Thursday, December 24, 2015

Chickpea Stew with Tomato, Turmeric, Yogurt & Harissa

A very special someone recently got me the Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California cookbook, and we are a match made in heaven. Epitomizing "grain-and-vegetable-centric, globally inspired cuisine", enveloped in New-American rustic style, the pages are filled with beautiful shots of verdant, vibrant dishes, the majority plant-based.  After flipping furiously through each page, I settled on a recipe that featured winter's small seasonal bounty: a kale, carrot and chickpea stew. I know, shocker! I only have like 10 recipe variations for this.

However, this Chickpea Stew with Tomato, Turmeric, Yogurt & Harissa is a testament to the auspiciousness of making one dish you like with small ingredient tweaks many, many times—one day you will come across one that is infinitely better than all the rest! And I found that in this recipe. Even said special someone, who didn't like kale and chickpeas until this year, agreed it was the best soup he'd ever had.

Here's why it works. The spices are rich and subtle at the same time, focused Middle Eastern flavors that give flair without overpowering.  (Though its the spice combination that make the stew magical, I have a sneaking suspicion fennel seed is the secret ingredient. I bought it for the first time to make this soup, and I'm infatuated with its perennial aromatics.)

Second, a slightly thickened texture, created by pureeing a portion chickpeas with soup broth in advance, avoid the thin liquid of some soups while totally amplify the chickpea flavor. What a genius idea for a thickening agent!

Lastly, the spiced yogurt is to die for. I am a fanatic about any yogurt-based condiment, and this one is herb and lemon tinged to perfection. As Chef Travis Lett points out, the cooling qualities of yogurt are the ideal counterpart to a spicy soup, and these two blend in flawless harmony.

Now, while I wax poetic about this chickpea stew, I have to admit that I didn't even make the recipe in its truest form—I took lots of short-cuts! For example, I used canned chickpeas instead dried, marinated ones the recipe called for, used ground spices instead of whole, and bought vegetable stock and harissa instead of prepping Lett's homemade recipes. That being said, the stew still came out above and beyond any of my soups to-date. The recipe is easy enough for a weekday soup, but definitely suited to impress a crowd—serve a big pot surrounded by little bowls of spiced yogurt and Harissa, a visually enticing presentation that looks as inviting as it tastes.

Chickpea Stew with Tomato, Turmeric, Yogurt & Harissa (adapted from Gjelina)
Serves 4

For the chickpea stew:

  • 2 cans chickpeas, drained (or 1 lb dry: see directions below*)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin**
  • 1 tsp coriander**
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds**, ground or chopped finely
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into half-moons
  • 8 small red potatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 3 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 bunch Tuscan kale, stemmed and cut into 2-inch-wide strips
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • harissa, to serve. (Can be found in specialty food stores/International aisle of Whole Foods. And If you live in NYC, Taim makes a great one!)

For the spiced yogurt:

  • 1/4 tsp coriander**
  • 1/4 tsp cumin**
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp white wine vinegar
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon


  1. In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, warm oil until hot but not smoking. Add the carrots, onion, and garlic; season with salt and pepper; cook until vegetables begin to soften and brown slightly, about 5 minutes. Add cumin, coriander, fennel, paprika, turmeric, thyme, bay leaf and potatoes. Cook until quite fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  2. Stir in the tomato paste, scraping the bottom of the pot frequently so that it does not burn, and cook until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by more than half, 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Add vegetable stock, discard bay leaf, return to a simmer.
  4. In a blender (or large bowl and immersion blender), combine 1 cup of the soup with 2 cups chickpeas. Puree until smooth. Return pureed beans to the soup pot. Add kale and remaining chickpeas, stir gently. Remove from heat and let stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes. (This prevents the yogurt from curdling.)
  5. Make the spiced yogurt. In a food processor, blender or by immersion blender, combine spices, yogurt, and herbs. Process until yogurt is tinted green. Add olive oil, vinegar, and lemon juice and pulse until incorporated. Taste and season with salt. Stir in the water, a little bit at a time, stopping when the yogurt is still thick, but thin enough to drizzle from a spoon.
  6. Before serving, spike soup with vinegar. Serve with a dollop of spiced yogurt and drizzle of harissa.

