A few years back, we were at a group dinner celebrating the end of the semester when I asked our friend Adrian about his summer plans.
“I’ll be home in England for a bit,” he said, “and then we’re going to the south of France!” He began regaling me with stories from the previous year’s trip. I told him that Matt had a conference coming up in Europe and we were scheming a vacation there together, but hadn’t decided on a specific destination. “You should join us!” he nearly shouted, inviting us then and there to stay with his family and a crew of his university friends in Mediterranean paradise. When I said I’d never won a contest or sweepstakes, I may not have been entirely honest. Scoring that invitation was like winning the lottery.
We spent mornings wading in sparkling water and attempting to paint the scenery, then enjoyed leisurely lunches topped off with slices of plum tarts from the nearby farmstand. One friend played Spanish guitar while the others philosophized and occasionally threw each other into the pool. Evenings, we took turns cooking decadent meals that started with pastis and local saucisson, anchoide and tapenade that we picked up at the outdoor market. Adrian grilled spicy merguez over charcoal, and we made huge platters of couscous piled with vegetable stew to pass around the long outdoor table. We drank rosé from the vineyard down the road, and devoured cheeses which melted as we cut them. I cannot imagine a better week.
When I heard that one of the boys from the trip was visiting New York, I schemed a dinner party that might remind us a little of those late summer outdoor meals in France. I put Adrian and Ed in charge of cheese, and delegated dessert to another guest, making my responsibilities pretty stress-free.
We started with a sweet and savory olive-fig tapenade recommended by Kari from Anticiplate. (Here’s the recipe.) Topped with creamy Humbolt Fog goat cheese, it made the perfect accompaniment to a flute of sparkling wine.
Since they’re Adrian’s favorite, I fried up some merguez in my heavy cast-iron pans (it was too rainy to grill). But I think the star of the show was the Moroccan braised vegetable dish I made to serve with couscous. Smoky with cinnamon and harissa, sweetened with fresh apricots, carrots, and tomatoes, this easy stew was deeply satisfying, inexpensive, and perfect for making ahead of a weeknight dinner party. It definitely improved with a day’s rest, as many braised dishes do: the flavors deepened and blended overnight. You could add butternut squash, zucchini, cauliflower, or whatever vegetables you have on hand. Just make sure they are cooked through before you chill the stew.
It may look like I’m asking you to add a million spices to this dish, but believe me, it’s worth it. The original recipe is simple and perfectly nice, but the added spices make the sauce haunting and deeply flavored. If you happen to have Ras el Hanout on hand, you could substitute it, but most of these spices should be in your pantry already, so there’s no need to hunt down a premixed blend. (If you’re looking to use up some Ras el Hanout, check out this recipe from Shiv for spicy glazed carrots!)
Moroccan Chickpea Stew
Loosely adapted from Smitten Kitchen / Aida Mollenkamp
5 cloves garlic
2 medium yellow onions
1 T butter
1 T olive oil + additional if needed
5 tsp harissa paste
3 tsp cumin
2 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp each: paprika, cardamom, nutmeg, ground ginger, and cloves
2 yams, peeled and chunked
5 carrots, peeled and coined
Garbanzo beans: 1 15-oz can, 1 25-oz can, rinsed
2 sticks cinnamon, broken in half
2 cups broth or stock
1 cup white wine
1 28-oz can tomatoes
5 fresh apricots, diced
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved if you have time
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup currants
pitted green olives
fresh cilantro leaves
The day before you plan to serve the stew, prepare through step 2.
1. Smash garlic and cut into rough chunks. Dice onion. In a large dutch oven, melt butter and add olive oil. Saute garlic and onion, stirring frequently, over medium-low heat until onion is translucent. Add harissa paste, cumin, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, paprika, cardamom, nutmeg, ground ginger, and cloves and let toast 30 seconds.
2. Stir in yams and carrots, adding a splash more of olive oil if needed. Cook until just tender, about 10 minutes, before adding garbanzo beans, broth or stock, and white wine. Scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer, than add canned tomatoes and their liquid, apricots, and grape tomatoes. Cover and simmer at least half an hour and up to two hours or until yams and carrots are tender enough to cut with a fork. Stir in lemon juice and currants.
3. Let cool and refrigerate overnight. The next day, reheat gently until simmering. Add water or additional broth, 1/4 cup at a time if sauce is too thick. Five minutes before serving, stir a handful or two of pitted green olives into the stew to warm.
4. Serve over couscous, garnishing each serving with fresh cilantro leaves.budget, chickpeas, moroccan, vegetables
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