There is an invigorating freedom to cooking on-the-fly.
Don't get me wrong: I follow recipes. I consult my (absurdly) overgrown collection on cookbooks and food books for inspiration regularly. If we only cook what we know, understand and can readily compute, we remain fixed in our cooking, our thinking, our worldview.
Sometimes, though, we need to eat. And promptly. No rummaging for ideas. No pondering and deliberating.
Earlier this week, I was in that state. So I turned to the fridge, knowing I could assemble a meal and hoping it would be a delicious one.
I grabbed a repurposed quart-size yogurt container loaded with cooked chickpeas. There was still some tomato sauce crouched in the back quadrant of the bottom shelf.
My mind started reaching. A few salt-cured black olives. An herb would be good. The cilantro had collapsed into mush. There were a few sprigs of mint, and also a tub of Greek feta. I thought about the saganiki my pal Aglaia Kremezi wrote about recently.
I warmed the chickpeas, dribbling in a bit of tomato sauce with a plop. I added the olives to the pan. It gave them an opportunity to loosen their wrinkled exteriors and meld with their environs.
Into two bowls—one for me; one for Brandon—went a chunk of feta and ribbons of mint. When the chickpeas were hot, I divided them between the bowls, topping them with olive oil and grains of flaky salt.
The dish was entirely mine and, at the same time, informed by the people in my life, the experiences I've lived. That simple act of feeding myself and Brandon created a dish that was better than I hoped and as delicious as I imagined.
Chickpeas with Tomato, Feta & Olives
You could substitute whatever olives you have—or leave them out if you either have none or dislike olives. Likewise, you could swap the mint for parsley or cilantro. Any leafy herb will do.
- About 1½ cups cooked chickpeas
- A handful of salt-cured black olives
- About ½ cup tomato sauce
- A sprig of fresh mint
- About ½ cup feta
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Flaky salt
Add the chickpeas and olives to a saucepan set over medium heat. Add the tomato sauce and stir. Use less tomato sauce if you want a tighter stew; use more if you want a looser one. Taste the stew after it has warmed for a few minutes. Add salt, if you like, but remember that the olives will season the stew.
As the stew warms, assemble the garnishes in two serving bowls. Pluck the mint leaves from the sprig and slice them finely into ribbons. Divide the mint leaves and feta between the serving bowls. When the chickpeas are steaming hot, divide them between the bowls, ensuring an even number of olives wind up in each bowl. Drizzle some olive oil over each bowl, and garnish with a bit of flaky salt. Don't forget: Those olives have pits.