Butternut Squash and Chickpea Moroccan Stew

Over the last few years, I have come to dread the end of daylight saving time.  I used to feel differently – it was always nice to sleep for an extra hour, and in Houston, let alone California, it never bothered me because the sun still never set that early.  Once I moved out to the East Coast, I gradually changed my mind.  My first year of law school, everyone else bemoaned the fact that it was dark by the time we got out of Contracts at 4:30pm, but I loved the novelty of it.  I also loved snow that first year.  I was so naive.

These days, I’m weary of East Coast winters.  I despise the fact that it’s pitch-black outside by late afternoon, making it feel so late by the time I leave the office.  And with the advent of this blog, the earlier onset of darkness creates a new problem: it’s becoming harder for me to get enough natural light to take photographs, which means that sometimes I end up making something and then photographing it a day or two later.  See the two photos below?  The first one was taken right after I finished making the stew.  Unfortunately, by then daylight was rapidly fading and I was forced to turn on my kitchen light to get a shot that didn’t turn out completely blurry.  The other photo was taken a few days later when I heated up some of the leftover stew in the early afternoon.  Lots of natural light.  So much prettier.

But you know, if there is one good thing about dark, cold winter nights, it’s that they’re perfect for thick, warm soups and stews.  This one features my favorite of all winter squashes, butternut, diced and simmered with potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and garlic.  The cinnamon is a surprisingly noticeable presence, adding a spicy, slightly sweet dimension that sets this stew apart from many others.  It’s comforting and filling, but doesn’t weigh you down heaviness – a perfect dish to let your tummy recover from Thanksgiving before embarking on the rest of the holiday season.

Butternut Squash and Chickpea Moroccan Stew

From Smitten Kitchen

Serves 6-8

Note:  I admit that when I cook, I often skimp on garnishes – such as in this case, where skipped everything but the slivered almonds.  And I am here to implore you to not omit the slivered almonds on this dish.  They transform the entire stew, providing a crunch to a dish that is otherwise comprised entirely of soft textures.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, small dice

4 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 cinnamon stick, or 1 teaspoon cinnamon

salt and black pepper to taste

1 pound butternut squash, large dice

3/4 pound red potatoes, large dice

2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

2 cups cooked chickpeas, drained

1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes with juices

Pinch saffron threats (optional)

1/2 preserved lemon, finely chopped (optional)

1 cup brined green olives

For serving:

Couscous

Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

Toasted slivered almonds

Plain Greek yogurt

Heat butter and olive oil in a lidded saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic, cumin, and cinnamon.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until spices are aromatic and onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add squash and potatoes, and season with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 3 minutes.  Add broth, chickpeas, tomatoes and their juices, and saffron (if using).  Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce heat to low.  Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until squash is fork tender, about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in preserved lemon (if using) and olives.  Serve over couscous and garnish according to your tastes.

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