The plan Saturday was to get through a gigantic to-do list: a jewelry party, playing with Gabi, getting Gabi’s haircut, running three miles, cleaning the kitchen, exchanging a shirt, and replacing the dead pansies in one of the window boxes. I accomplished half of it — no small feat when you have a scrumptious and distracting toddler.
Amazingly, she went down for a morning nap (we thought the morning naps had ended), so I took advantage of the quiet and made this stew. I’d intended to make it last weekend. But the sun was out and we spent hours at the park instead. But this past Saturday was dreary — perfect cooking weather.
Now about this stew. I come back to it year after year, and for good reason. It’s an aromatic combination of tomato, leeks, carrots, chickpeas, green peas, spinach and couscous. It’s the first thing that comes to mind when I need to throw something together for someone who doesn’t eat meat or dairy. It’s fairly quick to make, but has layers of flavor. It’s incredibly healthy. It’s incredibly hearty. It’s nothing short of amazing.
It calls for saffron, a warm spice commonly found in Spanish and Mediterranean dishes. Saffron is pricey, so good thing that a little goes a long way. The additional combination of cinnamon, ground ginger and red chili flakes is what makes this stew so wonderful. The gremolata — finely chopped garlic, parsley, mint and lemon zest — adds freshness. Don’t skip it.
Moroccan Vegetable Stew with Couscous and Mint Gremolata
Simple Meals by Organic Style, Summer 2003
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, washed and sliced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch diagonals
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
Large pinch saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 cup peas, frozen or fresh
1/2 pound spinach, washed, stemmed and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup plain couscous
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
To make the stew:
Heat the oil in a large saucepan, 5 quarts or so, over medium heat. Add the leeks and saute, stirring frequently, until softened, about 7 or 8 minutes. Watch so they don’t burn.
Add the tomato paste and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes. Stir in carrots, tomatoes, saffron, crushed red pepper, cinnamon, and ginger. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
Add the beans, salt, pepper, and 1 3/4 cups of water. Cover the pan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until carrots are tender, about 5 minutes.
Add the peas and spinach, and cook uncovered for another 2 minutes, just until the spinach is wilted. (Can be made a few hours ahead of time. Anything more than that, the peas and spinach will not be bright green.)
To make the couscous:
Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the couscous and stir until lightly browned, about 4 minutes.Meanwhile, bring 1 1/3 cups of water to a boil. Sprinkle salt over couscous. Pour water over couscous and cover. Let the couscous stand for 5 minutes, until the water is absorbed.
Make the gremolata:
Combine the finely chopped mint, parsley, garlic and lemon zest in a small bowl.
Divide the stew evenly among 4 shallow bowls. Dish couscous into the center of each bowl (a half-cup measure works wonders). Sprinkle gremolata over each bowl of stew.