It’s the first day of Fall and I couldn’t be happier about it. While I’m not much on the pumpkin spice, I am very fond of crisp days, snuggly sweaters, boots and cozy stews.
In the caption I explained that I had been surprised when, a day or two before, he had suddenly blurted out “I should make a casserole for Carlos and Michelle!” Carlos is Joey’s friend and coworker and he and his wife have just had their second baby. The casserole proclomation came as a big surprise to me, because Joe has never been much of a cook. He can make a sandwich or scramble some eggs, but given the choice, he’d always rather have me do it for him.
However, he’s certainly seen me cook for friends in need before – whether new neighbors, new parents or the newly grieving, there’s almost no occasion that isn’t made just a little better by finding a warm dinner freshly-made on your doorstep.
As you might imagine, my mama heart swelled when Joey said he wanted to help his friends – and what better way than with a casserole? Perhaps my most gratifying moments in parenting these almost-grown kids is when they do or say something I’m proud of, and I know that a few things we did or said along the way seem to have stuck.
As it turns out Carlos doesn’t eat meat and Michelle doesn’t eat dairy, so I suggested to Joe that maybe a soup or stew might be a better choice in this case. We settled on this Moroccan Vegetable Stew. It’s rich and comforting, with just a touch of sweetness from the addition of dates and sweet potatoes. (we thought that might appeal to the 2-year old in the house). Our family liked it with the addition of olives and lemon at the end, to counterbalance those sweet tones.
I loved watching Joey prepare the stew that Sunday afternoon. He gathered all of the ingredients and chopped the vegetables carefully. I offered to help, but he insisted he wanted to do it on his own, so I sat at the counter and answered questions as they came up. I’m happy to say think he experienced some of the joy that comes from preparing food to share with friends that day. And even threw in a “I can see why you like to cook so much, Mom.” Will this be the begining of a new thing for him?
The recipe comes from Laura Wright’s book called The First Mess (she has a blog by the same name). My sixteen year old daughter is newly vegan, so I’ve been exploring some plant-based cookbooks and blogs lately. I adapted the recipe only slightly.
Make this when you want something cozy and warm on a chilly Fall evening (or if you need something vegan to take to your friends with a new baby).
Moroccan Vegetable Stew
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 - 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes to taste, optional
- 2 cloves garlic, minced or put through a press
- 4 Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 sweet potato (yam), peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes I use Fire-Roasted
- 3 - 4 cups vegetable stock
- 1 yellow or red bell pepper, stemmed and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
- 2 cups cooked chickpeas canned are fine
- 1 cup pitted Kalamata or green olives, chopped if you like
- lemon wedges, for serving
- In a large, heavy bottomed soup pot heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, season with a pinch of salt and saute for about 8 - 10 minutes, until it's translucent and soft. You don't want them to brown, so lower the heat if neccessary. Add the spices: cinnamon, coriander and red pepper flakes and stir into the onions. After about 5 minutes, add the garlic and stir. Cook just for another 30 seconds or so. Add the dates, carrots and sweet potatoes and season them all with salt and pepper. Stir to make sure the vegetables are coated in the spices and oil. Add the crushed tomatoes and stir again. Add 3 cups of vegetable stock. Stir it all together. With the heat on medium high, bring to a gently boil, uncovered. Simmer until the carrots and sweet potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped bell pepper, the chickpeas and the olives and stir to incorporate. Season again the whole thing with salt and pepper. If the stew seems too thick, add some or all of the last cup of stock. Simmer until the bell pepper is tender and the rest of the vegetables are soft, about 5 to 8 minutes. Taste it and add more salt, pepper or crushed red pepper as you like. If you're not serving this right away, let it cool down and then refrigerate until you are ready to serve it. Gently re-heat over medium to medium low and taste again for seasoning. Serve with or without a grain, but definitely with a lemon wedge so that people can squeeze that bright juice over it all.