Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Summer Surprised Us

“Summer surprised us,” writes T.S. Eliot. The phrase comes early in “The Wasteland’ and it surprises the reader, too, already so lost in the poem’s rich layers as to be startled by these five simple syllables that come in the seventh line.

Summer always surprises me, especially September, which I still associate with fall, with going back to school and the whole gestalt of it, from the new dress my mother always got me for the first day of class in grade school, to college in Bennington, where leaves were starting to change color. So I trot out my limited autumnal wardrobe. Only I’m in Miami and it’s in the 90s, hotter, even, than August. Even though it happens every year, the end of summer catches me by surprise. I always call Labor Day Memorial Day, the other holiday that brackets the summer, the one that comes in the beginning, in May. Labor Day means summer over, game over.

That may not be such a bad thing. This summer in particular has been a time of surprises, but not the sort where you get flowers from a secret admirer or run into a long-lost friend on the street. This summer, the surprises have been more on the Biblical order — hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, drought, wildfires, the ten year anniversary of 9/11. Closer to home, our neighbor was arrested (I always suspected he was up to something) and my father-in-law died. It all coincided as summer turned to fall, a fairly grim harvest, a modern-day equivalent of the plagues, a reason to stock up on NSAIDs. What I call a visit from the Crap Fairy.

For me, putting wry words to a bad situation helps rob it of some of its malevolent power. But nomenclature only gets you so far when the ground you’ve been sure of shifts beneath your feet. For one friend, it meant losing his health and his job and with it, his income and his sense of self. For another, the ground shifted literally when her farm flooded, leaving it three feet under water. On a good day, I am edgy enough to envision Armageddon, I don’t need any help.

What do you do in times like these? My friend with the flooded farm did not lie down on the floor and have a tantrum, although God knows, I wouldn't have blamed her. She cooked up the tomatoes her husband had harvested — all 700 pounds of them.

If we can’t change the course of nature, at least we can make dinner. The very act of cooking means taking one step then another. There are tomatoes to can, dull physical acts that impel us towards life. Cooking walks the thin line between sacrament and faking it till you make it. It does not make everything better, but it engages us, it fills the emptiness. And we get dinner, too.

Summer Surprise Stew

"The harvest has passed, the summer has ended, and yet we are not saved."

Jeremiah 8:20.

Not so fast, big boy. Quick and easy to make, nourishing and soothing to eat, this stew is surprisingly full of the flavors of summer. Serve over quinoa or other whole grain.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1 zucchini, chopped

1 jalapeno

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 bunch greens, such as kale or spinach (roughly 3 to 4 cups)

1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes

sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Heat oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion, garlic and ginger and jalapeno. Saute, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, about 8 minutes.

Add cumin, coriander and turmeric. Add greens a handful at a time. Toss until greens are coated and start to wilt, about 3 minutes.

Add garbanzos and tomatoes. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and flavors have blended.

Season with sea salt and pepper.

Serves 4.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The World on a Plate

I’ve been at work on a book called Feeding the Hungry Ghost, which while peppered with recipes is not quite a cookbook, it’s like this blog -- it talks about food but it also talks about faith. It’s not driven by nutritional information, it’s driven by narrative, by story. A literary agent initially interested in the book came back to me with a pinched expression. “Well, it’s not quite a cookbook, is it?” And my first reaction was to cringe and whinge and apologize.

My heart goes out to literary agents these days. Old-school publishing is eroding out from under our toes the way the ocean shifts the shoreline. What will it become? E-books? No books? Nobody knows. But agents, editors everybody in the industry’s running scared. Fear makes our brains small. And the thing is, what I’m going for is big.

I’d never meant Feeding the Hungry Ghost to be just a cookbook. Between the sheer number of cookbooks out there and the internet’s stash of recipes, we don’t need another one (no, not even mine). We watch Food Network and Food Channel obsessively, but most of my friends don’t cook. We chase after today’s most Tweeted nutrient but one in three of us is obese. We’re incredibly hungry, but not just for food, and that’s what Feeding the Hungry Ghost is about. It takes its title from the Tao concept of restless souls still hungry, still seeking even beyond the grave.

