This morning I woke up needing to know desperately what time it was and no matter where I looked I could not find a clock. We had moved the mattress from the bedroom to the main room because our neighbors are always screaming, the traffic seems to be more intense than usual, the heat pipes are pounding and contractors are renovating the apartment where my new neighbor friend just moved out of. My phone was in the kitchen, the mattress was hiding the clock. But that feeling, the feeling of missing my time piece, that is kind of a metaphor for how I’ve been running around lately. I keep making plans to see my family and work keeps sending me to Mexico. It’s a cool thing, a great opportunity to know another culture, but it causes me to question my priorities. To look at an oblong angle at where I’m going and where I’ve been. What and who is important to me? How much of myself am I willing to give and where? I’m playing a waltz with broken fingers. When I feel like this and I stop my mind for a second I know that I’ve cultivated the inner strength to find my own compass. I look to my husband, my friends and all the people I hold dear. And ultimately I look within myself.
When I was a teenager and working as a fish monger after school, we used to sell hard pieces of cardboard that my boss claimed was salted cod. Around Christmas time we would take a hose to fill huge barrels with water and dump all of these preserved cardboard cod pieces in. Every day we’d change the water and after a few day we sold it all in its new form, soft and tender. Later, when my mom thought I was old enough to come to Spain with her, I saw what all the fuss was about. Bacalao became my favorite thing in all of its forms, especially this one, served as tapas. This actual recipe hails from Portugal, but Spain has its own versions of it. On first bite, you cant help but notice how the cod is flaky and sweet, mild and giving. I fell for the country, the language and the food. Years later, when I got married, the first trip we took was to Spain for our honeymoon. And we ate.
I like the idea of Valentine’s Day because it brings to mind candy and cards and all the fun things of childhood to me. Before all the Hallmark stuff though, mid-February was a celebration of purification and fertility. It is winter’s last big bite before spring births the world anew. There is something to be said for being present in times that feel hectic and cold because time passes so quickly and this moment only portends moments to come. Every storm passes eventually whether it’s a blizzard or a drizzle.
I know cod fish is a rough sell as an ode to St. Valentine, but this dish is my act of renewal. It’s an experiment with one of the first things that captured my heart. Salted cod. An ancient method of preservation tried and true still charms its way into our kitchens. Adding a touch of fresh water and attention brings it back to life. You literally can watch it bloom over 24 hour period. Heat it just enough to warm it, add a little olive oil, chickpeas, tons of garlic, sherry vinegar, salt, boiled eggs, tear it up and eat it. So much like love. Ancient, new, textured, nuanced, destroyed, regenerating and nourishing.
Wishing you all a good one. Stay warm!
Salada de Bacalhau a Grão-de-bico (Salt Cod, Chickpea, and Egg Salad)
- ½ lb. dried salt cod
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 (15-oz.) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 3 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled, and thinly sliced crosswise
- 1 tbsp. roughly chopped cilantro
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 3 tbsp. sherry vinegar
For the cod:
Place cod in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Keep in the refrigerator for a day or two changing the water every 8 hours. When ready to cook, drain cod. Add to a lightly oiled saucepan, and saute until just heated.* Transfer cod to a large bowl and flake with a fork into large chunks; set aside.
For the salad:
Heat oil in a 1-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; cook until crisp and golden brown, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer garlic to bowl with cod; set oil aside and let cool. Add chickpeas, eggs, cilantro, salt, and pepper to bowl with cod. Whisk vinegar with reserved oil and add to cod mixture; toss to coat. Serve cold or at room temperature.
*Note: Some recipes call for boiling the cod anywhere from once to three times. I don’t like this treatment of the fish. First, it really smells. Secondly, the salt used for preservation does the trick for preserving just fine. No need to boil and lose flavor if you can change the water for a 24 hour period and lightly saute.