Curried potato and chickpea pita pockets make for quick meal

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

CONCORD, N.H. -- Some weeks, inspiration is hard to come by. Others, there's just no time for it.

The logistics of producing this column have changed dramatically since the birth of my son 15 months ago. The hours I once could dedicate to reading dozens of cookbooks in search of just the right recipe have become crowded with dirty diapers.

Even the nature of the photo shoots has changed. Once, my wife and I would regularly invite friends to the shoots. It became a weekly dinner party as they tasted, tested, drank a bit of wine and heckled Larry, the photographer.

Now, the weekly shoots are scheduled "AP" -- as in, After Parker (goes to bed) -- on nights my wife is working (so as not to detract from what little time we have together), and when Larry isn't otherwise needed by his own family.

Such days can be hard to find. When we do, it becomes a race to produce attractive food before exhaustion sets in. Ingredients frequently are forgotten, or burned. Larry always forgets camera gear.

So it surprised neither Larry nor I when we gathered in my kitchen for a recent photo shoot at 7:30 p.m. and I'd given not a second's thought to what we would be making. I'd been delayed by breaking news -- really!

Larry rolled his eyes as I scanned the kitchen in search of inspiration.

My first thought was -- well, this is reality. I'm lucky enough to get paid to think about what's for dinner. Most people come home to this dilemma daily. So what's for dinner?

Have I mentioned how much I appreciate my wife? On this particular day she'd gone to the trouble of making dinner before heading off to work. Is that love, or what?

On the stove sat a potato and chickpea curry. I know inspiration when I see it.

The recipe she used -- doctored from the back of a packet of Indian seasonings -- was simple: canned chickpeas, diced potato, canned diced tomatoes, some seasoning and a bit of cornstarch. And it was delicious.

This was the sort of recipe that could be tossed together quickly, no matter how harried one is. But what to do with it. Over rice? Over couscous? With bread?

How about in bread? Sticking with the speedy theme, I grabbed a whole wheat pita pocket, stuffed it with baby spinach leaves (purchased washed and ready to eat), then spooned in the warm curry. Again, delicious.

Not gourmet, but it is a great dinner that would be easy to doctor up any way you want. A bit of goat cheese or yogurt, perhaps. Or a few more vegetables, such as carrots or eggplant or cauliflower.

It's fast, easy, tasty and requires little real inspiration. Some nights that's all we can manage, and that's OK.

Quick Curry Pockets

(Start to finish, 20 minutes)

2 medium potatoes, cut into small cubes

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tablespoons curry powder

15-ounce can diced tomatoes

Two 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 1/2 cups water

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 cups baby spinach leaves

4 small pita pocket breads

Place the potatoes in a microwave-safe bowl and sprinkle lightly with water. Cover and microwave on high for 5 minutes, or until the potatoes are nearly cooked.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large, deep skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute 5 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Add garlic and curry powder and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute.

Add tomatoes, chickpeas and potatoes and bring to a simmer. Combine the water and cornstarch, then add to the skillet. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 4 minutes.

Carefully open one side of each pita and stuff 1/2 cup of spinach leaves in each. Spoon curry into the pocket and serve immediately.

Makes 4 pita pockets (with additional curry for leftovers).


EDITOR'S NOTE: J.M. Hirsch can be e-mailed at jhirsch(at)ap.org.

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