Pretty Ugly Things

Writing for the blog there’s this wall I hit, again and again, the roadblock to ever making a true record of my cooking.

It’s the problem of food photography. Bad pictures ruin good blogs. It’s just true. Because bad pictures, especially bad pictures of food, are an immediate sensual assault on the level of, well—forgive me—hardcore porn. Aggressively scatalogical, just plain nasty porn. (I’d argue here that the production and consumption of nasty XXX porn comes from the same impulse that produces and consumes nasty food porn, but I’m aware of my audience.)

This fact has pained me. It’s not that I can’t be bothered about pictures. I can. I am. It’s just that the foods I like best are, for the most part, pretty ugly. Brownish, yellowish curries. Black vinegar noodle soup. Stuff coated in fermented shrimp sauce. It’s all delicious, really, but no one needs to see that stuff. That stuff is private.

Until now. See, before yesterday I’d been using this halfway decent Nikon. It was red. It fit in my pocket. But after I got it, I found Ashton Kutcher trying to sell it on TV. I felt implicated. So the relationship was kind of fraught, and now that it’s over, I’m glad. Because my Canon and I are going to get along great. Because he (he’s a he) is in a whole different league. He lets me photograph ugly things as if they’re beautiful. And… they are.

I’m pumped. Now I can tell you, this is really tasty! and the pictures will mean it. Today, it’s my chickpea curry: a rich, comforting, complicatedly spicy dish a lot like Indian chana masala, but… different. I use allspice and cinnamon and wine, no mango powder or paprika. These changes give the curry a deeper, spicier, less fruity taste. I’ve served it with roast chicken, alongside grilled trout, and on its own over brown rice. Sometimes I put a fried egg on it. I did this morning. Sometimes I sprinkle it with pomegranate seeds.

Just to give you a sense of scale, I’ve made this recipe ten times for every time I’ve made these gravlox things, which was… once. I wasn’t kidding when I said this blog isn’t a true record of my cooking. Once upon a time, pretty dictated content. But things are changing. I’m making plans. I’m going to show you some truly ugly, but despicably good, things.


Curried Chickpeas

– 2 cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
– 1 can diced tomatoes
– 1 whole yellow onion
– 1 whole head of garlic*
– 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
– 1/4 cup dry white wine
– 2/3 cup chicken stock or water
– 1 lemon, juiced (1/2 if it’s a big lemon)
– 2 tbsp butter
– 4 tbsp vegetable oil
– Spice mix (see below)
– Salt to taste

*Lots of garlic here, I know. You could use less but I encourage you not to because garlic, like butter and salt and other things people are afraid to use too much of, makes things taste better.

And the spices:
– 1 tbsp curry powder
– 1 tbsp turmeric
– 1-3 tsp cayenne pepper (or more if you like it very hot)
– 1-2 tsp lemon pepper
– 1 tsp coriander
– 1 tsp cumin
– 1/2 tsp allspice
– 1/4 tsp cinnamon
– 2 bay leaves

Heat olive oil and butter in a pot over medium-high heat. Saute onions until beginning to brown, about five minutes. Add garlic, spices, bay leaves, and more oil if necessary. Heat for a couple minutes, then add chickpeas and tomatoes. Season with salt. Scrape the bottom of the pan for any excess spices. Using a potato masher or some other implement, break down some of the chickpeas. But don’t go too far. You just want to release some of the starch. Cook covered for ten minutes. Once curry begins to thicken, add chicken stock or water, white wine, parsley, and lemon juice. Heat for five to ten more minutes. Taste. Serve.

9 thoughts on “Pretty Ugly Things

  1. arugulove says:

    I’ve been obsessed with fried eggs lately – dropping them on tortillas for breakfast and burgers for dinner. Love this use for them!

  2. Katerina says:

    It looks amazing and so do you pictures! Best of look with your new friend. I just love a good runny egg yolk. On pizza is my new fave way.

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