Because a lot of my vegetables come from a mystery box every week, there are a lot of dishes that I make for weeks on end when the ingredients come into season and then don’t think about until they come around again the next year. I imagine that before refrigerated trucking and 24 hour supermarkets, that must have been the way that people dealt with seasonal produce – eat it until you can’t stand it anymore, then by the time the season comes by again you are just starting to look forward to eating it. As a result, there are several dishes that I would consider part of my normal dinner rotation but only for certain times of the year.
This Moroccan squash and potato stew is one of those dishes that I tried years ago in a desperate attempt to get rid of some butternut squash and that has now firmly entered my list of its-been-so-long-since-I-ate-that-is-it-in-season-yet meals (Yes, there are enough of them to name a category this way). Butternut squash is a tricky vegetable for me since I often find it too sweet to enjoy more than a few mouthfuls in a sitting. It makes great pie or bread pudding but in the role of main course I often find that its sugar content throws off the balance of the dish. But in the case of this stew, it provides a nice balance to the spicy and tangy elements of the dish that give it a Moroccan feel and its rounded out by the more neutral flavor of potatoes.
I didn’t really expect this stew to earn such a high place in my kitchen – after all it does end up looking very orange and I already mentioned my squash hang-ups. But I kept wanting to make it, kept tweaking the recipe based on what I generally have in my pantry and what flavors I wanted to highlight. Generally I make it vegetarian, but I did at one point convert it to a lamb Moroccan stew and used it as bait to convince a friend to DVR the 2010 Olympics so I could come over and watch the events I’d missed (very successful use of food as bargaining chip).
This is definitely a more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts kind of thing. The squash and potatoes may provide the bulk of the nutritional value, but the flavor really comes from the spices and pickled items that are added. The preserved lemons (Posted about twice in two days! These are the best addition to bland winter food.) add a salty, tangy depth to the dish and the capers cut through the potentially heavy flavors of starches and broth. Moroccan food is also traditionally heavily spiced and I don’t hold back when it comes to this dish. But honestly, if you don’t have a wide variety of spices, you can add cumin, paprika, and a pinch of cinnamon and call it a day.
This recipe makes a lot of stew, and I often find myself dragging a little to finish it up since it doesn’t freeze well. So this time, I blended the last bowlful of stew, put it through a chinois (fine mesh strainer would work) to get rid of some of the squash fibers, thinned it with some broth, and ended up with a pretty great spicy squash soup. Not a bad way to get through the leftovers.
Moroccan Butternut and Potato Stew
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
1 medium (2-3 lb) butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes
1 lb new potatoes or red skinned potatoes
1 large or 2 medium onions, cut into a medium dice
1 tbs olive oil
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water
1 (14 oz) can of tomatoes with their juice
1 cup cooked or about ½ (14 oz) can of chickpeas
1 tbs cumin, whole or ground
½ tbs paprika
½ tbs smoked paprika
1 tsp ground sumac
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp ground cinnamon
3 tsp plus 1 tbs kosher salt
½ a preserved lemon, finely chopped
½ cup capers, chopped if large caperberries
Heat a large pot over medium heat and add the olive oil to warm up. Add the onions and 1 tsp salt and cook until they are translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Add the cubed squash and potatoes along with another 2 tsp of salt and cook until tender but not cooked through, about 15 minutes.
Once the vegetables are partly cooked, add the stock/water, tomatoes (juice and all), chickpeas, spices, and remaining 1 tbs salt and, still over medium heat, simmer for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes and squash are soft through and the flavors are all incorporated into the broth. *
Add the preserved lemon and capers to the stew and simmer for about five minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed – extra spice, additional salt, more capers, whatever you think it needs. Serve hot, preferably with some yogurt, hot sauce, and a spoonful of chermoula.**
*I don’t like to bring this mixture to a boil for several reasons. One, it makes the potatoes and squash fall apart and can lead to an unpleasant mealy texture in the final stew. Two, it makes it more likely that the things on the bottom of the pot will scorch. Instead, I heat the mixture gently over a longer period of time.
** Because of the high water content of the final dish and the shape of the vegetables, it does not freeze well – cubed squash and potatoes in particular get kind of soggy and mealy when defrosted as part of soup or stew. If you are worried you won’t eat it all quickly enough then either halve the recipe or turn the leftovers into soup which can be more easily frozen.