The recipe had me at “pomegranate salsa.” I was looking for an easy, warming dish to make in the middle of winter’s cold, and the idea of root vegetables, Moroccan spices and a topping of pomegranate seeds, scallions, lime and mint seemed like it would do the trick.
Then, the morning of the day I was planning to make the stew, one of the pipes in my new townhouse froze. Every plumber I called was busy. And I had no way to warm the thing up and keep it from bursting.
A few hours later, after a quick trip to the Walmart for a blow dryer and groceries, things hadn’t improved. The blow dryer wasn’t thawing the pipe. Neither was a borrowed space heater. My tension rose along with the thermostat, which I had turned up to 85. Visions of a flooded kitchen filled my head. I turned off the water from the main, but not before saving enough from the faucets that were still flowing to try to throw together dinner.
That’s when I realized I had left one of the main ingredients – a sweet potato – in the Car2Go I had rented for my errand.
I took a deep breath. After all, the recipe I was testing came from a book called “Eat Yourself Calm: Ingredients and Recipes to Reduce the Stress in Your Life,” so why sweat it? I doubled up on the butternut squash, skipped the missing sweet potato and persevered. My companion had already eaten dinner, so while we watched TV, I ate the stew – spicy, hot and satisfying – on the couch. I don’t know whether it was the power of suggestion or whether those spices, herbs, fruits and vegetables really were helping, but pretty soon I was able to say to myself, “This, too, shall thaw. Just give it some time.”
By the next morning, it had. And I imagined that someone, somewhere was using that found sweet potato as the basis of their own calming dinner.
Butternut Squash Stew With Pomegranate Salsa
This take on a Moroccan tagine contains herbs, spices and vegetables that are thought to help ease stress. If you find the list of spices too long, substitute a good Moroccan spice blend, such as ras el hanout, or an Indian garam masala. The stew can be refrigerated for up to one week or frozen for up to three months. The salsa can be refrigerated for up to five days. Adapted from “Eat Yourself Calm: Ingredients and Recipes to Reduce the Stress in Your Life,” by Gill Paul (Hamlyn, 2014).
For the stew:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 large onion, chopped
1-inch piece peeled ginger root, grated
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 serrano chili pepper, seeded and chopped
28 ounces canned diced tomatoes, preferably low-sodium or no-salt-added, plus their juices
1 large carrot, scrubbed well and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium (about 1 1/2 pounds) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 to 5 ounces baby spinach leaves, chopped (4 cups loosely packed)
15 ounces canned chickpeas, preferably no-salt-added, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup packed cilantro leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon Tabasco, harissa or other hot sauce of your choice
Freshly ground black pepper
For the salsa:
1 cup pomegranate seeds
2 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
12 mint leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
POUR oil into a large saucepan over medium heat. Once oil shimmers, stir in coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom and cloves; sizzle them for a few seconds, then add onion, stirring to coat. Cook until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes, then add ginger, garlic and serrano pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until soft, 10 minutes.
ADD tomatoes and their juices, carrot, squash and enough water, if needed, to barely cover the vegetables. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Stir in spinach, chickpeas, cilantro and hot sauce; season lightly to taste with salt and black pepper. Cook for just a few minutes, to wilt spinach and heat chickpeas through. Remove from the heat; cover to keep warm.
MAKE salsa: Stir together pomegranate seeds, scallions, lime juice, mint and oil in a small bowl.
SERVE stew warm, over grains or on its own, with the salsa on top or served on the side.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings (makes 8 cups)
Per serving (based on 8): 190 calories, 6 g protein, 33 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 75 mg sodium, 8 g dietary fiber, 10 g sugar