Friday dinner is my favorite meal of the entire week. It’s the night when I decide what to cook over a cup of tea at breakfast, organize my morning around the purchasing and preparing of ingredients and an afternoon of walking the dog for two hours to get up an appetite (how else can I justify all that dessert?). Indulgent life, eh? Lucky me... There is something I quite like about the idea of Shabbat, though, being neither religious or Jewish, I can claim no real connection with the ceremony itself or the traditions. I just don’t believe. What I do enjoy is the spirit of a quiet Friday night spent with the Artist, at home, indulging in food and conversation. If the Actor and the Musician are here, it will be a little more traditional (they are Jewish, but of the very liberal kind), with candles and a prayer; if friends are over for dinner, it’s a huge food festival. It is always at home, and always a rich and complex meal. But most importantly it is about sharing a meal with people you love – the only thing missing is, of course, my own family and friends from Sydney.
This meal is vegan. Millet is something I do not get excited about, despite its healthful reputation – chock full ‘o vitamin B, low in carbohydrates and has goodly amounts of amino acids – and have struggled with getting into my diet at times. For me, first and foremost, a meal must be delicious and every ingredient must be able to justify its own presence. It is often suggested as a substitute for mashed potatoes. God, how revolting! Though I have worried about calling this dish ‘paella’, it does in fact describe the lovely texture of the meal perfectly. Just don’t tell anyone it’s birdseed.
The Chermoula, made freshly whilst the paella cooks, turns the dish a little southward to Morocco. It is unashamedly nicked from the wonderful Nadine Abensur. Please don’t compromise on the olive oil as it is integral to the flavours going on here. By the way, the Musician (the younger step son) asked if it could become a regular mid-week meal. A little victory for me! It’s unthinkably easy to make. Serves 4, but leftovers are good, if not as wonderfully fresh, the next day.
Chickpea and millet paella with saffron and tomatoes – serves 4
1 large pinch of saffron
2½ tablespoons of olive oil
1 cup of millet, rinsed in a sieve
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tin of tomatoes
1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
1 teaspoon of tamari
2½ cups of boiling water
Grind the saffron to a powder in a small mortar and pestle, then add 1 tablespoon of boiling water and leave to infuse.
Heat 1½ tablespoons of the olive oil in a very large lidded frying pan, add the millet and cook over a medium heat until the grains begin to colour, 4 to 5 minutes. Scrape the millet into a bowl and return the pan to the heat. Add the remaining oil to the pan and gently fry the onion and garlic over a medium heat for about 5 minutes – it should be just coloured and smell nutty.
Reduce the heat to low and add the saffron, millet, chickpeas, tomatoes and paprika. Stir, then add a pinch of salt, the tamari and the boiling water. Cover with a lid and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the millet is cooked (about 35 minutes). If it still tastes a little raw, add another ¼ cup of boiling water and cook until ready.
Serve with Chermoula (see below).
Makes heaps, but keeps well and is impossible to make less.
1 large bunch of coriander, tough stalks removed
1 large bunch of parsley, tough stalks removed
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and very finely chopped
2 tablespoons of ground cumin
1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
1 chilli, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup of olive oil
Whiz all the ingredients except for the oil together in a food processor until it resembles a paste. Add the oil slowly with the motor running. Or, you can chop all of the ingredients by hand, very finely, and mix the oil in with a fork. Store leftovers in a tightly-sealed jar in the fridge, covered with a film of olive oil to keep it all fresh.