I realize that fall officially began here in the Northern hemisphere almost a month ago, and I'm behind in welcoming it in on the blog. When people ask me what my favorite season is I usually say it's the transition between seasons rather than an actual season. The transition for me symbolizesRead More
It's officially soup and stew season for us. How about where you live? Our first major snow fell last weekend and the air temperature is consistently frigid. But if that was not sign enough, there are other clues. Ski resorts have opened, Christmas markets are setting up shop, street vendors are roasting chestnuts, and people are beginning to gather outside in their furry hats, gloves, and coats to sip steaming mugs of glühwein.
In my house, I have turned back to roasting vegetables, baking granola, and warming big batches of hearty soups, curries, and the like. This sweet potato and chickpea stew is a favorite of ours. It is Asian-inspired and fuses elements of Thai and Indian curries. Flavors of coconut, lime, and Thai basil seamlessly merge with paneer cheese and chickpeas to create a rich and hearty stew that is ladled over black rice (though you could use brown rice, quinoa, etc) and topped off with fresh herbs, cashews, and scallions.
This is a crowd-pleaser because it makes a striking centerpiece on the table, is big on flavor, and can be made ahead. And for all of you Americans who feasted yesterday for Thanksgiving and are looking to use up leftover plainly-roasted sweet potato, this dish is for you! I'm sure your palette will welcome a fresh and exciting change of flavors in the coming days.
Coconut-Lime Sweet Potato and Chickpea Stew
Notes: Herb swap - I call for Thai basil and cilantro but have also used regular basil and/or mint, so a combination of any of these herbs will work fine here. And if you want to double the recipe, cook it in a soup pot or Dutch oven instead, double the amount of paneer, and add a bit more coconut milk or water, lime juice, and possibly chickpeas. You can decide the ratio you like best. But I would not add more sweet potato as too much could overwhelm the dish.
Ghee (or coconut oil)
1 package paneer (~150 g), sliced lengthwise into long strips (1/2" wide)
1 bunch scallions (3-4 stalks), sliced and divided
2 red chilies, sliced and divided
1" piece ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and chopped
1 1/2 cups chickpeas, cooked
1 cup water
2 tsp. tamari (or soy sauce)
1 13.5 oz carton coconut milk
2 large sweet potatoes, roasted*
Juice from 1 lime, divided
1 bunch each Thai basil & cilantro, chopped and divided
1 1/2 cups black rice, cooked according to package directions
1/2 cup cashews, roasted and roughly chopped
Pomegranate molasses or lime wedges
Heat a knob of ghee in a non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Cook paneer until bottom is lightly golden brown and crispy, repeat on opposite side. Remove paneer, let cool slightly, and cut sticks into bite size pieces.
Heat a knob of ghee in a large high-sided saute pan over medium heat and add ginger, garlic, and half of scallions and chili. Stir to combine and saute for 1 minute, then stir in zucchini. Season with a few pinches of salt and pepper. Stir in chickpeas, stock, coconut milk, and soy. Cover and reduce heat to simmer over medium-low heat for a few minutes or until zucchini is just tender but still has a bite.
Gently stir in sweet potato, juice from half of the lime, paneer, and half of the herbs. Taste sauce and adjust for seasoning, adding more soy sauce if needed. Remove from heat immediately.
While still warm, season cooked black rice with salt and pepper to taste and juice from the remaining half of lime. Place the remaining scallions, chili, and herbs in small bowls to serve at the table along with the roasted cashews and pomegranate molasses or lime.
Serve stew with black rice and toppings.
*Preheat oven to 425 F. Peel and cut the sweet potato into 1 inch pieces. Toss with 2 Tbsp. melted coconut oil, salt and pepper. Spread in an even layer on a parchment or foil-lined baking sheet and roast for 10-12 minutes, until they are just barely fork-tender.
And finally, I am sharing this recipe with Deenya for her new Fabulous Fusion Food Challenge.
My German language classes bring people together from all corners of the world; Tibetans, Eritreans, Romanians, and Spanish, to name just a few. We often discuss (in our half intelligible German) what the culture and food is like in our home countries. Outside of German class I also enjoy our group of expat friends that is quickly forming. Remember when I invited the girls over here? Recently we met up again, this time at someone else's house outside of St. Gallen with views of the mountains, and for a potluck where we each brought a dish from our home country.
Since moving to Switzerland, instances like these have really forced me to think about the food culture of my childhood. As an American, I have bucketed my food identity as a melting pot of sorts, as American identity at large so often is regarded. This identity is especially true when compared to the more specific and directed culture and food identity of my expat friends coming from countries spanning Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.
