Chef Yotam Ottolenghi is well known to have popularized vegetarian food with un-apologetically bold flavors. I first noticed his style of cooking some years ago when I was scouting around for interesting recipes that would expand my options for cooking vegetarian meals at home. And what an amazing style he has! The humble vegetable is elevated to a celebrity status in his recipes. That strikes a chord with me, as Indian cuisine is also very similar in that underappreciated vegetables are the star attraction of many a dish.
Ottolenghi's food has a heavy Middle-Eastern influence. His recipes call for spices like sumac and za'atar, flavor enhancers like pomegranate molasses and rose water, herbs like mint and parsley and plenty of fruit and nuts. Have you been transported to a fragrant Persian garden yet?
In the words of Ottolenghi himself, the true test of a great meal is if it can take you on a journey. This stew, one that I made yesterday, managed to do just that. The depth of flavor in this stew comes from its many layers - honey and dates add an earthy sweetness, the za' atar makes it pungent, and the cinnamon elevates it. And all of these combined create a delicious fragrance, a whiff of which conjures visions of Morrocan spice souks.
The chickpea and squash are the chief ingredients here. This squash, which my son chose himself from a pumpkin farm over the weekend, is a variety called 'Thelma Sanders' and tastes like a cross between a sweet potato and a pumpkin (good choice Kabir!).
Have this stew as a main with cous-cous dotted with ruby pomegranate seeds. The stew tastes better after a day, as the vegetables get a chance to absorb the flavors of the aromatics. Or have it with some flatbread such as pita or naan.
Moroccan Chickpea and Squash Stew - Ottolenghi Inspired Mediterranean Stew
- For the stew:
- 2 onions finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves diced
- 1 tblsp good quality olive oil
- 1/2 squash peeled and diced into cubes
- 1 can of chickpeas drained
- 2 to matoes chopped
- 1 tsp za' atar available at local Turkish or African stores
- 3/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1/4 can tinned tomato
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- A couple sprigs of parsley chopped
- A handful of Basil chopped
- Pitted and chopped dates
- 1/4 cup honey
- Salt to season
- For the cous cous:
- 1.5 cup cous cous
- a handfull pomegranate seeds
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- A few mint leaves
- In a pressure cooker or heavy-bottom pot, start by sauteing the onions and garlic in olive oil
- Saute till onions are translucent
- Add the squash and chickpeas and stir
- Add the chopped tomatoes and continue cooking till mixture comes to a simmer, around 5 minutes
- Add the remaining ingredients and give it a good stir
- If using pressure cooker, pressure cook on 'high' for 20 minutes. If using a stove-top pot, cook with the lid on medium heat for 35 minutes, occasionally stirring
- Prepare the cous cous by adding boiling water and letting the cous cous sit in the water for 1 minute
- Fluff the cooked cous cous with a fork
- Add lime juice and pomegranate seeds and toss
- Garnish with mint leaves