One of the great sorrows of nightshade sensitivity is the profusion of extraordinary Mediterranean dishes bursting with shafts of culinary sunlight. These rays travel from our star to your tongue in the form of pepper and tomato flavor notes. They are extraordinary. And for nightshade sensitive folks they hover like a vision, always there, and just out of reach.
With dozens of national and regional culinary traditions to draw from, the panoply of flavor combinations probably approaches infinity. Scan any list of cookbooks from the genre — like this collection from Women’s Health — and you’ll see a tomato on nearly every cover. (Aside: the Mediterranean diet may also be part of the reason why it’s so hard to recognize nightshade sensitivity.)
If the link remains stable, you’ll notice that two of these cookbooks are from the famed Yotam Ottolenghi. Once I had finally developed Beetuto, a no nightshade red sauce that I loved, I began to mess around with some of Ottolenghi’s recipes. Two things I learned: more Mediterranean cooking than you might expect is not nightshade dependent. And there are some fabulous no nightshade revisions to be made. The recipe below is adapted from the beautiful volume Jerusalem.
- 2 cups of cooked chickpeas
- olive oil for sauté
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 generous teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 generous teaspoon coriander seeds
- 2 cups Beetuto
- 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 very large handful of spinach leaves, lightly chopped
- salt and black pepper
- 2 large sweet potatoes
- 3 cups water
- 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 6 ounces Greek yogurt (standard is perfectly fine, but not the same)
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- juice and grated zest of one lemon
- pinch of dill
1If you have an Instapot or a pressure cooker, it’s worth cooking up your own batch of garbanzo beans. For whatever reason, I think chick peas suffer the most from canning. You want the beans to keep their shape, but be soft enough to absorb the juices of this dish. But it can be a nightmare to cook chickpeas on the stove top; I once waited 4 hours, and the beans still never got soft enough to be palatable. So if you don’t have pressure cooking options, canned beans are probably the way to go. To maximize the efficiency I try to soak the beans overnight beforehand, then replace the water and cook until soft. Different pressure cookers, different beans, different hardness of water—all of this will influence how long it takes your beans cook. If you’re new to cooking your own beans, you’ll have to figure this out for your own kitchen ecosystem, but I promise it’s worth it. Here are a few resources if you’re really new to cooking beans.
2Slice the sweet potatoes into discs about 1 1/2 inches thick. Place them in a deep and wide saucepan with the water, butter, honey, and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer. Total cooking time will probably be between 30 and 40 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. About halfway through this process, when they are cooked about half through on the pan side, you need to flip the potato discs. Be prepared to add more liquid as the water recedes, and keep a close eye towards the end because the mixture can caramelize quickly. An inattentive eye here will send the whole project off the rails. When they are fork-tender remove from heat and keep warm.
3Make the yogurt sauce by whisking together all the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4As the sweet potatoes simmer, make the sauce for the chickpeas. Heat the olive oil in a medium frying pan and add first the cumin and coriander seeds, allowing them to brown but not blacken. Add the onions and mix until the coriander and cumin are well distributed. Depending on how much oil the seeds have absorbed you may need another dollop of oil here. Stir fry until golden brown. Then add the Beetuto and bring to a simmer.
5Stir the spinach into the Beetuto sauce, then add the cooked chickpeas. Heat until the spinach is fully cooked, adjusting liquid as necessary and adding salt and pepper as needed.
6Ottolenghi suggests serving with the sweet potato on top. The color can be gorgeous, but frankly I think that’s upside down, and I prefer the sweet potatoes with a dollop of sauce on top, then garnish with cilantro. Better yet, let people serve themselves, and decide the proper stacking arrangements themselves. Provide easy access to the yogurt sauce, which should be applied at will.