August 20, 2019

Powerful Powerless Cooking with ‘The Storm Gourmet’

Power outages have been part of my everyday life in Uganda for more than a decade, and they’ve trained me to set my watch to about 15 minutes into a big storm before being plunged into total darkness.

At that point, there’s a procedure: turn off major appliances, fridge, freezers and fans and hope the inverter power supply lasts long enough to charge my phone and computer because I can never find the flashlights I hide around the house until the power comes back. That’s Uganda; we’ve come to expect frequent power outages from Umeme, Uganda’s only and extremely overburdened electric company. But when a transformer blew in New York City this past weekend leaving at least 72,000 Con Edison customers without power, I realized it could happen anywhere. 

Earthquakes in California, hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, all potentially disastrous situations that require some advanced planning for food preparation. In 2004, four catastrophic hurricanes slammed into Florida and the Caribbean causing destruction and leaving thousands without power.

But when the going gets tough, the tough get resourceful. Although her house was not damaged by the hurricanes, lifelong Florida resident and author Daphne Nikolopoulos was without power for a full two weeks. While the utility company worked round the clock to restore power, and neighbors pitched in to help one another batten down the hatches between storms and rebuild in their aftermath, the award-winning author, journalist and editor-in chief of the upscale Palm Beach Illustrated magazine realized the stormy weather was a golden opportunity to help others better prepare for future calamities. 

Writing “The Storm Gourmet” cookbook was a labor of love for Nikolopoulos, taking advantage of the natural bounty in her garden and setting up a well-stocked and organized “storm pantry,” she shows us that even without power, with a little advance preparation, one doesn’t have to make do with potato chips and stale Halloween candy when the power goes out.

I used many of the recipes in this book in Uganda, even when I did have power — on warm days when I couldn’t fathom turning on an oven, or when I had unexpected company, and as a bonus I also followed her instructions for planting a herb garden. I found that between my pantry and garden, with my stash of long-life ingredients, I could whip up a satisfying lunch or dinner that looked and tasted gourmet and usually took no more than 20 minutes start to finish.

Nikolopoulos also lists a treasure trove of her favorite dressings from her Mediterranean upbringing in Athens, featuring a scrumptious Greek-style bean salad using canned beans and some classic shortcuts to electricity free classic Salade Nicoise, chunky hummus, curried chicken salad and the author’s favorite recipe: poached Moroccan fruits. 

In case you need to replenish your summer reading supplies, Nikolopoulos, using the pen name D.J. Niko, has written a series of historical fiction thrillers, the second of which is titled “The Riddle of Solomon.” It takes readers on a journey set in India, Jerusalem and an ancient Judean wilderness. Make sure you aren’t like me and can actually find your flashlight —  the books, dubbed the “Sarah Weston chronicles,” are real page turners. After all, not being able to have a hot shower during a power failure is one thing — getting stuck in the dark in the middle of an exciting chapter — that’s going to drive you crazy.

All recipes reprinted with permission from “The Storm Gourmet: A Guide to Creating Extraordinary Meals Without Electricity” by Daphne Nikolopoulos, published by Pineapple Press, available on Amazon.

SALADE NICOISE

2 (5-ounce) cans light tuna in extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans sliced white potatoes
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can French green beans
1 cup marinated artichokes, quartered
1 tablespoon capers
1/4 cup pitted and halved Kalamata or other black olives
Anchovies (optional)
Salt and pepper

For the Dressing:

7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons prepared Dijon mustard
Pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon cracked pepper

In a small bowl, toss tuna with lemon juice. Set aside.

In a large salad bowl, combine potatoes, beans, artichokes, capers, olives and anchovies. Season with salt and pepper and toss well. Add tuna.

In a screw-top jar, combine dressing ingredients. Shake vigorously until creamy and frothy. Pour over salad and serve.

Serves 4.

CURRIED CHICKEN SALAD

12 1/2-ounce canned premium chicken breast, drained
1/2 cup canned sliced water chestnuts, drained
2/3 cup canned pineapple tidbits, drained
2 tablespoons raisins
1/3 cup slivered almonds
1 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons table cream

Pepper to taste

Place chicken, water chestnuts, pineapple, raisins and almonds in a medium-sized bowl and toss together. Season with pepper.

In a screw-top jar, combine curry powder, lemon juice, soy sauce and table cream and shake vigorously. Pour over chicken mixture and toss to coat.

Serves 2.

CHUNKY HUMMUS
2 cups canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons raw organic tahini
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/4 teaspoon each, salt, pepper and paprika

Place the chickpeas in a medium-size bowl and squeeze by hand until they reach a thick, pasty consistency. Add the remaining ingredients and mash with a fork until blended well. The mixture should be chunky but moist (not crumbly).

Serve with flatbread or crackers. 

Serves 4.

POACHED MOROCCAN FRUITS

1 cup dates, pitted and julienned
1/2 cup dried apricots, julienned
3 tablespoons dried cherries
1 orange, peeled, white pith removed, and sectioned
3 tablespoons slivered almonds
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup orange-blossom water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey

Place dried fruits, orange sections and almonds in a small bowl. Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar over mixture and toss well to coat.

In a small cup or bowl, combine orange-blossom water, lemon juice and honey with a wire whisk until thoroughly blended. Pour over the fruit and toss.

Let marinate for 15-20 minutes before serving.

Serves 4.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.