The inspiration for this stew came after making a Middle Eastern stuffed cabbage dish last year from a magazine article I'd been keeping. The cabbage leaves were blanched and stuffed with rice, currants, and olives, then nestled into a tomato sauce flavored with more currants and olives and spiced with cumin and allspice. Let me tell you, it was amazing. Exotic warmth and comfort in a bite. And I wanted more. But I wanted more for less effort. So I set about recreating these flavors in an easy weeknight meal formula. This naturally translated into a one-pot meal; a stew. This stew!
Further inspiration came as I was munching on one of my favorite quick snacks: prunes. Yes, prunes. Deeply toned, mysterious and seductive, they're a jewel in the dried fruit world. And whatever hang-ups you might have about prunes being for old people with constipation I want you to toss out the window. To be fair, many dried fruits can help relieve constipation, but that's another discussion. ;-) Prunes are delicious in their own right but their mildly sweet, unobtrusive flavor allows them to cross over into the savory world too. They blend right into this stew's rich, spiced tomato sauce and they add a lovely chewy contrast to the bite of cauliflower and chickpeas. Currants will have to wait their turn for another dish.
Given my husband's generally less-than-enthusiastic response to cauliflower, I decided to make this stew while he was in Dubai on business. But to my surprise when he came home, even after having his fill of far more authentic Middle Eastern food than I could ever put out, and even with the cauliflower, he loved it. That's when I knew I had to share it with you.
If you're not used to North African and Middle Eastern flavors, I know this may sound like a strange combination of ingredients, but it really works. Trust me. This is such a happy meal and plain fun to eat. And the most gratifying part is that it brings together ordinary fridge and pantry staples in a not-so-ordinary way, exporting our taste buds to a far-away place all in one pot.
Travel time: 30 minutes, max.
Middle Eastern Cauliflower Chickpea Stew
Notes: I use a jar of passata here, but crushed tomatoes would also work well. To make this meal come together quickly make sure you buy PITTED prunes and Kalamata olives. My husband's one complaint was this needed to be served over rice (he thinks every meal should have rice ;-), so I offer this option below for heartier appetites.
- 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
- 2 tsp. dried oregano
- Heaped 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
- 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1-660 ml bottle passata (just under 3 cups)
- 3 cups (710 ml) water
- 1 vegetable stock cube + 1/2 tsp. salt (double salt if you don't use stock cube)
- Juice from 1/2 lemon
- 1 large head cauliflower
- 2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 10 prunes, pitted and quartered
- 8 Kalamata olives, pitted and torn in half
- Optional Toppings: Freshly ground pepper, fresh cilantro, sheep's milk feta, chopped pistachios, rice to accompany
- Warm a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add olive oil, onion, and next five ingredients (through ground cinnamon). Stir to combine and cook until onions soften and spices smell fragrant (1-2 minutes). If pan begins to smoke add a splash of water.
- Add passata, water, stock cube/salt, and lemon. Cover and bring to a strong simmer.
- While liquid is coming to a simmer, trim away any dried, woody pieces of cauliflower stalk and chop stalk and head into bite-size florets/pieces. Drop into pot along with chickpeas. Cover and simmer for 12-15 minutes, or until cauliflower is just tender, but still with a bite.
- Add prunes and olives and simmer another 1 minute, just until warmed through. (You don't want to cook prunes longer than this or they'll get too soft.) Ladle into bowls and garnish with desired toppings.