Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Recipe: Moroccan chickpea and squash stew

This is a fantastic recipe for a warming, chickpea stew that sets itself apart from most veg stews by virtue of an authentically multi-layered spice blend. You can leave out the hot spices and seasoning if you are going to feed this to babies and children, and add them afterwards in the form of salt and pepper at the table, a deeply seasoned couscous, and/or harissa (mmm, harissa, how I love you so). The gentler spices are not off-putting to nippers, perhaps because the other ingredients are fairly sweet and we all know that in the battle to get kids to eat, sweet is our friend (shh, don't tell Jamie Oliver).

Moroccan chickpea and squash stew
(adapted from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe)

1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground paprika
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (leave this out if cooking for small people)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into fine half-rings
1 tin plum tomatoes
1 tin chickpeas, drained
310g peeled, seeded butternut squash (or other squash, pumpkin etc), cut into 1cm dice (or larger if you like a stew with firmer veg and a slightly thinner sauce)
2 tbsp raisins
4 dried apricots, cut into 0.5cm dice
500ml vegetable stock (use very low salt stock or water if cooking for babies)
1/2 large courgette, cut into 1cm dice
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley

To serve:
Couscous, bulgar wheat, quinoa or similar grain of your fancy
Harissa! Oh yes.

Combine the spices in a cup and set aside.
Put the oil in a generous pan and set over a medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion. Stir and fry for 3 minutes or so, until the onion has started to brown.
Add the spices from the cup, stir once, and add the tomatoes.
[A note on tomatoes: I have recently started using tinned whole tomatoes, after years of using chopped. I read somewhere that using whole means you are in charge of deciding how large a chunk you end up with, as well as the ratio of tomato to juice being more appropriate and easier to control if you aren't using a whole tin. They are also cheaper - everyone's a winner. As you were.]
Stir and cook the tomatoes for 3-4 minutes or until they have softened.
Add the chickpeas, squash, raisins, apricots and stock, and bring to a simmer.
Cover, turn the heat down and cook for 15 minutes or so. The pan should be bubbling away nicely - not Vesuvius, but you want to hear it chatting away to you.
When the squash is just tender when pierced with the point of a knife, add the courgettes and simmer, uncovered, for another 10 minutes or until the courgette has softened to your liking, stirring now and again.
Add the coriander and parsley just before serving - give it a couple of minutes to cook down as, unless you have the knife skills of a sous chef, parsley can be a bit on the tough side if it's not cooked in.

To serve, put a mound of couscous or whatever you're having on each plate. Make a well in the centre and put a chunky spoonful of stew in the well. Dampen the surrounding couscous generously with some of the sauce, and serve with the hot stuff on the side.

This quantity should serve 4, or (in our house) 2 adults, 1 toddler and one baby. OR 2 adults who like to have seconds and three baby portions (you could sling a couple in the freezer for a rainy day). I made up a small amount of couscous (25g left for 5 minutes in 50ml boiling water to rehydrate) and mixed this with the baby portions, along with a couple of tablespoonfuls of apple juice and whizzed the lot up with a hand blender. You will know if this is suitable for your baby in terms of texture and quantity - my babe is 7 months and has been an enthusiastic eater from 21 weeks, and he wolfed this down with a satisfying 'mmm' after each mouthful.

I cannot extol the virtues of this lovely meal more effusively - it's a healthy one, lots of lovely vegetable protein, vegan, actually, come to think of it, and a great gentle introduction to spice, but one sophisticated enough not to make adults feel they are eating a tedious, compromised, 'family' meal. It's a rare thing.

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