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Lebanese pumpkin stew

Updated: Mar 22

A stew is so much more than a pot full of vegetables and meat 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 Eastern 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. No culture on this planet 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 it 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 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.



Ingredients:

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, adding the chickpeas, bay leaf, salt, and water to a small pot, and bringing them 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 until the pumpkins are just cooked through.


Add the mushrooms and cooked chickpeas, 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, sheermal, or other pieces of bread that can soak up the stew.




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