But I also like the melting pot that is my country; nothing beats the diversity, the inventiveness, and the entrepreneurial spirit of the people, which is also reflected through the food. The cuisines vary by region and represent the vibrant and dynamic culture behind them, ranging from Baja California on the West coast, a fusion of Mexican flavors and fresh, light California fare, to the seafood centric New England cuisine on the East coast boasting chowders and clam bakes.
Growing up in the Southwest, the predominate food of my childhood inside and outside of my home was a fusion of Mexican and Southwestern cuisines. Think along the lines of tacos, frijoles, enchiladas, chile rellenos, pozole, stuffed peppers, taco salad, salsa, and guacamole. (Even my grandmother would use chili powder in her cabbage stew!) Wikipedia summarizes the root of Southwestern cuisine very well:
"It comprises a fusion of recipes for things that might have been eaten by Spanish colonial settlers, cowboys, Native Americans, and Mexicans throughout the post-Columbian era."
One of my favorite words in the English language is fusion. To me a fusion of cultures and cuisines represents the act of acknowledging gray area; that views and ways of doing things are not rigid, but rather can be blended together to create something far more interesting and unique. Fusion is what my country represents (we are all immigrants after all), my childhood cuisine represents, and what I love to do in the kitchen today.
I chose to bring this pozole to the potluck mentioned earlier. Pozole is a traditional soup or stew from Mexico made of hominy, pork or chicken, chili peppers, and several garnishes. I blended some favorite Mexican and Southwestern flavors to make a vegetarian version that will hopefully appeal to you as well; hominy, chipotles in adobo, ancho tomatillo salsa, and loads of vegetables.
I crave these flavors, they are comfort food to me. I may not be able to find great authentic Mexican restaurants here, but there is one Mexican store called El Sabor, owned and operated by a husband and wife team who imports a lot of familiar Mexican products. The woman, who is herself Mexican, also sells her homemade tamales and locally-made corn tortillas in the store. This store is my saving grace when I want to make something like this pozole.
Hominy is whole dried corn kernels that have been soaked and cooked, a process called nixtamalization. Once cooked, it has a fairly neutral flavor, and the texture is soft but with a slight, but pleasing bite to it, not all that different from the texture of chickpeas. Hominy is sold in dried and cooked forms in large supermarkets or on Amazon, but if you absolutely cannot find it, you could substitute fresh or frozen corn or chickpeas. This would, however, be a wide departure from actual pozole, so I would encourage you to keep your eyes peeled for hominy when traveling!
Red Vegetable Pozole
Notes: This is spicy. If you prefer it less spicy, start with half the amount of chili powder called for and use only the adobo sauce from the canned chipotle in adobo. The measurements for liquid in this recipe are simple. Once tomatoes are added to the soup, use the empty can to measure the water/vegetable stock and the salsa.
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 Tbsp. chili powder (substitute 1/2 of the amount with chipotle chili powder if you have it - it adds a wonderful smoky flavor)
- 1 Tbsp. sweet paprika
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 2 carrots, halved and sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 chipotle chili from a can of chipotle in adobo, chopped (or a spoonful of only the adobo sauce)
- 30 oz. can diced tomatoes
- 2 1/2 cans (use empty tomato can) water or vegetable stock, or a combination
- 30 oz can hominy, rinsed and drained (or dried hominy, soaked overnight, then cooked in water for 1-2 hours, until soft)
- 1/2 can (use empty tomato can) ancho tomatillo salsa (optional)
- 1-2 tsp. salt
- 2 firm zucchini, quartered and sliced
- Spoonful honey
- Juice of 1 lime (optional)
- Handful fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
- Heat olive oil in a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Add onions and next three spices. Stir to coat with olive oil and saute for a minute. Add carrots, garlic, and season with salt, and saute for a few more minutes. If the pan is looking dry add a touch more olive oil or a splash of water.
- Stir in the chipotle, or just adobo sauce if you prefer less heat, and next 5 ingredients (through salt). Simmer covered for 15 minutes. Add zucchini and honey in the last 5 minutes of cooking.
- Taste and adjust for seasoning, adding another drizzle of honey and/or lime to balance, if necessary. If not using the salsa, you will definitely want to use the juice of 1 lime and handful fresh, chopped cilantro. Ladle into wide bowls and serve with toppings.
Ancho Tomatillo Salsa
Notes: The salsa is optional if you don't have all the ingredients on hand. The ancho chilies add richer, smoky base notes and the tangy tomatillos balance the smoky and spicy notes. But for a quicker version the same flavor profile can be achieved from the chili powder, chipotles in adobo, and an extra addition of lime and cilantro at the end.