For all our food processors and fancy food stores, our connection with food is very low,” as big-hearted novelist and food writer Laurie Colwin wrote. “We eat breakfast on the run. Our children’s lunch boxes are filled with instant pudding, instant soup, peanut butter and jelly on packaged bread. I do not believe that delicious food is a frill. Food is not fuel. It is not nutrition. It is fun, educational, horizon expanding, delightful. It is consoling, transporting and a comfort.”

To which I thought, yes.

Since Colwin wrote that -- almost 20 years go -- we’ve grown even more disconnected from our food even as we Tweet about mindful eating. Frankly, mindful eating sounds like a chore. But what if it felt like hanging with a friend, one who feeds you terrific things, too, maybe even popping a bit of chocolate cake in your mouth, which is forward as hell, but the cake is moist and velvety and winningly dark and your friend explains hand-feeding is an Ethiopian custom of friendship/kinship known as gursha. That’s what I want Feeding the Hungry Ghost to be.

My alluding to a Greek myth or The Good Soldier or a Strokes song may not have direct bearing on a recipe, but it can illuminate, enlarge, awaken. Like saffron and harissa and cinnamon, it makes the writing taste better, it makes life taste better, it feeds us. So I will not apologize for not quite writing a cookbook.

To discuss food without discussing our relationship to it, be it ties to a recipe, the culture, place or time it comes from or even the delight of sourcing, preparing and sharing food itself is to miss the bigger picture. M. F. K. Fisher, America’s premier food writer, showed us this, writing, “Our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it. . . and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied. . . .and it is all one.”

For Hungry Ghost, I had to go back to Fisher, Colwin and other writers who’ve inspired me, who make me feel not alone in the universe. They do for me what chocolate seems to do for others. Their writing is delicious, yes, but sustaining, too.

Why settle for life served up in bytes, when you can get a feast cooked with love and with you in mind, to enjoy with wine and friends, with laughter and pleasure and meaning and connection?

Look, food Tweets and blogs and channels rock, but what feeds us isn’t just what goes in our mouths, it’s what enters our souls. Yeah, I get to say stuff like that now and again, and so does Terry Theise, wine guy extraordinaire and author of the slim but transformative Reading Between the Wines. If we slow down and allow ourselves to surrender to the pleasure of a wine -- okay, a really good wine, “we hear a kind of divinity,” he writes. “And loveliest of all, you don’t have to attain this by dint of some tremendous effort of ‘spiritual practice,’ you don’t have to meditate or hold seances or even do yoga. You just have to be willing to relax and step out of your damned life for a few minutes.”

And that is what I want for Feeding the Hungry Ghost, that is what I want for you -- a book that offers recipes you’re hungry to try but also gives you the world on a plate.

Vegan Chocolate Cake

I was testing plant-based milks for an Edgy Veggie column and thinking what recipe to make for it. Smoothie? Boring. Baked thing? Very boring. Sauce? Also boring. Plant-based milks, by the way, do not great custard bases make.

I took a mental health break to look through Laurie Colwin’s wonderful book More Home Cooking. I love her cozy way of giving you a recipe for something simple and comforting, something you want to eat right now and happily, you can, because it’s made with things you have on hand. Combined, though, these ingredients become greater than the sum of their parts. This not only yields you something worth eating, it makes you feel like you’ve executed a magic trick.

I came upon her chocolate cake chapter. I thought, hmmm. Some vegan chocolate cakes are good, some decidedly not, but most comprise arcane ingredients like xanthan gum. I’m sorry, I still don’t know what that is. And I’m a professional food writer. So I did some swapping for Colwin’s recipe and voila, came up with a cake that quick, easy, pantry-friendly and vegan and still provides a mind-blowing chocolate experience.

1-3/4 cup flour

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup soy milk (not lite)

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup canola oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat oven to 350.

Lightly oil a 9-inch round cake pan.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa and baking soda. Stir in sugar.

In a small bowl, mix together soy milk and vinegar. It will curdle. Don’t sweat it, this is good. Stir in oil and vanilla. Mix wet ingredients gently into dry ones, stirring until just combined and it all coalesces into a dark, thick batter.

Spoon batter into prepared cake pan. Bake for 30 minutes, or until fragrant and the cake springs back when touched.

