I love juxtaposing words with opposite connotations.
Breakfast is one of the most beloved meals in any culture. Everybody loves breakfast, and waxes poetic about it. Folks declare the staples of breakfast–regardless of culture–to be the ultimates in comfort food.
Leftovers, on the other hand, get a bum rap from most people.
Fed one too many “mystery casseroles” by harried Moms that contained flotsam and jetsam from prior meals, many people have developed an attitude against leftovers of any sort. In the US, leftovers are a bit of a national joke; food writer Calvin Trillin once said, “The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.”
Not me. I love leftovers.
Oh, now, don’t get me wrong. I have had some wretched concatenations of leftover bits and canned pieces in my life that were only barely edible, but in general, I have to say that I love leftovers, and I have a good time eating them.
I like them so much, that I have been known to make too much of a dish, just in order to eat it warmed over in a day or two.
Lentil soup, or dal, or really, any sort of dried bean dish, whether soupy or dry, are always better after they have sat about in the fridge overnight or longer, letting the flavors all get friendly and develop. The broth of soupy beans thickens and becomes rich, refried beans just get tastier and tastier over time, and the spices in dal create a marriage so tight you can no longer pick out individual flavors.
In fact, I am of the opinion that Indian foods, in particular, are almost universally better the next day. This is why whenever I make Indian food, I always make extras, so I can enjoy them, either simply heated up, or transformed into another dish, the next day.
Witness what I had for breakfast this morning: an egg and potato hash made with about three tablespoons of leftover Aloo Methi. Aloo methi is a curry made of par-boiled potatoes cut up and fried with browned onions, garlic, chiles, ginger, spices and fenugreek greens. They are deliciously fragrant, and are so full of flavor that it is hard to believe that they started out as simple boiled potatoes. I adore them, and had made them to take to a neighborhood potluck on Saturday. Most of the little bit that was left I ate heated up in the microwave, but there were about three tablespoons of it left that I could neither throw away, nor give to the dogs to eat.
So, this morning, waking up in a fit of ravenous hunger that is characteristic of the second trimester of pregnancy (this is the time when the baby grows the most quickly–and most women can tell it, because their appetite goes into overdrive), I tottered downstairs, and ducking my head into the fridge, I spied the tiny mound of aloo methi sealed up in their wee plastic container.
There was not enough to satiate my hunger, but I was not deterred.
My Grandma, a frugal farmwife who had to make substantial breakfasts every morning, would sometimes take leftover fried potatoes, and reheat them in a pan with bacon grease. Sometimes she added flakes of leftover ham, and then, she would stir up a passel of fresh eggs, and dump them into the pan, scrambling them among the potatoes and ham. This made a one-dish breakfast she called “Egg and Potato Hash,” which I loved. She varied it, of course. Sometimes, she added sauteed onions and green peppers, and sometimes cheese or crumbled sausage. But always, the base of the dish was nothing more than cold, leftover fried potatoes from the night or so before, and farm-fresh, pastured eggs, thier yolks a rich yellow from extra beta carotene from the grass and clover the chickens ate.
“Hash” as a word, comes to the English language from the French “hacher,” meaning to chop, and so refers to a dish that is composed of bits and pieces of different foods. In American parlance, it usually refers to a sort of fried potato dish, wherein the potatoes are combined with bits of meat or other vegetables and all are cooked together in the same pan. Canned corned beef, one of my nightmare foods of childhood, often appeared in hash on my mother’s table, but leftover ham made a nice dish. Sometimes cabbage was fried in the mixture, which I did not approve of, which is not surprising, as I only liked cabbage raw.
Generally, hash is looked down upon as a low-quality dish made of poor ingredients, but I think that is not necessarily so. My Grandma’s breakfast hashes were all quite tasty, and made a nice filling start to day filled with physical labor. Stick-to-the-ribs breakfasts are necessary on a farm where the morning’s activities were endless and varied. One could be called upon to herd cattle, feed and water chickens, dig postholes, mend fences, plant potatoes, or build bean trellises. All of these activities require a good amount of energy, and if one is a skinny kid, a hearty breakfast allows one to do a great deal of work before noon without passing out.
Gestation is also hard work, though I admit, it is nowhere nearly as taxing as posthole digging. But, it does require a filling breakfast if one is to make it until noon without tearing into a snack of cat or husband.
In the interest of not consuming either a beloved cat or an innocent husband, I dragged out my very own carton of local pastured eggs, and cracked two in a bowl, and stirred them up, then heated up the skillet with a dab of butter in it. (Bacon grease I had, but I thought that it would inject a rather odd note into the proceeding, as it is not often used in Indian cookery, if it is used at all.)
The potatoes went in, and I stirred, chopped and lightly mashed them into the pan, cutting them down to smaller pieces so they would brown a bit and heat faster. Smaller potato bits also incorporate better into the eggs.
This I did on medium heat, and once the potatoes were sizzling and steamy hot, I gathered them into a pile and poured the eggs over them, immediately stirring them like mad. Most of the time I scramble my eggs on low heat, so that they are all delicate and custardy-soft, but with potatoes in the midst, I wanted them to be cooked faster, and a bit harder.
The eggs solidified rapidly, melding their saffron-colored yolks to the turmeric-tinged potatoes perfectly. All told, I think the dish took about five minutes to cook, and as I turned it out into a bowl, the incomparable scent of fenugreek, ginger and onions mingled with the deep eggy richness to create a tantalizing aroma that had my mouth watering instantly.
It was a perfect breakfast.
Filling, fast, and for the most part, from local ingredients. The only non-locally sourced ingredients were the spices, the ginger and the dried methi leaves. The potatoes, onions, garlic, chiles, eggs and fresh fenugreek greens, were all locally grown and produced.
It tasted divine, it stopped the hunger-beast from twisting my mood into utter despair, and it was pretty darned healthy, too.
You can’t beat that.
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