*To make dried chickpeas: Add 1 yellow onion (quartered), 1 carrot (peeled and quartered), 2 garlic cloves (smashed), 1 bay leaf, and 4 fresh thyme sprigs to ingredient list. In a large bowl, cover chickpeas with water by 2 inches and soak overnight. Drain the chickpeas and rinse with cool water.
In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, combine the chickpeas, onion, carrot, garlic, bay leaf, and thyme. Add fresh water to cover by 2 inches. Season with salt. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer until chickpeas are tender but still hold their shape, about 45 minutes.  Discard bay leaf. Cool chickpeas in the cooking liquid and then drain, discarding the liquid. Set aside.

**Original recipe calls for whole seeds, toasted in a frying pan over medium heat for 3 minutes, cooled, then ground into powder with mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Butternut Squash Black Bean Enchiladas

Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce are Mexican cuisine’s best kept secret. There are two distinct elements nestled within each $2-$3 can: the chipotles, which are smoked and dried rehydrated jalapenos, and the adobe sauce, a tangy, pungent mix of tomato puree, vinegar, garlic, and spices. The result is intense, smoky flavor that’s a one-stop-shop. Chipotle peppers can operate hans solo, no additional spices or seasonings required. However, if you want to add an extra ingredient, they do play well with others. A dollop of plain Greek yogurt can add a rich, creamy taste. Or, in these Butternut Squash Black Bean Enchiladas, the addition of plain, canned tomato sauce and sautéed garlic create an enchilada sauce that’s simply magnificent.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve always been suspicious of enchilada sauce. To me, it fell into the category of processed, salty jarred sauces that accompanied my most abhorred type of food: greasy Mexican. And given that enchiladas are usually doused in cheese and sour cream, I tend to stay away from them and opt for fresher, lighter options.  But, this recipe proves my theory wrong. Here, the enchilada “meat” consists of hearty, seasonal butternut squash and cumin-kissed black beans. Oil is scant, and cheese altogether absent—the dish is vegan. Whole-grain corn tortillas add another healthy component, and dousing in the homemade enchilada sauce loads on the flavor, but not the cals. Toppings options are abundant and tailored—my favorites are sliced avocado, minced cilantro, and quartered limes. If you absolutely cannot fathom an enchilada sans cheese, feel free to go ahead and sprinkle some on top. (Cheddar is the obvious choice, but feta is surprisingly good too.)
This dish works perfectly for the holiday time of year. In a season characterized by general frenzy and heavy celebratory eating, these enchiladas are a fresh breath of air that utilize a fresh seasonal ingredient to produce hearty fare that’s surprisingly light. Plus, the prep is easy: a handful of ingredients come together with mindless ease, and the majority of time is just spent cooking the enchiladas in the oven.
Next to taste, my second favorite things about this dish is the texture. A quick spray of olive oil via mister over the tortillas, pre-bake, ensures that they are perfectly crisp on the outside, but flawlessly soft on the side.  Though not necessarily pretty after storing, they do keep for a few days, and those extra chipotles can stay refrigerated for months.
Butternut Squash Black Bean Enchiladas (adapted from Minimalist Baker)
Serves 3-4

For the enchiladas
  • 3 cups cubed butternut squash
  • 1-2 tsp grape seed or olive oil
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • Sea salt and black pepper
For the sauce
  • 1-2 tsp grape seed or olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce + 2 Tbsp adobo sauce
  • ½ cup water (or sub vegetable broth for more flavor)
  • Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Optional toppings
  • Red onion, diced
  • Ripe avocado, sliced
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Toasted pumpkin seeds
  • Lime wedges


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. On a baking sheet, combine butternut squash, 1-2 tsp oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
  2. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until squash is tender. Set aside to cool. Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees F.
  3. While squash is cooking, prepare sauce. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1-2 tsp oil and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is slightly browned and translucent, 4-5 minutes.
  4. Reduce heat to low. Add tomato sauce, diced chipotle pepper, adobo sauce, and water/vegetable broth to pan. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer sauce to a blender and blend well for a completely smooth sauce (optional). Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Set aside.
  6. Place same skillet used earlier back over medium heat and add black beans. (Its OK that there will still be some sauce in the pan.) Season with a little salt, pepper, cumin and stir. Once bubbling, remove from heat and add roasted butternut squash and 1/4 cup of the enchilada sauce, mixing thoroughly.
  7. Wrap tortillas in damp paper or cloth towel and microwave to warm for 30 seconds to make more pliable. Pour a bit of sauce into the bottom of 9×13-inch baking dish. Spread to coat.
  8. Take one corn tortilla and lay it down in the dish. Fill with generous amount of squash-bean filling, then roll up tortilla. Place seam side down at one end of dish. Continue until all tortillas are filled and wrapped, then pour remaining sauce over the top of the enchiladas in a stripe down the middle. Brush/spray the edges of the bare tortillas with oil for crispy edges.
  9. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, or until warmed through. Top with desired toppings and serve. The enchiladas can keep for a few days in the refrigerator.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Pumpkin Pecan Chocolate-Chip Biscotti

