Monday, December 14, 2015

Middle Eastern Butternut Squash with Beans

   The question is - what am I going to eat for Christmas dinner. I'm the only almost always    vegetarian, vegan leaning, and pretty close to wheat free person in my family, so even though I do most of the cooking, I tend to cater to everyone elses eating habits, which means a big plate of meat in the center of the table, surrounded by a few traditional vegetable dishes, and a basket of warm rolls. This is fine with me. I am content with a plate of sides, but there's nothing special in that, so this year I am looking for something that feels more like a meal in itself to sit beside the meat. This squash dish is a definite contender.

   My family is eating ham for christmas, so I think if they try this they will like it, and find that the sweetness of the squash with a hint of spice is familiar enough, and is a great compliment to the salty meat. They will probably wonder what the beans are doing in there though, and will certainly question my judgement when they notice the olives, but that's okay, there will be peas for the picky eaters, and I will be more than happy if there are leftovers. I know this will taste even better the next day. In fact, I may even make it a day in advance.

   This recipe was adapted from Diana Henry's A Change of Appetite (Mitchell Beazley 2014). The only reason I adapted it from the start was because I didn't have exactly what I needed on hand, so I substituted a couple of things, and then as I was prepping everything it reminded me of another recipe I made long ago with pumpkin and olives. That's how the olives got in there.  If you don't want to add olives, that's okay, but I think their salty briny flavor with their slight bitterness is perfect, and they make it seem even less ordinary/traditional, and more holiday/special. 
Lemon from my own tree
   I wish I knew of an easier way to peel butternut squash. I always worry I am going to lose a finger to the initial cutting into of the squash, and that one little clumsy slip of the knife while attending to the peel could easily lead to a severed artery or something. It is, I think, the most dangerous of vegetables, but so worth the risk. Maybe I should ask my friend Jenna if she has any squash peeling tricks, because after writing about my avocado mashing trick in my last post, I asked her if she knew about this. She did. Apparently it was so obvious that she never thought to tell me, leading me to post my discovery like I was a genius or something. In the future I will be running my genius discoveries by Jenna before posting them. 

Here is the recipe:

Middle Eastern Butternut Squash and Beans
serves 6 (if served with a grain)

2T. olive oil
1 large onion finely chopped
1 large carrot finely chopped
4 garlic cloves finely chopped (more if they are the small inner ones)
1 tsp. of red pepper flakes (more if you want to feel the heat)
5 plum tomatoes chopped ( I used canned)
1 T. ground cumin
1 T. tomato paste
1 butternut squash (about 2 1/4 lbs.) peeled and chopped
2c. water
15 oz. can cannellini beans drained and rinsed
3 slices of lemon (1/4 " thick))
olives (about 15)
salt (start with 1/2tsp.)
lemon juice to taste (I used 1T.)
a handful of torn mint leaves 
   Heat 1T. of oil in a dutch oven ( or whatever you would normally make a stew in). Saute the carrot and onion until the onion starts to brown. Add garlic, pepper flakes, and cumin and cook for a minute more.

   Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a minute before adding the chopped tomatoes.

   In another pan heat the other 1T. of oil and sauté the squash cubes until golden brown and starting to soften. You will probably need to do this in two batches, and truthfully, I did one batch and then just threw the rest of it into the pot raw. It probably gives it a nicer flavor, but I just wasn't in the mood for this extra step. 

   Add the squash to the onion mixture along with the salt, water, olives, and lemon slices. Diana had you adding zest, but next to cutting up winter squash, zesting is my next least favorite thing to do, so I just threw in a few lemon slices. Voila. 
   Bring this to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer covered for about 30 minutes. Add the beans and continue to simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes. It is done when the squash is soft and it is thick  and stew like.

   Remove from the heat. Adjust salt and lemon to taste, and sprinkle in the mint.

   I've always liked tomatoes and winter squash. Their acidity balances the sweetness of the squash. The brighter acidity in the lemon lightens this dish up just a bit.
   You could serve this over couscous, quinoa or bulgur wheat.

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