It’s the dream of creative types, iconoclasts, and commitment-phobes alike: to work in pajamas while eschewing the demands of corporate culture. (Like wearing pants.) In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be writing about how I eat and drink on a freelancer’s salary—or lack thereof—in New York City; this is part one.
Some freelancers, I’ve been told, have figured out how to handle the juggling act that this lifestyle requires: the constant uncertainty of wondering when, exactly, those invoices submitted months earlier are going to pay out, and when they do, which bills need immediate attention and which can go another month or two, and how much wiggle-room is left on various credit cards before the banks demand nothing less than a first-born child in repayment. For me, it’s a low-grade anxiety—please excuse the overworked metaphor—that’s always simmering on the back burner, threatening to boil over at the slightest provocation. Unforeseen medical expenses? Summer weddings to attend? Excessive phone usage this billing cycle? Even a standard-yet-unexpected service charge on an otherwise normal account can throw my precariously balanced system (and I use the term lightly) into a state of disarray.
When that balance is at its most delicate, my diet becomes much less interesting. Fresh vegetables, meat, and cheese are all sidelined in favor of more cost-effective measures, and the variety I normally thrive on is a luxury I can’t afford; a pot of soup, legume-based and enough to feed me for a week, is a standard go-to. (This is hardly news.)
There’s a reason that I don’t eat this way on a normal basis, even though I’d probably alleviate some of that aforementioned anxiety by doing so: It’s not nearly as much fun. Once in awhile, however, I come across a recipe that makes a spartan approach seem like less of an imposition and more like something I could actually want to do, inspiring a stream of rash, virtuous promises that this time, for real, I’m going to implement some change around these parts. (Kind of like the aftermath of that first trip back to the gym, when, high on endorphins and before the soreness kicks in, I swear I’m going to work out every.single.day from this point forward. …yeah.)
Anyway. The recipe.
We’ve featured dal in these pages before, but, thanks to toasted spices and copious quantities of garlic, this version is anything but a retread. Not only will it make your kitchen smell fantastic, it’s also cheap to make without compromising on flavor; it doesn’t harbor even the slightest tinge of frugal, cost-cutting sacrifice. It could even be a game-changer: a slow-simmered, homey crock of split peas as the key to financial solvency. Who knew?
2-4 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 jalapeno, sliced into thin discs (optional) [I used a healthy dash of cayenne pepper instead]
1 large onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup washed and drained yellow split peas
1 large tomato, diced
2-4 cups plus water
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Salt to taste
1. In a pot saute cumin and mustard seeds in oil for couple of minutes. Let the essential oils and aromas release. If adding jalapeno, add jalapeno after the seeds have been on for couple of minutes, and saute together with the seeds for additional minute or two. Add onion and garlic and saute until soft.
2. Add peas and tomato to cumin, mustard and jalapeno mixure, and cover with water an inch or two above peas. Add turmeric and adjust for salt. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium and cook until peas are very soft, a thick creamy consistency or soupy consistency (depending on personal preference). Add water as necessary as soup thickens.
3. Mash with a potato masher for smooth creamy consistency, if desired. Serve over simply steamed basmati rice, with bhaji and mango chutney.