Season to Taste

In line with my plans to abstain from serving meat until Thursday, I revisited an earmarked page from a cookbook I enthusiastically perused some time ago. I say Thursday because the weather forecast for the weekend looks to be brilliant and I plan to be outside as much as possible. I don’t think I am alone in feeling that my legs are the most uncomfortable and shocking shade of white. It’s embarrassing but the hue closely resembles that of a Perdue chicken. In the context of meals, I suspect our grill is going to receive some serious TLC come Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Fingers crossed. I am always down for something with a char but feeling lamb chops with fresh thyme and garlic in particular at some point on the horizon. Stay tuned.

I remember flagging this North African stew from the cookbook Veg: River Cottage EverydayThe book, which I picked up sometime last year, is a beautiful one with the most magnificent, colorful photographs. It will inspire you to go vegetarian, if even for just a meal. It boasts hundreds of pages of vegetarian recipes including starters, salads, soups, stews, raw goodies, juices, main courses, pasta dishes and desserts. I found a pair of raw salads therein that I will most definitely be trying at the weekend. Arugula, raw cashews, plump grapefruit slices and tahini that you mix with garlic and honey. Yes please. I selected the below recipe for a meatless dinner as the ingredients are items I regularly pick up during the weekly grocery rotation. This includes but is not limited to onions, celery, lentils, chick peas, canned San Marzano tomatoes and squash. I love nothing more than coming across a recipe and mentally checking items I have in the kitchen off the list. Thanks to the preparation of multiple meals, my spice artillery has become quite robust. I even have saffron on hand and a fair share of it to boot. A few months ago it was on sale at Trader Joe’s and I stocked up. This is a traditionally costly spice so if you see it for a fair price, procure said. You will find a use for it. Safety in numbers, always.

So come Tuesday, after another enjoyable run in the welcomed sunshine and while Matthew was in the other room watching yet another television program about how to survive the endless winters on a homestead in Alaska, I got to work with this. I chopped up the onions, garlic and celery in my Cuisinart and as they sizzled gently in the oil, I measured out my spices, cracked open cans, chopped herbs, pinched salt and I was ready in no time. At this stage, it became an exercise of peeking at my watch, adding goodies and stirring. In no time, this was ready and on the table. This stew swanks great depth of flavors but is refreshingly light thanks to the medley of vegetables and application of fresh herbs. If time is on your side, get another pot going and serve your African rendition on top of nutty brown rice. We plan to do exactly that with the leftovers.

Butternut Squash and Chick Pea Stew

Vegetarian Goodies

2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
2 large onions – chopped – on a whim I went with red
2 celery stalks – chopped
2 inch knob ginger – peeled and chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
8 saffron strands
½ cup of red lentils
2 cups of squash – chopped – we opted for butternut
½ cup small pasta or orzo – we used black bean pasta that I broke in half
14 oz can garbanzo beans – drained and rinsed
28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes
A bunch of parsley
A bunch of coriander
5 cups of vegetable stock
Kosher salt
Fresh cracked pepper

To Prepare

1. Heat oil in a large pot on medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until golden.

2. Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic, celery, red pepper flakes, turmeric, cinnamon and fresh ginger. Add a few cracks of fresh pepper. Sauté for a few minutes until the mix becomes quite fragrant.

3. Add the lentils, chick peas, saffron, tomatoes, parsley and coriander. Let the mixture simmer on low heat for around 15 minutes.

4. Add the squash, stock, pasta and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, cover and lower to a simmer for approximately 30 minutes. Give a big stir and season to taste.

5. Ladle into a bowl and garnish with fresh chopped cilantro. Or eat as is. Either way, go to town.

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