butternut squash and chickpea stew

If you are entertaining guests this holiday season who have food allergies or other dietary restrictions this stew could be a great thing to whip up to accommodate them but is also good enough for all to enjoy.  There is no wheat, dairy, or meat which seem to be the main three things that people are allergic to or just avoid altogether.  (While I respect the vegetarian diet and often choose/prepare meatless options for myself I like bacon way too much to ever give up meat.  But I digress.)

This stew starts with toasting some fragrant spices on your stove.  After they are properly toasted you grind them up in a spice mill/coffee grinder or go old-school with a mortar and pestle and smoosh them to a fine pulp using a little elbow grease.  Then you mix those spices with a little olive oil, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and crushed garlic.  This is called Harissa and it will bring a whole lot of flavor to whatever you’ve got going on in your kitchen.

Butternut squash gets peeled and chopped into small pieces and roasted in the oven.  There are onions, more garlic, chickpeas, canned tomatoes, carrots and parsley.  They all combine together to make a great fall stew that is hearty and comforting and filling and a bit spicy.

This is total guilt-free food, as a friend of mine would say.  You can eat as much as you like and know that you are putting good stuff (mostly vegetables!) into your body.  And better yet, your gluten-free sister and your vegan cousin along your meat-loving uncle can all enjoy it.  Together.

Chickpea and Butternut Squash Stew (from www.marthastewart.com)

  • 1 medium butternut squash, cut into 1 ½-inch irregularly shaped pieces (about 6 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 medium onions, chopped (about 2 ½ cups)
  • 8 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley stems
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into ¾-inch cubes or irregular shapes
  • 2 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (either from dry beans or from two 15-ounce cans)
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (28 ounces)
  • 4 teaspoons Harissa (see recipe below), or more to taste
  • ½ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place squash on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Drizzle with 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss well and roast until golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes.

In a large skillet or pot, warm remaining 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in parsley stems, cumin, and paprika, and cook for 1 minute. Add carrots and 1 cup chickpea cooking liquid (or water, if using canned chickpeas) to onion mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until carrots are tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add tomatoes and chickpeas. Raise heat to medium-high and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in harissa paste, chopped parsley leaves, roasted squash, and remaining ½ cup chickpea cooking liquid (or water). Simmer, uncovered, until flavors meld, another 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Harissa (from www.marthastewart.com)

  • 1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon whole caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed in garlic press
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
  • Large pinch sea salt
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Warm a skillet over a medium flame. Add cumin, coriander, and caraway seeds. Toast, shaking pan, until seeds are fragrant, about 3 minutes. Grind in a spice grinder until fine.

Place ground spices in a bowl, and add cayenne, garlic, lemon juice, and salt. Stir in olive oil until smooth.

Cook’s Note: Harissa can be refrigerated in a sealed glass jar for 1 month.

o is for okra

Normally, I’m a list person.  I don’t go anywhere without a list, especially not to a place that almost requires a list like a grocery store.  That would be like leaving the house without my cellphone.  You know what I mean.  Leaving your house without your cellphone is the new leaving your house without clothes on.  You feel vulnerable and lost without it these days.

So Saturday morning I did something radical: I threw caution to the wind and decided to go to the farmer’s market sans list.  It was wild.  I wound up picking up a few predictable things: raspberries, green beans, kale, but also came home with a few surprises: namely, okra.  I have eaten it in restaurants before but if the farmer’s had not labeled the okra in their stands I would not have recognized it in its whole form.  But what the heck, I could find something great to do with it.

I did a little research on my iPhone and the first recipe I came across was the one I decided to go for: curried okra with chickpeas and tomatoes.  This was perfect because a) I love curry, and b) I had both chickpeas and a can of tomatoes that needed to be used up in my pantry.  One thing that I wish I had known beforehand was that it is better to buy small okra.  My greedy eyes thought that bigger would be better so I bought okra that was 5 to 6 inches in length when apparently 2 to 3 inches is better.  I definitely could have fit more okra into my pot if they weren’t so big.  But nevermind, they still tasted great and I’m totally psyched about cooking with okra again in the future.  Sometimes it’s a very good thing to leave your lists at home!