With that said, if you do make the salsa you will be rewarded with having the base for several more potential meals already prepared, as this makes much more than what is needed in the soup. I used the salsa along with black beans, guacamole, pickled jalapenos, and feta to top nachos. And later turned the remaining few cups into a mole sauce; simmered with onions, celery, oregano, a cinnamon stick, and unsweetened cocoa powder. Add chicken, black beans, or vegetables to the sauce and serve over rice topped with feta and toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds).
- 1 package dried ancho chilies (~4-5 chilies)
- 2 -30 oz. can tomatillos, drained (use fresh if you have access to them, ~10 medium tomatillos)
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 1 garlic clove
- Spoonful honey, or to taste
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Remove stem and seeds from dried chilies and place in a glass bowl. Cover with boiling water and let soak for 10 minutes.
- Remove chilies from the water and add to the food processor or blender along with the remaining ingredients. Add a few splashes of the chili soaking water and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust for seasoning and balance of spice and sweet.
Toppings (these are required!)
- Crumbled feta or queso fresco
- Crispy tortilla strips (cut corn tortillas in thin strips, drizzle with a small amount olive oil and cook under broiler for 5 minutes, watching carefully so they don't burn; they will get crispier as they cool)
- Diced avocado
- Fresh cilantro, chopped
We just had the most enjoyable weekend with friends who came to visit. It was the perfect time of year for showing them around our little city on bikes and going for a long hike to soak up the beauty of fall in Switzerland. The hike was strenuous but rewarding with breathtaking views and welcome surprise finds of a lake tucked into the mountain valley and a house built into the side of the mountain.
There is something extremely satisfying and reflective about enjoying the company of close friends amidst a backdrop of natural beauty. It reminds me of how enriching it is to have good relationships in life and how important it is to show appreciation for them.
That evening we returned home and after warm showers we sat down to enjoy this Thai stew. It was warmly-spiced, comforting, and nourishing, perfect for a cool Autumn evening after a long hike. This was my way of communicating to our friends that their visit was special.
Thai Vegetable Stew With Paneer and Chickpeas
Notes: If you want a richer flavored stew you can substitute the vegetable stock for a can of coconut milk and omit the yogurt at the end.
I recommend drizzling pomegranate molasses over the stew at the table. Read more about the molasses here. Using it like you would a finishing oil really elevates the flavors of the dish and gives a unique sweet-tart flavor I felt the dish needed. But if you cannot find it, a drizzle of honey stirred in at the end before serving and an extra squeeze of lemon at the table should do the trick.
- 2 Tbsp. extra virgin coconut oil
- 1 package Paneer cheese, cubed
- 4 small, firm zucchini, sliced 1/4" thick (thick enough to maintain shape and some bite when cooked)
- 3 stalks of lemongrass, halved with outer layer and green stalks removed
- 1 bunch of scallions (4-5 pieces), chopped reserving 1/4 for rice
- 1 large red chili (sometimes called Fresno Chili), sliced reserving 1/4 for rice
- 1" piece of ginger, grated
- 2 cloves of garlic, grated
- 2 14 oz. cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 cups good quality vegetable stock
- 1 medium butternut squash, roasted*
- 1 large bunch each Thai basil & cilantro, chopped reserving 1/4 of bunch for rice
- 1/2 cup natural plain yogurt
- Juice of 1/2 large lemon
- 1 tsp. soy sauce
- 2 cups black rice (I used organic Forbidden Rice, but Black Japonica will work here too), cooked according to package directions
- 1/2 cup roasted cashews, chopped
- Pomegranate molasses for drizzling at table
- In a medium non-stick pan over medium-high heat, saute Paneer cubes in 1 tsp coconut oil until the sides are golden brown and crispy. Remove Paneer from pan and set aside.
- In a large high-sided saute pan over medium heat, heat the remaining coconut oil and add zucchini, scallions, and lemongrass. Saute for several minutes, season with salt and pepper, and add chili, ginger, and garlic. Stir to combine and cook for 1 minute. Add chickpeas and stock, stir to combine, cover with lid, and simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes or until zucchini is cooked but still has a bite to it.
- Gently stir in squash and the next 5 ingredients (through soy sauce). Taste sauce to adjust flavors to your liking.
- Serve over black rice, topped with chopped cashews and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses.
- Once rice is cooked, add salt and pepper to taste along with the reserved chili, scallions, herbs, and juice of half a lime.
*Peel and cut the squash into large bite size pieces. Spread in an even layer on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper and roast with olive oil, salt, pepper in 400° oven for 10-15 minutes, until they are just barely fork-tender