Spanish-spiced split chickpea soup

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I’m in recovery this week. Recovery from last week’s bout of tonsillitis, recovery from various related ailments (hi there, blood test bruising), and recovery from an epic weekend of MURDER. That’s right: last weekend three carloads of my friends road-tripped down to the Southern Highlands to stay in a farmhouse (nay, The Farmhouse), sample some delicious local wines and participate in a murder mystery party.

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It was ridiculous fun. Everyone went all-out with costuming and some of us even went all-out staying in character. I was supposed to be a gossipy French woman married to one of the heir’s to a dukedom – the previous Duke being the murder victim. Turns out, I was also a gold-digging call-girl who unsuccessfully attempted murder with a bowl of poisoned strawberries. (My poisoning skills are about as good as my French accent.)

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Dinner was pretty amazing: three kinds of meat provided by the murder host, seemingly endless bottles of Southern Highlands red, and a whole heap of vegetables prepared by me. Unfortunately I’m not here to share my murder veggies with you (I didn’t really get the chance to photograph them). Instead I’m sharing my recovery food, and surprise, surprise if it isn’t our old friend soup.

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This is the kind of recovery soup that isn’t just about comfort. Not your oh-so-soothing chicken or savoury lentil concoction that you consume at the start of a malady. Nay. This one has a little kick to let you know that, yeah, you’re still a delicate flower, but you also deserve a bit of excitement once in a while.

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I call it “Spanish” because I took inspiration from a vegetarian tapas recipe, but really it’s not of any particular origin. It uses chana dal, which are split chickpeas often used in indian food. These are smaller (obviously) than full chickpeas, so quicker to cook. Also, they are hella delicious. Fortuitously this dish goes down way-too-smooth with a glass of Joadja Cabernet Sangiovese, which Patrick happened to pick up half a case of on our murderous weekend away. The warm berry and chocolate flavours of the wine taste even better with the soft spice of the cumin seeds and the slightly sour tomato and lemon. In lieu of the roaring fire and fur coats that kept us warm all Murder Weekend long, this combination is a pretty appealing way to keep winter at bay.

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Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 cup chana dal (or yellow split peas if you can’t find them, I guess)
2 onions
2 cups grated pumpkin
4 cloves garlic
2 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp chilli flakes
1 can  tomato puree
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper

Directions:
Soak chana daal for 4-6 hours. Discard excess water and rinse. Dice onions and sauté on medium to low heat. While those cook dice garlic and grate pumpkin. Add pumpkin, spices and garlic and heat until pumpkin starts turning to mush. Add tomato puree, then fill puree can up with water. Add 4-6 cans of water to pan and let simmer until chickpeas are tender – about half an hour. Add salt and pepper and juice of half a lemon (or to taste). Can be served plain, with a drizzle of olive oil, a handful of cheddar or some other delicious topping. Yoghurt or goat’s cheese, perhaps?  Maybe you’re neither vegetarian nor lazy and you want some chorizo with that? Good idea.

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Crispy shark with tomato and tamarind

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Hey, erry body: I’m back! With peeling forearms, a collection of wines and some concerning double-billing on my debit card. Although my time at Woodford was marred by several unfortunate events, the least of which being a head-cold, I had a blast: several times abandoning my friends for running-around-to-see-everything, dancing like a big doofus to Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (among other things), and generally breathing in dust and good vibes.

New Zealand with Mum and Sarah was similarly awesome. On the Routeburn track we walked for three days across, through and up snowy mountain peaks. The weather was nice enough that we went swimming in the ice-cold streams alongside the trail. Oh, and we got a bit sweary at the scenery. Pretty fucking picturesque, ay?

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It was as though we got more Aussie the moment the plane hit the tarmac. I’m pretty sure I heard Mum genuinely use the word crikey.

I wasn’t really looking forward to coming home. What with adult responsibilities beyond the duty free alcohol allowance. But actually, it’s good to be back. The first day home I came across a van full of Labradors training to be guide dogs at the park! And I can cook again! Not just the economical soups and egg salads of hostel stays (everyone should stay on a sheep farm cum backpackers with their family at least once), but meals with tens of spices or ones that call for things from jars. Like this fish dish, which is extremely simple, but which calls for tamarind and fresh coriander and bean sprouts: ingredients not so widely available in Middle of Nowhere NZ.

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I know it’s all just a measure of time and ultimately meaningless, but I’m excited for this still-new year. It helps that I’ve had this time to recuperate from 2012. This also helps: at 4:00AM on new year’s day, with a meagre 1.5 hours sleep under my belt, I followed a congregation of fellow festival goers up a small hill to where monks were gathered to chant in the dawn. And despite the lack of rest, the head cold, the shitty year that had been: the first glimpse of 2013 was pretty spectacular. Pretty fucking picturesque.

The fish is pretty good too.

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Ingredients:

400-500g Shark or Barramundi
1/4 cup plain flour
2 tbsp sunflower oil
6 tomatoes
1 tbsp tamarind paste
1 tbsp ginger
1.5 tbsp sugar
1 bunch coriander
bean sprouts

Directions:

Cut fish into cubes and roll in flour on a plate. Heat oil in a pan on medium. When pan is hot fry fish pieces one side at a time in pan until both sides are light golden brown. In the meantime cut tomatoes into large crescents. Grate ginger. When fish is done set aside. In the same pan (if you like) cook tomatoes, ginger and tamarind paste. Add 1.5 tbsp of sugar. Let tomatoes cook until reduced, but still holding form. Taste. Add more sugar if needed. Chop coriander roughly. Take tomatoes off heat and add coriander. Serve fish with tomato mixture spooned on top. Garnish with bean sprouts.

Note: This amount is probably enough for two. I like to eat it as is, but you could serve it with rice if cooking it for a larger group.