Curried Okra with Chickpeas and Tomatoes (recipe found at www.epicurious.com)

  •   1 ¼ lb small fresh okra, left untrimmed, or 2 (10-oz) packages frozen whole okra (not thawed)
  •   1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
  •   1 medium onion, chopped
  •   2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  •   4 teaspoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
  •   2 teaspoons curry powder
  •   1 (14- to 15-oz) can whole tomatoes in juice, tomatoes chopped, reserving juice
  •   1 (19-oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (2 cups)
  •   2/3 cup water
  •   ¾ teaspoon salt
  •   ¼ teaspoon black pepper

If using fresh okra, trim, leaving tops intact, being careful not to cut into pods.

Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté onion and garlic with ginger and curry powder, stirring, 2 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juice, chickpeas, and water and boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Stir in okra, salt, and pepper and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until okra is tender, about 10 minutes.

Serve over rice or quinoa.

Cinco de Mayo fish tacos for you

Yesterday I felt like I discovered a new world.  I knew I wanted to make fish tacos for Cinco de Mayo and needed to stop at a Mexican grocery store to pick up a few of the ingredients, namely “crema,” which is Mexican sour cream.  (It’s like traditional sour cream except it’s a little thinner and has more salt.)  I popped into a little Mexican mercado I had passed before and in the back of the store which was otherwise like any other small grocery store there was a team of people making fresh corn tortillas and serving up a variety of meats.  It smelled amazing.  You had the option to buy the tortillas and meats by the pound to take away or you could order food to stay and eat in.  Yes please!  So for lunch I had tacos carnitas y barbacoa with a tamarind soda for less than $5.  Gotta love that.  But I digress.

Last week a coworker passed me the following recipe for Baja Fish Tacos saying she thought I might like them, and boy was she right!  Don’t let the length of the recipe intimidate you– it was so simple and fast to prepare.  There are several components: the sour cream, the pico de gallo, the slaw, and of course the fish itself, and you could skip any of the first three, but I don’t recommend it.  The pico is a little spicy, the slaw a little sweet, and the crema the perfect salty cooling balance.  The recipe calls for mahi-mahi but you can use any flakey white fish.  I used tilapia based on my coworker’s suggestion and it was great (and less than half the price of mahi-mahi.)

And make sure to enjoy with a cerveza!

Baja Fish Tacos (adapted slightly from recipe found at www.epicurious.com)

  • 1 pound mahi-mahi, cod, tilapia or other white flakey fish (I used tilapia)
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 ½ teaspoons chili powder
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¾ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¾ teaspoon minced garlic
  • Salt, to taste
  • 8 corn tortillas, 6 inches in diameter

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Place corn tortillas in aluminum foil and sprinkle with a few drops of water before sealing.  Place wrapped tortillas into oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

Combine the oil, lime juice, chili powder, cumin, coriander, garlic, and salt. Coat the fish with the marinade.

Heat skillet over medium-high heat.  Place fish, one fillet at a time in heated skillet.  Cook for 4 minutes on one side and then flip over and cook for 2 minutes more.  Flake fish and place in each tortilla, and top with the Southwestern Slaw and Chipotle Pico de Gallo. Add a dollop of Mexican Crema, fold in half, and serve immediately.  (See below for recipes.)

Southwestern Slaw (from recipe found at www.epicurious.com)

  • 2 cups fine-shredded green cabbage
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons minced red onion
  • 2 teaspoons minced jalapeños
  • 2 teaspoons chopped cilantro
  • Salt, to taste

Combine all the ingredients. Allow the mixture to marinate for at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours before serving.

Chipotle Pico de Gallo (from recipe found at www.epicurious.com)

  • 1 cup medium-dice tomatoes (seeded before dicing)
  • 4 teaspoons minced red onion
  • ½ teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • ½ canned chipotle pepper, minced
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro chiffonade (cut into thin strips)

Combine all the ingredients and mix well. The pico de gallo is ready to use now or it can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Mexican Crema (from recipe found at www.epicurious.com)

  • ½ cup Mexican sour cream
  • ½ teaspoon finely grated lime zest
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice

Combine all the ingredients and mix well. The cream is ready to use now or it can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.