One of the most important skills one can have in the kitchen is making a vegan or even vegetarian main that satisfies both meat eaters and non-meat eaters alike. Sure, grilling a perfect steak or roasting a chicken isn't a skill we are born with, but taking a pile of vegetables and turning it into something irresistible is a little more difficult.
Creating a satisfying meal that doesn't rely on animal protein or dairy products is not an easy task, and up until very recently, meat, cheese, butter, and cream were my kitchen crutches. But there's a certain beauty that comes with coaxing fresh produce into an entrée that doesn't leave you with a hankering for something more substantial.
I made these Moroccan-Style Braised Vegetables from In The Green Kitchen by Alice Waters as something of a detox dinner after an intense week of restaurant meals. I was looking for a dish that wouldn't leave me with the food hangover I had been suffering from after all those great albeit meat-heavy meals.
While all of the recipe in In The Green Kitchen are meant to educate, this braised vegetable stew was filled with indispensable vegetable cooking tips: soaking and cooking dried beans, blanching and roasting, sweating, and even making your own custom spice mix.
And once all of the elements come together, preferably over a bowl of rice or couscous, it's a warm and filling meal—and you won't even miss the meat and dairy. The chickpeas are meaty, and the carrots, squash, and turnips are sweet. The stew is flavored with Moroccan spices that are warming, spicy, and deeply-flavored. For what is virtually a one-pot meal, the different textures and flavors are left intact.
It's the kind of dish that makes you question your reliance on animal products, and coming from a happy eater—of pretty much everything—like me, that's a pretty bold statement.
- For the chickpeas:
- 1/2 pound (1 cup) dried chickpeas, picked over and soaked overnight
- 1 small onion, peeled and halved
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 1 small dried red chile
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Drain the chickpeas, put them in a medium pot, and add water to cover by 1 1/2 inches. Add the onion, cinnamon stick, chile, olive oil, and a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook gently until the chickpeas are tender, about 45 minutes. Taste for salt. Remove from the heat and allow the chickpeas to cool completely in the cooking liquid.
For the braised vegetables:
1/2 pound carrots
1 pound baby turnips
1 1/2 pounds butternut squash
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
A pinch of saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
One 14-ounce can whole tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with a generous amount of salt. Peel and halve the carrots and cut on the diagonal into 1-inch segments. Trim the turnips and cut into halves or quarters. Cook the carrots and turnips in separate batches until just tender, about 5 minutes. Spread the vegetables on a baking sheet to cool at room temperature.
Peel and seed the squash, and cut into 1-inch chunks. Put the squash on a baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and toss to coat evenly. Spread the squash out on to an even layer, season with salt, and roast in the oven until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside at room temperature.
Lightly toast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and saffron, and grind to a powder with a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder. Add the turmeric and cayenne, and stir to combine.
Warm a large straight-sided skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, followed by the onion, celery, and a pinch of salt. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the tomatoes and cut into 1/4-inch dice. Add the tomatoes to the skillet and cook for 2 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Add the spices, garlic, and ginger, and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the chickpeas and the cooking liquid, and bring to a simmer. Add the squash, carrots, and turnips. At this point, there should be a nice amount of broth in the pan—like a chunky soup. In not, add water as necessary. Taste for salt, and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve with couscous or rice, and pass a bowl of harissa at the table.