Needs just a dusting of powdered sugar.

Keeps wrapped and refrigerated for several days.

Serves 8 to 10.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


I am just back from Austin, where I attended my first-ever IACP conference. This is not, as a friend thought, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, but the International Association of Culinary Professionals. I am a card-carrying member. I am a professional. But I also know I could be doing more to forward my career, pretty up this blog, bump up my SEO (search engine optimization -- all the hot bloggers know this term -- I, of course, did not). I'd braced myself for lots of You're-doing-everything-wrong-and-here's-what-you-need-to-do-if-you-want-to-be-super-successful-like-us talk. And yes, there was that.

What surprised, pleased and resonated most for me, though, was how I kept hearing about the power of narrative, from agro-activist Jim Hightower to Perennial Plate's Daniel Klein, from Gluten-Free Girl Shauna Ahern to fab food culture photog Penny de los Santos. It gives a girl hope. Because I believe plant-based food nourishes the body but narrative -- story -- nourishes the soul in a way a text message can’t touch.

Believe me, I have nothing against money and market share. But I’m in service to something bigger, and the way I can do it has less to do with SEO and more to do with telling stories, with getting the word out about the power of a plant-based diet.

Apparently, I need to keep on message. There were a couple of conference cocktail parties where there was absolutely nothing for My Kind to eat. This is wrong. But happily, right near our hotel is Koriente, where I was quickly restored by the easy, warm staff and amazing Asian eats.

IACP takeaway -- look for exciting new changes to Edgy Veggie. I promise, they’ll happen (and not just this mania for live links, either). But first I must catch up on work and sleep. Yeah, I came back from the conference strung out and exhausted (quel surprise). But also nourished. Nourished by story, nourished by meeting all the wonderful people at IACP including its small but ardent veg femme contingent Kim O’Donnel, Real Food Daily’s Ann Gentry, Robin Asbell and the Veggie Queen herself Jill Nussinow. I'm nourished by meeting for real some people I’d only e-mailed or spoken to on the phone, from Moosewood goddess Mollie Katzen to Mirra Fine.

Also nourishing -- very nourishing was seeing my Austin BFF after too many years apart and spending an entire afternoon talking and drinking and laughing together (and being treated to a fabulous vegan meal at Casa de Luz). Because a girl’s gotta eat. And this one’s gotta eat veggies.

So tell me -- what nourishes you?

Nourishing Noodles -- Japchae

Since Austin, I’ve been craving Koriente’s japchae, a glorious Korean mix of shirataki and vegetables. Shirataki are those weird glutinous Asian noodles made from sweet potato starch that magically have no calories and are loaded with gluten-free goodness. Up till now, they’ve left me underwhelmed. Koriente’s japchae made me a true believer, hallelujah.

I endeavored to recreate it in the privacy of my own home and am thrilled to discover it’s doable and easy and delicious. The key to the recipe -- and perhaps the key to everything -- gutsiness. In my first iteration, I used almost no oil, low-sodium soy sauce and button mushrooms. It was meh. Ramped it up with more sesame oil, real nama shoyu (good, aged fermenty soy sauce) and shiitakes. Delish. Lovely and refreshing chilled or at room temperature. And what could be more nourishing?

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons mirin

2 tablespoons sesame oil, divided use

2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced

8 ounces shirataki noodles, rinsed and drained

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 carrots, chopped into matchsticks

1 red pepper, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

3 cups Napa cabbage, shredded

1 bunch scallions, chopped fine

8 ounces shiitakes, sliced

4 ounces tofu, cut ito bite-sized cubes

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Parboil shirataki according to package directions. Drain and rinse.

In a medium bowl, whisk together soy, mirin, 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil and minced ginger. Add the shirataki and toss to coat. Set aside.

Heat a large dry skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, carrots, pepper and celery. Cook, stirring for about 3 minutes or until vegetables start to soften. Add one tablespoon of soy-mirin mixture to flavor and moisten and continue cooking.

Add the scallions, shiitakes and cabbage. Cook another 3 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Add the tofu and gently mix in the noodles and all remaining sauce.

Drizzle remaining sesame oil on top and mix again.

