What Makes A Meal?
Simple questions are rarely simple. Earlier this week, a question came up on Facebook. Not on my Facebook page, but on the page of one of my Facebook friends. She actually writes a blog. Perhaps you’ve seen it or follow Jeni on Twitter.
Her question was fairly simple. She was looking for how to take vegetarian dishes, and turn them into a meal. The catch was that the answer couldn’t be carbohydrate heavy.
For some people, a meal isn’t a meal without a potato or some kind of starch. Mrs. Fussy is that way, and I’ve always scratched my head on those times when I put food on the table, and she feels it isn’t quite a meal. Usually, she’ll just supplement what I’ve made with a piece of toast and all is well with the world.
For other people, it’s wine that makes a meal. Personally, I see a meal as something you sit down to at the table, regardless of the food groups represented.
While I’m curious to hear some of your answers to the larger question, I did want to share what I suggested to Jeni and expand on that answer in a more appropriate medium.
Part of Jeni’s original question stated, “rice and beans are excellent with a side of carnitas.. but… how do I make them more than just.. rice and beans.”
To which my answer was, “Learn to cook indian. Chana masala, brown rice, some yogurt podina chutney, tamarind chutney, and spicy lime pickle. That’s a meal. And much easier than it sounds.”
I know it doesn’t sound that easy. So let’s break it down.
If you can cut up an onion and open a can, you can make my chana masala recipe.
If you can boil water, you can make pretty darn perfect brown rice as a background activity.
Podina chutney can be simply mixing this spice blend with yogurt and thinning as desired.
Tamarind chutney comes from a jar.
As do spicy lime pickles.
What does all of this get you? Well, it gets you plenty of contrasting colors, flavors, and textures on the plate.
You’ve got sweet, and spicy, and hot, and cooling, and earthy, and nutty, and sour, and aromatic. You’ve got tan, and brown, and green, and red. You’ve got soft, and chewy, and toothsome, and silky. And you’ve got all of that in one deeply satisfying plate.
The flavors are so deep, and these beans and rice are so satisfying, I’d have a hard time imagining an omnivore complaining that the meal was lacking meat. A carnivore sure. But an omnivore?
But one of the things I love most about Indian food is that it holds so well. I can make a giant batch of these spiced Indian chickpeas, portion them, and freeze ’em. Then another night, I can make another Indian dish. Maybe something even faster like ginger, garlic, and turmeric spiced lentils.
Then I can put a scoop of those pulses alongside the chickpeas, and I’ve got a plate with even more going on. But it doesn’t stop there. You could add spinach, or Indian spiced potatoes (if you were doing potatoes), or whip up a batch of homemade coconut chutney,
I’m still waiting on my replacement blade for the Cuisinart. So until then, no coconut chutney for me. But I think you get the picture.
The only problem with learning how to cook some basic Indian food, is that when you realize how easy, delicious, and inexpensive it is to make at home, it will become harder to justify eating it out at a restaurant.
That said, you aren’t going to be making naan, nor do you have a tandoori oven. And no matter how good you get at cooking South Asian food, Indian buffet is always a good time and a great deal.
Man. Now I want Indian buffet. Dammit.
My one consolation is that tonight I’ll get to learn more about Korean food with some lucky members of the local Yelp community who scored a spot on the guest list to a class on Korean Food and Culture at Sunhee’s in Troy. Four of the five dishes we’ll sample are also vegetarian. So maybe that will inspire further thought on today’s topic.
And all the dishes will be served with samples of beer from Brown’s Brewing Co., so as far as I’m concerned, that makes it a meal right there. Because food and beer? That’s a meal in my book. Maybe a mini-meal, but a meal nonetheless.