If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m a pretty huge fan of The Voice. In fact, I’m actually a Voice expert. I know, for example, that getting assigned a Whitney Houston song is widely considered the kiss of death for many artists. And even though the coaches know this, they will still assign Whitney songs season in and season out — probably because the producers know it makes for interesting television — which predictably fall short of the original.
This season, it was Tessanne Chin who had the dubious honor of being tasked with a Whitney classic: I Have Nothing. Now, Tessanne is an amazing singer. She is one of the best on the show. Still, as we’ve learned after 5 seasons of this show, as good as anyone is, there is only one Whitney (Voice fans know that the same can be said of Adele). But Tessanne was smart. Before taking the stage, she strategically noted that she was not trying to emulate the original. She was not going to try to be Whitney. She was going to be Tessanne, and she was going to make her version a tribute, rather than a knock-off. And with that in mind, I think everyone (including myself), enjoyed the performance for what it was — not “Whitney”, but something unique and amazing in its own right (and for the record, I did think Tessanne was amazing).
If Whitney is the standard for vocal greatness, my great-grandmother was like the Whitney Houston of home cooking. After immigrating from Hungary as a teenager, she worked hard all of her life in the auto factories of Detroit. She carried her hard-working, blue collar mentality into the kitchen, where she was often sweating over the stove for hours on weekends to serve authentic Hungarian meals to grateful family members — something that brought her much joy. It was at her home that I saw my first whole chicken foot poking out of a boiling pot of water (something that would scar me for years to come), where I learned that lard was probably the most important cooking ingredient, and that cooking directions were as easy as telling someone “just thing it” (duh?).
But in all seriousness, my great-grandmother was an amazing cook, and I am lucky enough to say that some of my favorite childhood memories include spending Sundays at her home, playing in the backyard with my cousins, and feasting on Chicken Paprikash, Goulash, noodles and cabbage, and Crepe Suzettes. Yes, they were mostly prepared with lard, animal products and heavy cream. But I’d be lying to say that those dishes weren’t amazing. This chickpea paprikash is NOT an attempt to recreate my great-grandmother’s classic. I know I never will. But I’m taking a cue from Tessanne Chin and doing a tribute here — an homage, if you will. And as a special bonus, this not-quite-grandma’s tribute dish is quite simple to put together. Plus, I think if Grandma Varga knew what I now know about the health benefits of a plant-based diet, she might just be OK with my very different but still amazing chickpea version (Ok, who am I kidding, she would probably NOT be fine with this…I’ll just have to live with that).
Please don’t feel limited to penne for serving. I was just trying to keep things simple. I think brown rice, potatoes, or even traditional dumplings (if you have a gluten-free, vegan recipe on hand) would also be great. But whatever you do, be sure to serve this paprikash with at least something to mop it all up with.
Serves: about 4
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 medium red, yellow or orange bell peppers, thinly sliced
10 button mushrooms, sliced
1 1/4 cup vegetable broth (divided)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons paprika (Hungarian sweet paprika is preferable)
1 teaspoon sea salt (plus a pinch for sauteeing veggies & more to taste)
1/2 cup raw cashews (soaked for about 2 hours if not using a high-powered blender)
1 cup water
1 lb. cooked brown rice penne, for serving (or accompaniment of choice)
1. Heat 1/4 cup vegetable broth over medium-high heat. Add peppers, onion and mushrooms plus a pinch of salt and saute for about 8-10 minutes, or until onions are soft and translucent and other vegetables are soft as well.
2. While onion and other veggies cook: add cashews and water to a high-powered blender (if using a weaker blender, be sure cashews have soaked for an hour or two). Blend until completely smooth and no little bits of cashew are left. To be safe, I like to blend for about 30 seconds on medium-high speed.
3. After veggies are cooked, add remaining ingredients, including cashew cream and remaining 1 cup vegetable broth. Gently stir to combine. Heat until the sauce just begins to come to a boil (but do not boil). Taste for salt and add more to taste. Serve warm over cooked penne or desired accompaniment.