Almost everything about this time of year is a bundle of contradictions. Take giving and receiving, the two poles of the holiday experience. Both are fraught. Will the remote-control helicopter we splurged on for the kids actually fly? Was Uncle Dan seeking revenge when he gave the kids that annoying CD? Does my husband really think I look good in this reindeer sweater? Naturally, we parents love seeing our children’s excitement, but not frenzy or bitter disappointment.
When it comes to bi-polarity, holiday hospitality is no exception. Hosting friends and family promises warmth and togetherness — until the big job of providing sustenance and amusement for houseguests becomes a reality. Restaurants are tempting when relatives come to stay. But keeping kids in line at the table is tough, especially when you’re also trying to keep the conversation going with Gram and Gramps. Yes, there’s always takeout, but it can get expensive.
So it really does make sense to feed people at home at least once or twice. I love to serve homemade food to my extended family. When I have a full house, though, and I don’t want to be barricaded in the kitchen, I cook before they come. A soup or stew made before guests arrive develops better flavor if kept in the fridge for a day or two. Or you can freeze it and defrost the day before serving.
As winter creeps in, nothing feels cozier in than a hit of tropical heat. In the spirit of holiday contradiction, then, try stewing up a pot of feijoada (pronounced “fay-JWA-da”), a Brazilian stew also made in Goa, a former Portuguese colony in southern India. This version’s curry powder and coconut milk lean it toward Asia. But in a nod to our local New Year’s traditions, this one is made with black-eyed peas, though kidney beans are good, too. Does it sound schizo? Great. Welcome to the holidays!
Feijoada with Black-Eyed Peas
Adapted from How to Cook Everything in the World, by Mark Bittman
Because you can serve it to vegetarian guests before tossing the sausages in, this stew is a crowd-pleaser. And though it takes a while on the stove, prep is easy if you use a food processor for the onion mixture. My kids preferred it with less of the fruity tartness that lime juice or tamarind paste gives, so start with less. Serve with rice.
1 lb. frozen black-eyed peas 2 large onions, peeled and quartered 6 garlic cloves, peeled 1 small dried chile, seeds removed, or 1 teaspoon chile flakes, depending on your family’s spice preference One 1” piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped 2 tablespoons neutral oil salt and pepper to taste 1 tablespoon mild curry powder 1 cup coconut milk (I used a whole can, but I’m a coco-nut) 1½ cups canned chopped tomatoes (one small can) 4 large sausages (Italian or something spicier) 1 teaspoon to a tablespoon or less of tamarind paste or lime juice, to taste
Put onion, garlic, optional chile, and ginger in a food processor and grind to a paste. Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy pot or Dutch oven, and add onion mixture, salt and pepper, and curry powder. Cook, stirring occasionally, till the onion begins to brown, 5-10 minutes.
Add coconut milk and bring to a boil. Drain the peas and add them to the pot with enough water to barely cover them. Put a lid on the pot and cook at the gentlest simmer, till the peas are tender, about 30 minutes. Add tomatoes and continue cooking, checking frequently, for anywhere from 15-60 minutes longer, till it’s thick and mellow-tasting.
You can cool the stew and freeze it at this point, or keep it in the fridge for 2-3 days. If you want to add sausages, cut them into 1” chunks and brown them while you reheat the stew. Before serving, stir them in with the tamarind paste or lime juice. Taste for salt and pepper and serve.