A few years ago I traveled to Morocco and was introduced to some of the most beautiful spices on this earth. I took a cooking class and there we traveled to the medina’s market and brought back the freshest ingredients with which to prepare our meal.
There were sacks full of spices that made a rainbow across several stalls. The smells were intoxicating and the sounds, unfortunately, were mainly animals being slaughtered. For better (or worse) that visit to the market and the class we took changed my life – and my kitchen – forever.
About a year later I fell in love with Ethiopian cuisine. From the injera to misir wot, I couldn’t (and still can’t!) stop eating the stuff.
The flavorful combinations of earthy ingredients intoxicated me and I tried to replicate them at home. At first the injera was more or less a disaster, but I finally got the hang of it.
The season was perfect for these culinary experimentations. We had just moved and were pretty strapped for cash and the farmers market was just teeming with tubers and the like. It was Autumn so we had turnips, sweet potatoes, and squash coming out of our eye balls! Combining those ingredients with leftover tomatoes I canned from Summer along with lentils or chickpeas left us with one heck of a hearty meal.
Now that we’re prepping for another move and are trying to be resourceful in meal planning, I’ve come back to East African cuisine. Last night I threw together a stew of squash, tomatoes and lentils, loved well with ginger and other fragrant spices.
In addition to being delicious, the garlic, ginger, and spices add promote seasonal wellness during a time where everyone is coming home with something.
This stew is perfect for a rainy day and trumps chili for me. If this bowl of goodness doesn’t hug your taste buds, I don’t know what will!
African-inspired Winter Stew
1 cubed butternut squash (or two cubed sweet potatoes, turnips, etc)
2 cans stewed tomatoes
4 cloves of crushed or minced garlic
1 cup of uncooked lentils (sprouted chickpeas also work)
1 tsp of fresh grated ginger
½ tsp each of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cumin, clove, and turmeric
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Heat a 5 qt. or similar sized pot on medium low. When heated, add olive oil. Add garlic and ginger and stir until almost translucent. Once your loved ones are drawn to the kitchen by the smell (about two minutes), sauté squash or tubers. After they have made it around the pot a few times, add spices and a pinch of salt.
Once everything is covered, top with tomatoes and lentils. Fill the tomato cans with vegetable broth and empty them on top of the lentils. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a strong simmer, stirring occasionally, for thirty minutes. I leave the top on during my simmer. After thirty minutes check the lentils and consistency. The lentils shouldn’t get mushy, unless you’re into that. I like them “al dente” – just done. If you need to add a little water, do. If you want to thicken the stew, leave the top off and simmer a little longer.
Enjoy this healthy, filling taste of a continent whose flavors aren’t readily explored in our part of the world.