Divide into bowls and sprinkle sesame seeds on top.

Serves 3 to 4.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Oh, dear. This is not the post I wanted to write. At all. But I would be pulling a major punch if I didn’t mark the death of Darcy, our beloved dog. She was fifteen and a half, so, okay, not a puppy, not spry by a long shot even when I took this picture two years ago. She hated having her picture taken, something, I think, about the camera getting in the way of your face. She liked to watch faces. . . back when she could see.

She also used to like to dance on the mail when it came spilling onto the floor through the mail chute. She liked grapes, their cool, juicy sweetness, and popcorn, their satisfying, salty crunch -- (we spilled them by mistake, she ate them with delight).

I could go on. . . and on. . . about missing her, about the Last Days of Darcy, but she was not about being a downer of a dog. I am not yet, however, quite up to dancing, or even eating, myself. So I’m turning to you. In memory of a sweet and soulful dog, eat popcorn, eat grapes and do a dance for Darcy.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Killer Chocolate

I'm not saying it's a good idea. I'm just saying it exists.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Eating of the Green

I am always hungry for Ireland and love all things Irish -- the Pogues, U2 back when they didn’t take themselves so seriously, almost any Irish author, and I am fortunate beyond words to know Darina Allen and Tamasin Day-Lewis, two of Ireland’s culinary muses.

Darina Allen who runs the splendid Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, is the no-nonsense preserver of auld ways, who believes in “sourcing really good, naturally produced ingredients,” as she writes in Ballymaloe Seasons. She wouldn’t recall, but we met once when I stayed at Ballymaloe House, the bed and breakfast run by her mother-in-law Myrtle Allen. Before dinner, I sat gazing out the window into the garden --relaxed, for once -- drinking in the sheep-dotted fields, when a woman with a low, flutey voice asked what I’d like to drink. I looked up and there was Darina herself, smiling and wearing her trademark red round glasses. I couldn't have been more surprised if Martin McDonagh had been acting as bartender. In retrospect this to me typifies how Darina is -- she can be the Irish Julia Child and still show some visiting American girl some hospitality, too.

Tamasin Day-Lewis is technically, English. I found out later, only after her book West of Ireland Summers convinced me of her Gaelic nature. I was sold by the title, the photographs of a good many cows and of the windswept landscape that’s my favorite place in the world, her stories of her home in the west. The fact that her brother is the brooding actor doesn’t hurt, either. Turns out her recipes are pleasing, too, and more so is her sensibility. She is of the freewheeling school, but like Darina, Tamasin starts with fresh, simple ingredients, which she pairs with an abundant sensibility.

Both women are more into elemental than ornate. So am I. There’s never been anything in molecular cuisine that resonates for me, that makes me say, “Yes -- sous vide and foam and celery gelee” the way I can swoon over a bowl of soup made with love and the freshest of vegetables.

Both women write about cooking with a big-heartedness, and both were kind enough to participate in a story I did about wild mushrooms story I wrote for Every Day WIth Rachael Ray. They have a generous way in the kitchen and on the page, writing about cooking the way I feel about it -- as an act of giving that’s simple, personal, profound.

So Darina, Tamasin, thank you for feeding what my soul longs for, for providing a sense of companionship even without being in the same room with me. But I hope sometime you will be. If you’re ever in Miami, please come to dinner, c’ead mille failte.

Low and Slow CSA Gumbo Z’herbes

About that swoon-worthy soup -- for St. Patrick’s day, here’s one as green as Ireland and filled with vegetables fresh from my local farmers. Gumbo z’herbes, also known as green gumbo is a traditional Cajun pot of Lenten goodness. It’s a time investment -- you don’t want to rush a roux -- but a great way to make the most of a mess of greens. There’s something leisurely, expansive, luxurious about making gumbo z’herbs. If you’ve got a food processor, you’ve got it made. Most of the work happens in the pot without your help, and the result is amazing. It’s a labor of love with a big flavor payoff -- just what you’d want to make for people you care about.

Ladle over cooked brown rice, keep your favorite hot sauce handy.

Erin go bragh, laissez le bon temps roule -- Ireland forever and let the good times role.

