“There have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet always wars and plagues take people equally by surprise.” Albert Camus
March 1, 2020. COVID 19 arrives in New York state, my home state. March 11, 2020 the first positive case appears in my county. Since then many people have fallen ill and many have died. The grief and loss and fear is palpable each time we read the news or sign onto social media sites. Our world as we know it will never be the same. Never. Each night, in the safety of my home, I say my collective prayers but they feel so small and irrelevant.
In early February, Andy came home with canned milk, pounds of dried beans, rice and bleach. I was upset that he brought home so many extra items we didn’t need. But he knew. He sensed that this was different. He said, “You don’t shut down a city the size of London, referring to Wuhan, for nothing.” I brushed his unusual high alert aside. “I’m not worried, it’s just like the flu,” like so many of my medical colleagues felt as well. We had lived through H1N1, SARS, and Ebola without too much panic. Why was this any different? But over the month of February I started getting concerned and began stocking up just in case we needed to be at home for a few weeks. The more I read and researched, the more concerned I became. Yet, as Albert Camus writes, it still takes us by surprise.
I thought about Abby and knew that if she were still here, she would be all over this! We would have been talking and texting and sharing articles from sun up to sun down. She loved science and enjoyed critically examining complex issues from all angles. She would have been watching over her brood like a hawk as well as looking out for those in need she didn’t know. I can imagine her volunteering as a nurse for out of state deployment. She was a front line kind of person.
It feels strange and inconsequential in a way to continue with a food blog. Who knew that my year long project of honoring my friendship and processing my grief would include a global pandemic in which the last one was hundred years ago? It’s surreal and absurd to say the least. But I will finish what I started. Two months left to go. The finale remains to be seen. Since grocery shopping has become such a concern right now, the recipe above is this month’s one and only carefully chosen for comfort, something we all need more of at this very frightening time.
Ingredients: 1 cup dried chickpeas (I used canned), 1 tsp baking soda, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 onion finely chopped, 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 14 oz canned tomatoes, 1 teaspoon superfine sugar, 1.5 teaspoon ground cumin, 3 cups baby spinach leaves, 2/3 cup cilantro leaves, salt and pepper, Honeyed sweet potato: 1 lb. sweet potatoes peeled and sliced into 1 inch thickness, scant 3 cups water, 3.5 tablespoon unsalted butter, 4 tablespoon honey, 1/2 teaspoon salt, Yogurt sauce: scant 1/2 cup greek yogurt, 1 clove garlic crushed, grated zest and juice of 1 lemon, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon dried mint, salt and pepper
- Soak the chickpeas in cold water with baking soda the night before. Next day rinse and cover with fresh water and bring to a boil and simmer for 1-1.5 hours. They should be totally tender but retain their shape. Drain and set aside.
- Make the sweet potatoes by putting the potatoes in a wide saucepan with water, honey, butter and salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 35 to 40 minutes until potatoes are tender. Turn over halfway through cooking process to ensure even color. Remove from heat and keep warm.
- While the sweet potatoes are cooking make sauce for the chickpeas. Heat olive oil in large frying pan, add onion, cumin and coriander seeds and fry for about 8 minutes or until golden. Add the tomato paste, cook for a minute and then add tomatoes, sugar and ground cumin. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes over medium heat. Season to taste. Stir in the spinach and then the chickpeas and cook for another 5 minutes and season again.
- Make the yogurt sauce by whisking all the ingredients together. Season.
- To serve, spoon the warm chickpeas into a serving dish, arrange sweet potatoes on top and garnish with cilantro. Yogurt sauce on top or as a side.