I’m a believer in the maxim that constraints inspire creativity. When I had a child, I understood, for the first time, that possessing a limited period of time to complete a task actually helps one complete that task. Call me confused, which I certainly was in my youth, but I had never actually understood this to be the case before I had a 45-minute nap window and 50 different things to accomplish during that period of brief but intoxicating freedom. Somehow, I usually managed to get most of everything done in those days, and I became, during my daughter’s infancy, an over-achiever, when it came to time management, something I certainly had not been before she was born.
So (and this is related. Bear with me) today, I decided, as I sometimes do, to make something by Ottam Ottolenghi, whose cooking I deeply admire. I randomly choose a sweet potato-chickpea recipe because it just seemed like a sweet potato-chickpea kind of day, skimmed through the ingredients, and mentally ticked them off, yes, sweet potato…no problem. Chick peas…sure, why not? Cumin…in the pantry. Sesame seeds…also, surprisingly, in the pantry. I was committed to this recipe and on my way to the grocery store.
But then it gets complicated. The last ingredient on the list was pomegranate molasses. Pomegranate molasses. And, okay, folks. I no longer live in the big city. I live in what is a lovely but not particularly sophisticated or affluent smallish town. My new home is many things, but it is not a place where I run to the local Freshco to pick up a little bottle of pomegranate molasses. Or maybe it is. I’m not entirely sure of these things just yet; however, I wasn’t in the mood to challenge my own entrenched biases and prejudcies.
Do not misunderstand: I love living here. I love the fact that I can drive for 10 minutes and buy a turnip from the farmer who grew it or go for a two-hour walk in a nature conservancy without seeing a single other soul, but still stroll with my silly wheeled buggy downtown to buy my wine. That there are three thrift stores downtown and a hardware store run by a guy who never hesitates to put a sign up explaining that his personal circumstances prevent the selling of nails and garbage bags on a particular day or before 11 am. As a lifelong pacifist, I’m marginally weirded out by the presence of the military base at the east end of town and the widespread wearing of fatigues, but even that has lost its initial shock value and discomfort for me. However, I am also highly aware that I am now and probably always will be an outsider in this place, and, moreover, that there is a certain amount of hostility in some quarters toward those of us who have cashed in on the Toronto housing market bubble and purchased ridiculously cheap heritage homes in the area, renovating them and inadvertently driving up housing prices beyond the reach of local folks. These things I know and accept.
The result of knowing these things is that I am reluctant to draw attention to myself. Or I should say further attention, because I am already occasionally the subject of some curiousity, especially when I forget to moderate my voice and I hear the voice I inherited from my mother, a carefully enunciated, crisply consonanted, and highly resonant voice that carries for a good half a mile, a voice that is a godsend in the classroom or lecture hall but also a voice that alerts everyone in the vicinity that they should turn around and stare at me, and note that I am not from around here.
Given this back story and some unflattering things I have read on Facebook about people like me invading the town, I am not keen to ask the staff at the grocery store where, exactly, they keep the pomegranate molasses. Especially not after what happened with the orzo last time.
This may very well be my own urban snobbery. It’s possible that pomegranate molasses and orzo are easily obtainable here, by those who know where to look, and that I am simply imposing my own assumptions and projecting my need to be included in everything, all the time, on my innocent fellow citizens. I don’t know. Maybe next time I’m grocery shopping, I’ll ask around, as quietly as possible, where they keep the good shit.
In the meantime, I made a substitution, and it was pretty good. I had purchased some apple cider with a view to mixing cocktails for my sister-in-law, her mother, and my mother-in-law who are joining us for dinner tomorrow night. And I realized that pomegranate molasses would give both an edge and a sweetness to this dish; so I took that apple cider, mixed in a little actual molasses, reduced it by about half, then mixed in some diced garlic and salt. A keeper of a glaze.
“Ottolenghi-fied” Sweet Potatoes (From Food52)
- 2 pounds sweet potatoes
- 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 to 2 tablespoon cold water
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas (roughly half a can)
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 pinch ground cayenne
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses OR
- 1/2 cup apple cider
- 1 tsp molasses
- 1 garlic clove, crushed and diced
- pinch of salt
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Peel the sweet potatoes and chop into large (roughly 1 1/2-inch) chunks. Add to a naked, rimmed sheet tray and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and the 1 1/4 teaspoon salt. Roast—stirring the potatoes halfway through—until they’re just tender and beginning to brown, about 24 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine the tahini, lemon juice, and cold water in a bowl. Stir with a fork until smooth and runny, like yogurt. Season to taste with salt. (This can be made days in advance and refrigerated.)
- If you’re using canned chickpeas, make sure they’re very dry. Heat the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until shimmery. Add the chickpeas, sesame seeds, cumin, and cayenne. Fry until golden and crispy, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt.
- When the potatoes are done, let them hang out for about 10 minutes. Drizzle with pomegranate molasses or…
- Reduce apple cider in a saucepan until it’s about half of the original amount. Stir in the molasses, garlic, and salt and return to a boil until everything is a bit shiny and thick.
- Gently toss apple cider mixture with sweet potatoes. Transfer to a platter. Squiggle with tahini sauce and scatter with crispy chickpeas. Serve warm.