About 45 minutes later, our friend said, “I bet you’re wondering where all the people are and when the service will start.” Why, yes, we said, that question did cross our minds. “Well,” he said, “We are on Tongan time. Which means it doesn’t matter when we start. All that matters is that the service happens.” People began trickling in a few minutes later, and after another half an hour there was a boisterous crowd. The service, indeed, did happen. (And was followed by a feast that involved five whole spit-roasted pigs, but that is another story.)

In Zimbabwe, time is not quite so loosely conceived as in Tonga. However, we are certainly not on German time, or New York time, or even Southern U.S. time. It took me a while to get the hang of what exactly time here means:

Zimbabwean English: U.S. translation

Let’s go now: Let’s go sometime in the next couple of hours.

Let’s go just now: Let’s go sometime in the next hour.

Let’s go now now: Let’s go now.

After a day of meetings that started “just now” and e-mail replies that came, belatedly, “now,” sometimes I want dinner now now. If you find yourself in a similar situation, then you can prepare Chickpeas and Swiss Chard in the Style of the Tunisian Sahel. The recipe comes straight from Paula Wolfert, the doyenne of Moroccan and Tunisian cuisine. I am reprinting it here only so I can provide the metric equivalents – I didn’t change the recipe one bit. It makes for a quick, light nutritious meal, or a vibrant side. I love the different textures, the spicy kick and the fact that you can eat this dish warm or cold. The one question your dinner-mates will ask, of course, is where, oh where is the Tunisian Sahel? “Sahel” means coast or margin in Arabic; in Tunisia, the Sahel refers to the central part of the country’s eastern shoreline.

Time to go eat – now now!

Chickpeas and Swiss Chard in the Style of the Tunisian Sahel (Morshan)
From Mediterranean Cooking
Makes 2 servings (4 as a side)

¾ pound / 340 grams Swiss chard leaves, stemmed, rinsed and torn into large pieces
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled
½ teaspoon / 2.5 milliliters coarse salt
1 teaspoon / 5 milliliters ground coriander
1 small dried red chili
30 milliliters / 2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup / 80 grams minced onion
2 teaspoons / 10 milliliters tomato paste
1 cup / 165 grams cooked chickpeas, with ¾ cup / 190 milliliters cooking liquid*
1 lemon, cut in wedges (optional)

Steam, parboil or microwave the chard leaves until tender, about 5 minutes. Set leaves in colander to drain. Squeeze out excess moisture and shred coarsely.

Crush garlic in mortar with salt, coriander and chili until a thick, crumbly paste forms.

Heat olive oil in large skillet and sauté the onion until pale-golden. Add the garlic paste and tomato paste and stir into oil until sizzling. Add chard, cooked chickpeas and cooking liquid and cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand until ready to serve. (Contents of skillet should be very moist but not soupy. For a looser texture, stir in more chickpea cooking liquid. Serve warm, at room temperature or cold with lemon wedges.

Note: Broccoli rabe, dandelion leaves, mustard greens, kale or turnip tops may be substituted for Swiss chard. Discard any yellow or damaged leaves and cook like chard. Cooking time will vary.

*Okay, I lied, I realized as I was typing that I didn’t follow this recipe to the letter! I actually used two tins of canned chickpeas, drained, and water instead of the freshly cooked beans and their cooking water. I wanted dinner now now, remember?


Pille said...

Carolyn - I haven't got any Swiss Chard at home at the moment, but some beetroot leaves. Do you think it'd work? The recipe sounds great, and I'm keen to try it..

Carolyn said...

Pille - Yes, beetroot leaves would work great! I love beetroot leaves, and am always substituting them for other greens in recipes. I hope you enjoy the dish!

Mrs. W said...

What a fabulous recipe! I actually did not follow it to the letter, but what I did was just delicious... used one can chickpeas and it's liquid, a box of frozen chopped spinach (no swiss chard around the house I'm afraid) and I added about 2 cups homemade lamb stock and one poached chicken breast, cut up. While not completely authentic, it's certainly a versatile recipe! Thanks for posting it.

mind the gap said...

hehehe. I love your "now now", "just now" explanation. As an old Zimbabwean (as in, I am more English now) I still use "just now" much to my friends' confusion. It's a habit I just can't shake!

Jeanne said...

Ha ha! My English colleagues always giggle at my liberal use of "just now" and "now now". From my SA perspective, "just now" means "later - but don't hold your breath because I don't feel like it and in fact I hope you just forget about the whole thing" and "now now" often expresses the recent past as in "he can't have gone far, he was here now now". The whole lot is, I suspect, the result of direct translations of Afrikaans words, rather along the same lines as "there by" (as in "is he there by you?") LOL!