Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Starring Squash

I had a butternut squash staring at me from the counter for a couple of weeks. It looked at me longingly, begging for me to take it out of limbo and just do something with it already. Each time I walked into the kitchen, I felt as if I needed to avoid its accusing stare, as if it would rush me into doing something with it without thinking. I didn’t just want another butternut squash soup, and I wasn’t willing to be forced into settling for the usual. I wanted to do something where the squash could be the star, where its presence could be seen and felt – where it was the substance of the dish. I wanted a dish that was unmistakably (and unapologetically) orange.

I did a laborious Epicurious search and after much deliberation I settled on a Moroccan butternut squash stew, rich with spices and color, served atop a gorgeous pile of quinoa, which was something I had also been waiting to try my hand at for a while. I had eaten quinoa before, but I had never ventured to make it. This dish was perfect for a chilly fall evening (since I made it a while ago but I have been unable to document it as yet, because of that whole finals thing). The stew was spicy, but not overwhelmingly so, but just spicy enough so that it warmed my body from the inside out – not unlike a nice glass of whiskey served up neat.

I had to tweak the recipe a bit, since I didn’t have saffron (or coriander, shame on me), so I bumped up the measurements of some of the other spices as I saw fit. Saffron is pretty expensive, and I didn’t really want to purchase a bottle just for this, so I just left it out. I’m sure it added something to the dish, but I did not miss it at all. I even messed it up a bit and didn’t add the spices at the correct time, dumping them carelessly into the pot after the liquids, but it still came out deliciously. The dish was hearty, spicy and wholesome, providing me with a whopping serving of nutrients of which I am probably deficient. Suffice it to say that the recipe is quite forgiving.

The quinoa itself was delicious – I ate it for days later, since the recipe, though cut in half, was still far too much. I had it a couple of days later beneath a couple of fried eggs, and would find myself just eating it straight out of the Tupperware container from time to time. I could only find red quinoa, which came pre-rinsed and everything, and it turned out very nicely. The red added a nice pop of color even beneath the heavy stain of the turmeric. Quinoa is incredibly easy to cook – just make sure you use a 2:1 ratio of liquid to quinoa.

Butternut Squash and Carrot Stew

Adapted from Bon Appetit, January 2006

Squash and Carrot Stew
2 T olive oil
1 C onion, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 t paprika
1 t salt
½ t ground black pepper
½ t ground cumin
½ t turmeric
½ t ground ginger
¾ t cayenne pepper
1 C water
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, drained
2 T fresh lemon juice
3 C diced, peeled butternut squash, cut into one-inch dice
2 C diced, peeled carrots, cut into ½ - ¾ inch dice

1 C red quinoa
2 t butter
1 T olive oil
½ C finely chopped onion
¼ C finely chopped peeled carrot
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ t salt
½ t turmeric
¼ t ground black pepper
2 C water

½cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided

To make the stew:

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion to the oil and sauté until soft, stirring often so it doesn’t burn, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and stir for 1 minute. Mix in paprika, salt and the rest of the spices. Add one cup of water, the tomatoes, and the lemon juice to the pot. Bring to boil and then add the squash and the carrots. Cover the pot and simmer over medium-low heat until the vegetables are fork-tender, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes. Season the stew with salt and pepper to taste. Immediately prior to serving, stir in half of the chopped cilantro.

For the quinoa:

If your quinoa has not been pre-rinsed (this will be indicated on the package), rinse the quinoa and drain. If it has, obviously skip the rinsing.

Melt butter with oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot. Cover; cook for about ten minutes until vegetables begin to brown, stirring frequently so that they do not burn. Add garlic, salt, and turmeric and sauté for one minute. Add the quinoa; stir one minute to coat the quinoa with the oil. Add 2 cups water. Bring to boil and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is tender, which should be about 15 minutes.

Serve warm stew over quinoa and sprinkle with the chopped cilantro.

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