Slow-cooked dishes share host of warming spices

It’s always flattering for home cooks to hear compliments from a chef.

Tagines were the topic when my friend Cristina recently came to visit. I’ve been experimenting with the conical cooking vessel that I received a couple of Christmases ago and have come to prefer it to my slow cooker mainly for ease of cleanup. The traditional Moroccan pot that I received is a simple terra cotta version crafted in Portugal and sold under Sur la Table’s label. The glaze on it is so hard that even the stickiest meat byproducts rinse right off.

Incidental yields from the cooking process are one good reason to use a tagine or other method that slowly renders fat from meat and conserves juices. Apparently, I set Cristina’s mouth watering with the description of steeping prunes and dried apricots in the puddle of fat rendered from a lamb breast. Then, I incorporated those fat-soaked fruits into couscous, albeit cooked separarely on the stovetop instead of with everything else in the tagine as one would in Morocco.

Send me the recipe, Cristina said. Of course, there isn’t one. I made it up as I went along.

But I could relate the spices I rubbed into the lamb, the same ones I applied to a pork roast this past weekend that was transformed into tacos for her visit. Cinnamon, cloves, allspice, cumin, ginger and a McCormick’s chili-cocoa blend, along with lots of black pepper. All warming spices suited to wintertime fare, many are included in the quintessential Moroccan spice blend ras el hanout and Indian garam masala.

The spices also season this vegetarian stew that easily could be adapted to meat-lovers. Pomegranate seeds, used in a salsa for this dish, also inspired my pork roast with kabocha squash. But once I decided on polenta for serving, rather than couscous or quinoa, the pomegranate didn’t seem to fit, so I omitted it. Pomegranate molasses, however, boiled and condensed from the fruit’s juice, would have lent a similar sweet-tart note to my roast that I attempted with balsamic vinegar.

Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey

Butternut Squash Stew With Pomegranate Salsa

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1⁄2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1⁄2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

1-inch piece peeled ginger root, grated

3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 serrano chili pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, preferably low-sodium or no-salt-added, plus juices

1 large carrot, scrubbed well and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces

1 medium (about 11⁄2 pounds) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces

4 to 5 ounces baby spinach leaves, chopped (4 cups loosely packed)

15 ounces canned chickpeas, preferably no-salt-added, rinsed and drained

1⁄4 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

1 teaspoon Tabasco, harissa or other hot sauce of your choice

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup fresh pomegranate seeds

2 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

12 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

Pour 1 tablespoon of the oil into a large saucepan over medium heat. Once oil shimmers, stir in the coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom and cloves; sizzle them for a few seconds, then add the onion, stirring to coat. Cook until translucent, for 3 to 4 minutes, then add the ginger, garlic and serrano pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until soft, for 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and juices, the carrot, squash and enough water, if needed, to barely cover vegetables. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, for 30 to 40 minutes. Stir in the spinach, chickpeas, cilantro and hot sauce; season lightly to taste with the salt and black pepper. Cook for just a few minutes, to wilt spinach and heat chickpeas through. Remove from heat; cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile in a small bowl, stir together the pomegranate seeds, scallions, lime juice, mint and remaining oil.

Serve stew warm, over grains if desired, with salsa on top or served on the side. Makes 6 to 8 servings (8 cups).

Stew may be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months. Salsa may be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

— Recipe adapted by the Washington Post from “Eat Yourself Calm: Ingredients and Recipes to Reduce the Stress in Your Life,” by Gill Paul (Hamlyn, 2014).

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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