It’s the time of year when I start hankering for hearty stews and braises. The temperature has plummeted recently (the sink in my bathroom, where the pipes are close to the wall, has been spitting out ice crystals all week), and now that real winter is here, heaping bowls of steaming goodness are just what I want.
Of course, braised meat is a thing of beauty; I’ll never kick a long-simmered short rib out of bed. Or for that matter, a bowl of beef stew or a chicken that’s slow-cooked in a bath of red wine. But a braise doesn’t have to be meaty to be satisfying, and many cultures have versions of vegetarian stews that really hit the spot. Bonus: Veggies are usually far cheaper than meat.
Eastern Europe prides itself on borscht, a beet-centric peasant soup that can be served cold in the summer and hot this time of year. Mexico has posole, often made with pork or chicken, but it can also be made with just hominy, chiles, corn, and cilantro. The Japanese make kenchinjiru, a sort of enlightening Buddhist’s delight that contains burdock, taro, tofu and shiitake. But no one does vegetable stew better than the Moroccans. Nobody.
The flavors of a warmly spiced Moroccan tagine, what with its cinnamon, bay, and cumin, among others, make your kitchen smell like the holidays, and the spices add an impressive amount of depth to anything you cook with them. Lamb is common in tagine, but this is the sort of dish where you don’t miss the meat. And you can use any combination of winter veggies to round out the stew. Like parsnips? They’ll add a nice sweetness. Turnips? Throw ’em in. Have fun with it, and know that you’ll have made a delicious, satisfying winter warmer at very little cost.
Moroccan Vegetable Tagine
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large leeks, white and pale green parts, washed and sliced
5 garlic cloves, smashed
Freshly ground black pepper
4 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 (32-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice
1 medium butternut squash, cut into large chunks
5 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
1 (14 ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
8 pitted dates, chopped
6 cups water
1 bunch collard greens, cut into 2-inch pieces
Toasted slivered almonds
Chopped fresh cilantro
Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium high heat until hot, then stir in the onion, leeks, garlic, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are golden brown, about 6 minutes. Stir in the bay, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, and turmeric, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes, squash, carrots, chickpeas, and dates, and then add the water and season with salt to taste. Cook, covered, until vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes. Stir in the collards and continue to cook, covered, until the greens are tender, about 30 minutes more. Season the tagine with salt and pepper to taste, then serve topped with toasted almonds and cilantro.