A stew is so much more than a pot full of vegetables and meat that is cooked together for a long time. Most folks think of Western stews as bland or boring, as compared to the Indian Ishtoo, but they cannot be more wrong. Stews are works of art. The Middle East culinary world is filled with these masterpieces, and the worth of a chef is sometimes measured by the variety and depth of knowledge he has of stews. There is not a single culture on this planet that does not make stew, or many varieties of this dish, it is as core to human culinary development as fire.
Stews can range from simple to complex with lots of seasonings and vegetables. The art is in the perfect balance of spices and ingredients. Too little and the stew is bland and too much and the stew tastes off balance and rough.
This stew is a perfect balance of vegetables and flavours. The pumpkin adds a sweetness that is complimented by the curry powder, tartness from the tomatoes and an earthy base from the mushrooms. The curry powder was a surprise to me too, but reading up on historic trade between the Middle East and Asia, curry powder travelled West from India to Oman and further west to the Middle east and south to Zanzibar. These trade routes have cuisines that were adapted to include curry powder for that added spice pop.
The Lebanese Cookbook is a massive volume, with 500 recipes, by an authority on Lebanese cooking. This book is the definitive guide on Lebanese Cuisine by James Beard award-winning author Salma Hage. That brings together hundreds of diverse dishes, from light, tempting mezze and salads, to hearty main courses, grilled meats, sumptuous sweets, and refreshing drinks. Salma Hage is from Mazarat Tiffah in the mountains of the Kadisha Valley in north Lebanon. She has over 50 years of experience in family cooking – learning to cook from her mother, mother-in-law, and sisters-in-law while helping to raise her nine brothers and two sisters. This massive volume is a collection of her work and a lovely book to have on your shelf.
For more recipes from this cookbook, click here.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 teaspoons curry powder
1 carrot, halved longitudinally and thinly sliced
1 small butternut, kabocha, or small yellow pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and chunked
1 tablespoon tomato paste
5 tomatoes, finely diced
3 cups water or vegetable stock
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced longitudinally
Salt, to taste
1 teaspoon pepper
Cilantro, minced, to garnish
1/2 cup whole dried chickpeas, soaked in water overnight
1/2 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups water
Start by draining the chickpeas and adding the chickpeas, bay leaf, salt and water to a small pot and bringing to a boil. Scoop off the scum and boil for 25 minutes till the chickpeas are just cooked through and have a lovely bite. Do not overcook the chickpeas. Drain keeping the cooking liquids and cooked chickpeas separately.
Heat the oil in a large pot and add the onions and garlic. Saute1 on low heat for 3 minutes till the onions are very soft and translucent, and the garlic is no longer raw. Do not colour the onions.
Add the curry powder and give the mix a quick toss. Add the carrot and pumpkin and cook on low heat for 5 minutes taking care not to burn the spices. Add the tomato paste and sautè for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, cinnamon stick, stock, salt and pepper and mix well. Bring to a boil and simmer with the lid shut for 15 minutes till the pumpkins are just cooked through.
Add the mushrooms and cooked chickpeas and close the pot and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Taste for salt and curry and adjust as needed. The stew should be lovely, light fresh and beautiful with balanced flavours.
Serve hot with bread, naan, pita, or sheermal or other breads that can sop up the stew.