Corn, bean and pumpkin stew

January 20, 2010

This week, our featured book is ‘The Greens Cook Book’. Greens is a legendary (in the US, at least) vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco and one of the first things I noticed about the book, published in 1987, is that it really has dated extremely well. OK, there is one chapter on timbales. But apart from that, it heavily features pasta, pizza, mexican flavours, imaginative soups; there’s a lot of advice on vegetarian menu planning and matching wine with vegetarian food, hinting at a time when vegetarianism was still new and exciting, but none of the recipes would look out of place if the book were to be published today. It makes you wonder why mushroom risotto and goat’s cheese salad are still the default vegetarian options at many restaurants over 20 years later.

I once visited Greens. I was in San Francisco for work, and so my visit was somewhat hampered by the awkwardness of dining alone, but I do remember walking a really long way and eating the most heavenly vegan chocolate cake. It definitely involved caramel, or coconut, or both, but either way it’s not in the book.

So, in the absence of chocolate caramel coconut cake, I present you with this stew. Not quite the same, but it is probably much better for you. It’s big and hearty and designed for eating from large bowls, a cross between a soup and a stew. It’s almost sweet, a little bit spicy, a hearteningly colourful slurp of warmth. The first time, I ate it with a generous scattering of coriander, but for lunch today I stirred in a spoonful of babaghanoush, on a whim, and that really worked. Smokiness is good here. Next time, I’m looking forward to crumbling over some goat’s cheese feta I have in the fridge.

Corn, bean and pumpkin stew  Serves 4-6

I made this with one chilli and added in a bit of merken, which is a smoky, spicey mix I picked up in Chile. If you want the heat to be a bit more pronounced, use more chillies and/or add in cayenne pepper with the spices.

1 tin pinto beans (other beans would be fine: black-eyed, kidney, black beans etc.)
1 tin chopped tomatoes
300g frozen sweetcorn, defrosted, or 1 tin sweetcorn (or 3 ears fresh corn)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp oregano
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp paprika (I used regular, but I now think smoked would be good here)
500ml vegetable stock
1 winter squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes (I have no idea what sort of squash mine was, but it weighed just over 1kg when peeled and deseeded)
1-2 chillies, seeded and finely chopped
coriander or parsley, for garnish

Toast the cumin seeds in a hot frying pan until they smell fragrant – watch to make sure they don’t burn. Add the oregano, stir for 5 seconds and transfer the spices to a spice grinder or pestle and mortar. Add the cloves and grind to a powder.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion over a high heat for 1 minute. Lower the heat, add the garlic, spices, paprika, cinnamon stick and salt. Here’s where you might want to add in your own choice of extra spices. Stir well to combine, then add 1/4 of the stock and cook until the onion is soft. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Then add the squash and most of the rest of the stock. Cook for 20-30 minutes, until the squash is softened but not quite done.

Add the corn, beans and fresh chillies, and thin with more stock if necessary. Cook until the squash is tender. Mine was already falling apart at this point, so I left it there. Check the seasonings and serve with your choice of garnish.

Adapted from Deborah Madison’s ‘The Greens Cook Book: Extraordinary Vegetarian Cuisine’.

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