Thursday, September 9, 2010

Spicy Vegetable Stew.

I'm quite pleased to say that I just ate a bowl of this, and I'm now onto my second. But, being me, I have to admit that it wasn't perfect: the pumpkin that I used had a strange aftertaste that I'd never encountered before. That was half the reason why I made this dish: to hide the pumpkin in a mix of other flavours. Anyone else eating this wouldn't know that it was there, but of course I know, so I'm on the lookout for it. Sigh. Either way, I did a pretty good job of disguising my lack of pumpkin quality, despite never having encountered this in an Australian pumpkin. Maybe it's the climate? I'd be pretty annoyed too, if I needed sunlight to grow, and these awful grey and drizzly days were all I was getting. Wait, I am annoyed about it.

So, pumpkins aside (or under my bed, where I'm beginning to hoarde them in large quantities), this is a reliable stew to fall back on when you're under the weather, or worse, when the weather is under 15 degrees. It's easy, it can be made in a slow cooker, or if you're hungry, you just simmer it a little faster. I think you can guess which boat I was in! I served this with soft polenta, through which I mixed a touch of salt and a handful of chopped herbs. This stew also gets along swimmingly with couscous or rice, or just a giant hunk of crusty bread to mop up the sauce. Better yet, you can do that, and then you can lick the bowl.

This stew can be made with whichever vegetables you like. Usually I'll add some cubes of fried eggplant, but it's not the sort of effort I was prepared to go to. Today's batch had lots of brown mushrooms, zucchini, and the rest of the pumpkin I'd roasted the day before. Add the pumpkin with the zucchini, even though it's not added in the photos below. Do as I say, not as I do! I made a huge batch, so that I can eat warm food at every meal, in an attempt to lift my spirits. Still, even in the warm kitchen, I can look out the window and see that I had no real summer. I feel ripped off by this country and its weather. Today, I only needed the flavours of Morocco to lift my spirits.

Comfort foods are always a nice consolation, and this dish is comforting. This stew is based on tomatoes, sure, but it differs from its Italian counterparts by the use of cumin and cinnamon. I've often made it without the cinnamon, and it's equally delicious. You can throw it together in a cinch - I made it today without sauteeing the veg, simply because I was starved. Sauteeing the onion and garlic does bring out that nice, caramelised goodness, so I'd probably advise that you're not as slack as I am today. Do as I say, not as I do! I'll use my upcoming German exam as an excuse.

You can see from the above photo that I used passata instead of real tomatoes. There was a bottle of organic passata sitting in my pantry, and I figured that now was the time to use it, rather than buying tomatoes from Marktkauf (and, therefore, from Spain. Sorry, Spanish economy.) I've also used chopped tomatoes, tinned tomatoes, and frozen tomatoes. Anything goes, provided it's a tomato in some form or other. If you use fresh tomatoes that need a little extra richness after cooking down, add a splash of balsamic vinegar, or a few tablespoons of tomato paste. I've also snuck a teaspoon of stock powder into my stew on occasion, when my tomatoes were of the general supermarket variety. To thicken, today I've used red lentils, but when I'm not so hungry, I just let it cook down by itself. I made a huge pot, a "community stew" of sorts. Halve the recipe if you have a smaller appetite than I do. (I'm pretty sure that you do.) We'll see if mine lasts longer than a day...

Spicy Vegetable Stew
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
2 small onions, finely chopped
500g mushrooms, quartered (if small - otherwise in 1/6ths or 1/8ths)
1kg zucchini, in large cubes
1 kg pumpkin, in large cubes
3/4tsp cumin powder
1/3 tsp cinnamon powder
1 tsp chilli powder
2 tsp black pepper, ground
1 tbsp fresh chilli paste (siracha or kecap manis is fine)
1 tsp salt
750g passata / 2 tins tomatoes / 1kg fresh tomatoes, diced
1 bunch fresh herbs, chopped (I usually use parsley - today I also used basil, but usually I add a few leaves of mint)
olive oil
In olive oil, sautee the garlic and onion until golden and fragrant. Add the mushrooms, and let them sautee for a few minutes.
Add the vegetables, stirring to mix, and then add the fresh chilli paste. Allow to cook for a few minutes more, until the vegetables are slightly softened.
Add the tomatoes and spices, plus any extra water that you need so that the vegetables are just barely covered by the liquid. I needed about a cup.
Simmer, uncovered, for as long as you dare, adding water as needed, to stop the sauce from catching on the bottom of the pot. If you're in a hurry, just simmer until the vegetables are tender - about 15 minutes. The longer and slower this cooks, the better the tomatoes will be.
When you can't stand the amazing smell in your kitchen any longer, and simply must have a bowl, throw in the herbs and serve yourself as much as you can fit in your bowl. Then go back for seconds. ;)

*I added 1 cup of red lentils to this, partly because I love them, and partly because they're great at thickening rustic sauces. I usually add a tin of chickpeas, but alas, none in the pantry.

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