Cold, cold heart of an e-book

2011-04-16 00:00

WHEN I turned over in bed the other night my husband was glowing. This isn’t that unusual. Since he acquired his iPhone I’ve become used to waking up to the sight of light shining under the covers, a sign that he’s looking for a podcast to put him back to sleep.

But this light was slightly different, prompting a closer look. “It’s the cover for my new Kindle,” he told me happily, showing how a tiny lamp could be pulled out of the corner to light up the screen for reading in the dark. I had to agree that this was yet another clever innovation on the part of Kindle’s creators.

However, I’m still firmly in the camp of the paper lovers when it comes to the great debate about e-books versus the non-glow variety. Since it arrived in our household, the Kindle has been the subject of much discussion. Its pros are indisputable: books cost half what they do if you buy the paper version, downloading is free, you can download a book anywhere you can find a wireless signal and when you travel you no longer have to cart along kilograms of paper.

This is all very useful but it doesn’t get over the problem of how it feels. When it comes to reading, I just can’t relate, as they say, to a hard plastic object. If we were talking pets, it would be like comparing fish in an aquarium with something cuddly that you can pick up and stroke. This is especially so when it comes to books with pictures, like cookbooks. I have a thing about cookbooks. I got a new one recently and said husband was amazed that it was my bedtime reading for almost a week. Titled Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carrarini, I won’t say much about it because it’s the subject of my next column, apart from the fact that it is a beautiful, simple, thoroughly satisfying object and I can’t stop looking at it. I don’t think I would be doing this if it was an e-book.

The same goes for the book that this week’s recipe comes from. Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (2008) is the first collection of recipes from their innovative London restaurant of the same name and it is a pleasing package of friendly, urbane stylishness and nouveau Middle Eastern food. This is a good dish to make when you have vegetarians coming to lunch as I had recently because it has protein (chickpeas) in it and is not a quiche or a baked potato.

The sweet potatoes, cooked in honeyed, buttered water, melt in your mouth and are offset nicely by the mellow spiciness of the tomato sauce. What really makes this dish sing is the yoghurt sauce that you ladle on top. If you like the flavours of lemon and garlic, you’ll find it the perfect foil for the sweet potatoes and a memorable note on its own. Serve with basmati rice and a green salad.



Chickpeas and spinach with honeyed sweet potato (serves 6-8)

200 g dried chickpeas

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp tomato puree

400 g Italian tinned tomatoes, chopped

1 tsp caster sugar

1½ tsp ground cumin

100 g baby spinach leaves

10 g coriander leaves, to garnish

Salt and black pepper


500 g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into slices 2,5 cm thick

700 ml water

50 g unsalted butter

4 tbsp honey

½ tsp salt


100 g Greek yoghurt

1 garlic clove, crushed

Juice and grated zest of one lemon

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp dried mint


1. Start the night before by putting the chickpeas in a large bowl. Fill with enough cold water to cover the chickpeas by twice their height. Add the bicarbonate of soda and leave to soak overnight at room temperature.


2. The next day, drain and rinse the chickpeas, place them in a large saucepan and cover with plenty of fresh water. Bring to the boil, then reduced the heat and simmer for one to 1½ hours (they could take much longer in extreme cases). They should be completely tender but retain their shape. Occasionally you will need to skim the froth off the surface. You might also need to top up the pan with boiling water so the chickpeas remain submerged. When they are ready, drain them in a colander and set aside.


3. Put the sweet potatoes in a wide saucepan with the water, butter, honey and salt. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 35 to 40 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Turn them over half way through the cooking to colour evenly. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

4. While the sweet potatoes are cooking, prepare the sauce for the chickpeas. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and add the onion, cumin seeds and coriander seeds. Fry for eight minutes, while stirring, until golden brown. Add the tomato puree, cook for a minute while you stir and then add the tomatoes, sugar and ground cumin. Continue cooking for about five minutes over a medium heat. Taste and season with salt and pepper.


5. Stir the spinach into the tomato sauce, then add the cooked chickpeas. Mix together and cook for another five minutes. Taste again and adjust the seasoning.


6. Make the yoghurt sauce by whisking together all the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


7. To serve, spoon the warm chickpeas into a serving dish, arrange the sweet potato slices on top and garnish with the coriander leaves. Spoon the yoghurt sauce on top or serve on the side.

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