My least favorite thing about the Bay Area is the absence of autumn.
It's pretty pathetic compared to autumn in Chicago, or even autumn in Washington D.C. (and that's saying something). We live in the East Bay flats, where trees are pretty few and far between and most of those don't change colors. If they do, they go from green to dull brown. I mean, c'mon, I'm not feeling your enthusiasm here, trees! Where's the Glory, the Passion?? And the lack of crispness in the air, what's up with that? My hands down favorite thing about moving to the Northern Hemisphere after a childhood near the Equator was breaking out the cute sweater/mitten/scarf/hat/boots outfits, with crisp wind, red cheeks, hot cider, new textbooks for school. Hitting the pavement after summer with infectious enthusiasm about all the possibilities of a new year. Feeling driven to change the universe. Because, hey, if the trees are breaking out in the visual equivalent of Beetoven's 5th, by god I can put in my all too.
A pathetic autumn leaves me feeling lethargic, apathetic.
So I attempt to recreate fall. Kind of like when we were kids in Africa, we decorated our Christmas bush, hung our Christmas stockings on the back of couches, and ate Christmas cookies to round out the experience. Food and ritual really are critical to seasonal make-believe. To recreate fall, I haul out my boots and sweaters, glorify in my new textbooks, and cook with as many squash and apples as possible. It's not the same, but it's closer.
This pumpkin stew is from the same North African cookbook that gave us the harissa soup, the brik, and a number of other exotic dishes that we haven't posted about. Long term blog followers will remember that, as we discovered during Lent 2008, our biggest struggle with vegetarian dishes is making sure that they're flavorful enough. Hence the significant prejudice against Northern European vegetarian dishes in favor of Indian, Thai, Greek, Tunisian. When I earmarked this pumpkin stew for this week, I was imagining a heavily spiced, hearty concoction. The kind where the flavor combinations blow your mind and meat isn't necessary to provide an underlying robustness.
I should really have read the recipe more closely.
You may like this recipe, which is why I'm posting it. It wasn't what I was going for. Hearty, yes, good texture, but delicately spiced and sweet. Sweet like sweet potatoes lightly drizzled in maple syrup and baked are sweet: not a desert, but more appropriate as a side than as a main. At least to our taste. New discovery: we really far prefer savory main courses to sweet. As Do put it: "if it's sweet, there better be a big hunk of meat in there to counter-balance the flavor." It's not bland at all, but because we really wanted something savory we ended up tripling all spices and serving the stew with generous dollops of Siracha Chili sauce.
Anyways. For those of you less weird than us, enjoy!
Pumpkin Stew (Marak dar Marhzin). Serves 4-6
3 Tbs oil or butter
2 large onions, chopped
2-4 cloves garlic (N: up to 3 more if you have mediocre Harissa, or are omitting the Harissa)
1 tsp Tumeric
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 medium carrots, sliced
2 small white turnips, peeled and cut into quarters
3 cups of water (my recommendation: add a veggie or chicken bouillon cube)
1 lb butternut squash or pumpkin, peeled and cubed
1 lb sweet potato, cubed
1 tsp Harissa (N: supplement w 1 tsp Thai Siracha Chili sauce for heat)
1/3 cup raisins
3 tsp honey (N: omit if you don't like sweet main courses)
salt and pepper
cilantro for serving
couscous for seving
Chop onions, peel and cube the squash, cube the sweet potato. Now bribe someone to re-sharpen all your knives.
Melt butter in a large heavy pot. Add onion and cook gently for 5 min. Add garlic, tumeric, ginger and cinnamon, and cook, stirring occasionally for 2 min. Stir in carrots, turnips, and water (and bouillon cube if using). Bring to boil. Cover and simmer for 10 min. Add pumpkin, sweet potato, harissa, chili sauce if using, raisins, honey, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender (~20min).
Meanwhile, cook the couscous. Add couscous and boiling water to a bowl in equal amounts (1 cup couscous = 1 cup water), cover tightly for 5-10 min. Fluff with a fork to get lumps out.
Serving ideas: pile hot couscous onto a warm platter, make a crater in the middle and pile pumpkin stew into that crater. OR transfer stew to a warm bowl and serve alongside the couscous. OR prepare individual plates of couscous and stew. Don't forget to garnish with cilantro.