If you asked me ten years ago if I would ever consider becoming a vegetarian, my answer would have been, "Hell no," followed by a string of surprisingly vicious obscenities. You might have cried. And I wouldn't have felt bad about it afterward.
This was for a few reasons. First, my meals were built largely around meat. Lunch and dinner always centered on sliced chicken or a burger. Second, vegetarianism seemed like what my hippie friends did when they weren't at Phish concerts. Third and finally, I didn't cook, and wasn't aware of the options outside of pasta and Morningstar Farms Chix Patties.
Today, my reply would be more in the neighborhood of, "You know? I think I could hack it. At least for a little while." Then I'd give you a single daisy, and skip away to a rainbow-colored swing set on the horizon. Over the last decade, I've come to understand that vegetarian dishes can be just as filling and flavorful as meaty ones, if not more so. The regimen isn't as restrictive as I thought, either. Having dietary boundaries seems to give folks more drive to explore outside of them, and my veggie friends are some of the best cooks I know.
Still, it's a tiny bit surprising when a fantastic meal turns out to be entirely vegetarian. (Sorry. Chalk it up to formative years sponsored by Hormel.) This West African Vegetable Stew is just such a dish. Healthy as hell and simple to make, it possesses a wonderful sweet heat and heartiness. The raisins, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, and cinnamon are a nice changeup from your average weekday meal, too.
While I'm still on Team Bacon, thanks to food like this, vegetarianism doesn't seem as inaccessible as it used to. And who knows? Maybe in another ten years, I'll be ready for veganism.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 cups onions, sliced into 1/4-inch crescents
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1/4-inch half slices (about the size of a checker)
- 1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3 cups low-sodium, reduced fat chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 14.5-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 3 cups frozen chopped spinach
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium high. Add onion and cook 8 or 9 minutes, until very tender, stirring occasionally. Add garlic. Saute 30 to 60 seconds, until fragrant.
Add sweet potato and tomato. Saute 5 minutes. Add raisins, cinnamon, cayenne, and broth. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cover, drop heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes.
Uncover. Jack heat up to medium. Add chickpeas and spinach, stirring to combine. Cook until spinach is totally thawed and chickpeas are warmed through. Add the 1 teaspoon salt and a little black pepper, if you so desire. Serve with rice, couscous, or any fun grain you can think of.