I have been feeling Blog Guilt lately (as a nice Jewish girl, I am good at guilt, especially over pointless things) because I haven’t posted any vegetarian recipes for a while. But, vegetarians, this recipe is a delicious vegetarian gem. It is one of those recipes that you feed to ignoramus meat eaters and say “take that!” and they say, “I didn’t realize vegetarian cooking could be so tasty!” and you smile smugly and maybe you tell them it is vegan just to really mess with their heads. This recipe came about as a happy kitchen accident, which is my favourite kind. There was The Pumpkin which I bought on impulse because it was an exciting blue-gray colour, and then there was the sack of onions that I bought with the vague idea of making onion jam. And the rest, as they say, was delicious.
One of the things I love most about stewing pumpkin is the way that it gets thick and sweet and sticky and dominant in a way that is unusual for the typically demure and reticent pumpkin. The water evaporates, and the flavours concentrate, and the pumpkin develops a meaty depth. It’s the best way to cook pumpkin, in my opinion. This pumpkin first was slowly roasted, then combined with caramelized onions, and then brightened and given lovely aromatic dimension by preserved lemons. This is slow-cooking – plan on at least two and a half hours (very little of which will involve you being at the stove doing things), or better yet, cook this the day before you plan to serve it. (This type of stew is always best after the ingredients have been given a chance to sit and get to know one another.)
A couple of recipe notes: The chickpeas are delicious in this dish (chickpeas and pumpkin are such a natural combination) but you could probably substitute brown lentils and have an equally tasty dish. You don’t need to top with the toasted pumpkin seeds but I think they add wonderful texture. I didn’t have couscous, so first I served this stew with barley, and then with rice, and both were equally nice. I also served it with yogurt alongside, but again the stew doesn’t need it; it is delightful just as it is. Ingredients:
One small pumpkin (about two to three kilos, or four to six pounds), peeled, seeded, and diced
One kilo (about two pounds) onions, sliced
2-3 cloves garlic
1-3 chili peppers (depending on how spicy you want this – it is not a dish that needs to be spicy)
1 tablespoon tomato paste, dissolved in about 2/3 cup water
230 grams (about half a pound) of cooked chickpeas or lentils
2-3 tablespoons of preserved lemon rind, finely minced (you can buy Moroccan preserved lemon in many grocery stores and in specialty stores, or you can make it)
About 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon sweet hot paprika
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt (plus more to taste)
Fresh black pepper
50 grams (about two ounces) toasted pumpkin seeds
A handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius (about 390 degrees Fahrenheit)
Toss the diced pumpkin with a generous drizzle of olive oil, a teaspoon of the salt, and the paprika, and put it in the oven to roast until completely tender (uncovered), tossing occasionally so that the pieces get a little golden colour on all sides. This should take about half an hour.
Sauté the cumin seeds, coriander, and cinnamon over medium high heat in a few glugs of olive oil until the cumin seeds start to crackle and the spices start to release an aroma. Add the onions, remaining salt, and sugar, toss well to coat, reduce heat to low, cover pot, and allow onions to caramelize for at least an hour. By the end they will be golden brown, meltingly soft, and about a fifth of their original bulk. Sauté together the garlic and chilli pepper in the remaining olive oil over medium heat until the garlic is transparent but not brown. Combine with the onions, pumpkin, tomato paste dissolved in water, and preserved lemon and simmer, covered, over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, stir in the chickpeas and a little additional water if you think it needs it, and simmer for a further 15 minutes.