I never grew up with chickpeas. They just didn’t make it into the shopping trolley. In fact, I’m not sure we even went down that aisle of the supermarket. There were frozen peas in the magical tinned salmon casserole that Mum made with noodles. There were tinned tomatoes in the bolognaise and there was plenty of fresh fruit and veg. There was always an apple in the fruit bowl somewhere.

But pulses didn’t really raise ours.

Until a couple of years ago when I found that white things didn’t suit me so well. The beloved oodles were gone. The potatoes were put on the back boiler. The pulses came to the fore.

Everything I read tells me that I should use real chickpeas, soak them for 24 hours and then use them. Any recipe that says ” soak for 24 hours” usually doesn’t make it to my dinner table. Just like any hair cut that requires ” blow dry every morning” doesn’t make it to my head.

So I cheat. I buy the ones in the cans, rinse them really really well to get off the soupy slime and always make sure that there’s some tomato somewhere when I cook them- there’s something about putting tomato in with chickpeas when you cook them that give chickpeas a pillowy subservience when you chew.

I strongly believe though that there is very little in this world that doesn’t taste better with the addition of maple syrup. Maple syrup and smoked paprika- now that’s a little samba dance of heaven together.

And considering that no other part of my body can dance- I figure it’s only fair to let the tastebuds occasionally make up for the rest of them.

So; the perfect meal when you need to pull something from the freezer because you’ve got people coming in 4 hours for dinner and you bloody forgot to soak the chickpeas the day before:

Squid, chickpea and smoked ham braise.

Chop 2 spanish onions and sautee them in oliv oil a big heavy bottom casserole dish ontop of the stove ( Le Creusset would be great, or it’s cheaper cousin).

Finely dice 2 cloves of garlic. Sautee them too until it’s all translucent.

Take a jar of smoked spanish paprika.( It needs to be smoked. Normal paprika is like the frumpy cousin who’ll be the tag along teddy if you invite it. It just won’t do it. It has to be smoked. It’s about the only place left where smoking is cool. ) Add about a quarter of a cup and stir it around until it’s made the olive oil and onions look like an extra from Carrie and it smells amazing.

Add in a cup of sliced smoked ham- speck is great, left over baked Christmas ham works too, if you don’t have any of that then bacon would suffice. You just want some pig in there.

Add a large bottle of tomato passata, and about a cup of red wine.

Chop up two tomatoes into dice and add them too.

Open 2 tins of chick peas. Rinse them lots and lots and then add them in.

Chop up 3 squid tubes into ribbons ( I always keep squid tubes in the freezer- they freeze really well, are flat, don’t take up much room and when cooked slowly have a gorgeous texture- almost like aldente noodles…) Add them too.

Add a chopped chilli or two depending on how much heat you like.

Add about 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. Not Maple flavoured syrup, but Maple Syrup. Trust me. It’s fabulous.

Keep the lid off and slowly simmer for as long as you can. 2 hours is good. 4 is better.
Serve with a green salad ( basil, finely diced fennel, fennel tops, rocket, baby spinach, salt, pepper, olive oil, balsamic) and warm bread.

Serves 6, or 4 hungry people and a few left overs for lunch the next day.

Other things which taste better with maple syrup

French toast
Poached fruit
Any tomato based stew/ sauce. ANY.
Any marinade for meat/ chicken- i.e whole grain mustard, garlic, olive oil, balsamic and maple syrup marinated steak.
Barbeque rib marinades

That’s the challenge for the week: find anything that doesn’t taste better with a dash of Maple Syrup. Ok, maybe not tinned tuna.

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