1/3 cup olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

4 pounds of greens -- your choice -- I used what came in my community shared agriculture box this weekend -- escarole, collards, tatsoi and beet greens

6 cloves garlic

2 onions

4 stalks celery plus leaves

2 red peppers

a handful of thyme

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

6 cups vegetable broth

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Wash your greens really, really well. Best way I’ve found to do this is to plop the the armloaf of them down in your sink, start with a thorough rinse, then pick them over, getting rid of grit and odd stemmy bits. Then shake in table salt and rinse again. The salt seems to help rid the greens of stubburn sand and such. Give a final rinse and gently blot dry.

The old school method for cooking gumbo greens is to blanch or boil them, but I prefer steaming, which keeps all their lovely nutrients intact. Steam greens in batches -- it may take several batches, but the steaming itself should go quickly, no more than 8 to 10 minutes a pop, so the greens are tender but still vivid green.

Place greens in a colander with a pot beneath to catch all the good veggie broth.

In a large soup pot, make your roux. Pour in 1/3 cup olive oil and heat over very low heat. Whisk in the whole wheat flour so the two form a smooth, thick paste. Continue cooking, whisking occasionally, for a really long time, maybe 45 minutes, or until the roux starts to give off a toasty scent and turns chocolately in color.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.

In a food processor, pulse onion and garlic so they’re well-chopped, not mushy. Add to the skillet and stir.

In batches, pulse celery, peppers, and finally, the greens. Add each batch to skillet and stir. Once vegetables start to soften, about 5 to 7 minutes, reduce heat to low, cover and continue cooking for another 20 minutes.

Pour in tomato puree. Cover and cook for another 20 minutes or so, giving the thing an occasional stir.

Your roux and vegetables are now ready to meet each other. Gently stir in vegetable-tomato mixture into roux, so everything is well-combined. Bring heat up to medium-high. Add vegetable broth plus any good juices from the drained greens. Add thyme, bay leaf and cayenne.

When mixture starts to come to a low boil, cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for another hour, stirring occasionally. Oh, don’t complain, be generous of spirit. Call a friend, check your e-mail. Pour yourself a glass of wine, if it helps.

Splash in the vinegar, season with sea salt and pepper, serve over rice.

Serves 8 to 10. Covered and chilled, it keeps for several days.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The (Almond) Joy of (Home) Cooking

When from the distant past nothing remains, after the beings have died, after the things are destroyed and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, yet more vital, more insubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of everything else; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the immense architecture of memory.

Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Time Forgotten

A Google search of food and memory brings up an easy two dozen articles about foods that allegedly help prevent memory loss. Eat more walnuts! Eat more salmon! I’m more interested in the food that conjures up a world of memory on its own.

Bring your finger to the bridge of your nose. Right there on the other side of the nasal bone is your amygdala, the almond-shaped part of the brain conveniently close to your center of smell. This part of the brain houses memory. It also plays a role in the way we process emotion. That’s why food is such a trigger for powerful feelings and recollections from the past.

With his trusty amygdala, Proust spent the last three years of his life within the confines of his cork-lined bedroom evoking a world of sensory riches, an expansive past, all sparked, at least on the page, by a tea-soaked madeleine.

You, too, store a whole ocean of memory in that little nut-shaped part of your brain. It’s why a Colombian friend, inspecting my vegetable garden, stopped cold at the sight of my monster collard greens and started to tear. “My mami used to make these for breakfast, scrambled with eggs.” It’s peasant food, she shrugged, but. . . But it came with warm rush of memories -- of the rural community where she grew up, of the sun-baked heat, the bright mineral smell of the soil, the clothes strung on the line. We’re talking more than breakfast. I clipped her two dozen leaves, each as big as an elephant ear, so she can make collards and eggs and give her children a taste of her own past.