With such a busy Fall, it’s barely occurred to me that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and now I’ve worked myself into a pre-Thanksgiving panic about the lack of pumpkin desserts I’ve made this year.  I operate with this irrational belief that after Thanksgiving, all pumpkin desserts are rendered obsolete as we move into the realm of winter gingerbreads and puddings. As if only when the leaves are still in the trees can I dabble in pumpkin bread, muffins, pie, lattes, parfaits, cookies, squares, bars…the list goes on and on.

Now, I’ve been very prepared to make all of these desserts since September, when I caught wind of a potential pumpkin shortage in the US and stocked my pantry to the brim with cans of puree. “There’s going to be a pumpkin shortage,” I whispered gravely to the cashier at Trader Joe’s as he loaded up bags of my endangered squash, my eyes darting suspiciously at any one who ventured near the display. “Good luck getting all this home,” he replied.

And I started off strong. I made a few pumpkin breads, but I ate them in like, three days. I was introduced to the dazzling concept of pumpkin butter, but found myself eating it by the spoonful late-night, too often. Finally, I decided I needed something pumpkiny that would last, that would allow me to consume my beloved cucurbita with abandon but also not give me that “oh my god I can’t believe I ate that WHOLE thing” feeling afterward, either. A ritualized post-dinner tea drinker,  I decided to turn to tea’s favorite cookie: biscotti.  Specifically, Pumpkin Pecan Chocolate-Chip Biscotti.
I am a total biscotti junkie, and not just because of the taste. I like how biscotti resides on the lighter side of the cookie spectrum; void of butter or oil and not too sweet. I like how the hard texture likens it to a biscuit or sweet cracker. Instead of feeling super indulgent, it feels practical, utilitarian—like a sensible fixed presence that accompanies your cup of tea or coffee. Yet, there’s just the right amount of chocolate to quench that dessert craving. Plus, the pumpkin flavor is spot on: subtle, but spiced just right to give a recognizable nod to fall.
Because it is twice-baked, biscotti is a bit more labor-intensive than a regular cookie: It has to bake, cool, bake again, cool again. But once made, it lasts forever when sealed in an air tight jar, so you can count on a supply when that pumpkin craving comes knocking. I love to dip it in my tea or coffee, but you can also use it as a vehicle to spread pumpkin butter— twice as nice for those with a pumpkin vice!

Pumpkin Pecan Chocolate-Chip Biscotti (adapted from Chocolate Moosey)

2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour ( whole-wheat, white, or combination)
¾ cup granulated sugar (add ¼ cup for a sweeter cookie)
1 tsp baking powder
1½ Tbsp cinnamon
1½ Tbsp nutmeg  
¼ teaspoon ginger spice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
teaspoon salt
2 eggs (can substitute flax seed eggs: 1 Tbsp flax seed + 2 ½ Tbsp water per egg)
½ cup canned pumpkin puree
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clove, and salt.
3. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, pumpkin, and vanilla until smooth. Gradually beat in the flour until incorporated (it will be lumpy, that’s OK!) then stir in the chocolate chips and pecans.
4. On a floured surface with floured hands, lightly knead the dough. Place the dough on the parchment paper and pat out into a log that is roughly 15-20 inches by 5-6 inches, no more than ½ inch high. If dough is too sticky, add a little bit more flour.
5. Bake for 22 to ­25 minutes or until brown, set on the edges, and center is firm. Remove from the oven. Turn the oven down to 300F.

6. Cool biscotti for 15 minutes, then with a serrated knife, cut into ½ inch wide pieces. Place cut side down back onto the cookie sheet and bake an additional 15­ to 20 minutes until firm. Cool completely before eating.