I think Proust was lucky. Likewise my Colombian friend. The foods that so trigger memory or longing may not be as elegant as a teacake or as pure and earnest as greens and eggs. A Bavarian baker turns rhapsodic over the cheap mustard buns he’d get at festivals. Imagine a hot dog or sausage roll split, slathered with mustard and pickles -- everything but the sausage, which he couldn’t afford. Mustard buns, he says, were crunchy and divine eaten at once, greasy and leaden if you waited too long. For his Alabama wife, a professional chef, home is her mother’s salmon croquettes, “canned salmon and bechamel, pretty nasty, actually.” An English friend who lives in Paris, the culinary mecca of the world, occasionally yearns for that Brit standard, beans on toast. Preferably not even heated (he has other issues). For another friend, home is the midwest and the taste of Sara Lee chocolate cake, that thick brown block which her family served -- sometimes frozen -- at every birthday when she was growing up. She knows more sophisticated chocolate desserts, she knows processed food isn’t good for you. It’s still her favorite for food for celebration, because it evokes a lifetime of happy memories.

We don’t get to choose the foods of home. I wish mine was a fiery Bengali curry, a healthful, soulful collard and egg scramble or a sweet, buttery teacake. It is, instead, egg salad. Specifically, egg salad with olives on challah, made by my maternal grandmother. It is something I haven’t eaten in years, and being vegan, could never eat again (and don’t tell me about tofu “egg” salad. I love tofu but do not eat “food” in quotation marks).

I still recall with a fullness at the back my throat and an immense sense of longing the creaminess of the eggs. My grandmother knew just how much to mash them, just how much mayonnaise to add. I remember their gentle pale yellow, the little sparks of salt from the sliced green olives, the tender bread cut into four neat triangles. She somehow intuited my passionate though unarticulated preference for sandwiches cut into triangles, rather than squares. In the same way, she always knew the right temperature to serve it -- cool, not shockingly cold.

And remembering that, I remember everything -- her smell, sweet and rosy from Jergen’s lotion, her bathing me with a hard bar of Ivory soap in her white enamel kitchen sink, the shag carpet in the living room, which seemed, at least to my little girl eyes, to spring up as tall and wild as kudzu.

I do not long to eat egg salad again. What I long for is that absolutely crystalline time and place and sense of being loved.

We are all looking for return, for that place we thought of as home. Sometimes we spend our lives searching for it. Sometimes, we can find it in the memory of a simple sandwich. Food is sustenance, but it is also what connects us to each other, to the planet and to what Proust called “the imminent joy of going home.”

Almond Rice

No egg salad recipe here, I decided instead, to go for the amygdala/almond metaphor and provide an almond recipe. But what? I’ve already done almond cookies. And I thought it was interesting that other than Proust and my Sara Lee-loving friend, the other seminal foods of the past are savory, not sweet.

Left to my own devices, I would do a spicy Romesco, that fabulous sauce of ground almonds and roasted red peppers, or an elaborate biryani, but for the dish to work, it must be child-appropriate and simple. Yet not boring for adults, either. Huh.

The biryani got me on the right track. I remembered the rice with toasted slivered almonds we ate one evening in the desert in Morocco, miles from civilization. One lone cinnamon stick seemed to perfume the utterly comforting dish. Even my slightly tarted up version seems something a child would willingly eat and perhaps years later be a small part of “the immense architecture of memory.”

Being me, I suggest of course, you make it with brown rice. It’s not only healthier, it plays up the nuttiness nicely.

1 cup brown rice

3 cups vegetable broth or water, divided use

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, sliced

1 pinch saffron

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon allspice

1/2 cup red lentils

3 Medjool dates, chopped

1/2 cup slivered almonds

Bring 2 cups vegetable broth or water to boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add brown rice. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 30 minutes, or just until the rice absorbs the liquid and leans towards tenderness. It will continue cooking later. Set rice aside and let cool. May be prepared a day ahead, covered and refrigerated overnight.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced onion, stir until coated in oil. Cover and reduce heat to low, letting onion cook for about 20 minutes. The onion will still be pale and will have thrown off quite a lot of liquid. This is good. Add pinch of saffron and raise heat to medium.

Add red lentils to the onions. Stir to combine then add remaining 1 cup of water or broth. Cover again and cook. Red lentils are speedy and should be rosy and tender after 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast almonds at 375 for about 8 to 10 minutes, until golden and fragrant.

Add the cinnamon stick to the lentils. Stir in allspice, rice and chopped dates. Season with sea salt to taste.

Heat through at medium heat. Stir in toasted almonds just before serving.

Serves 4 to 6.