Butternut Squash, Red Lentil, and Chickpea Stew

butternut stew

You can find a version of lentil stew or soup in almost every country. It's a dish that's popular because it's hearty, filling, and inexpensive. Some would call it food for the poor, but lentils stand for more than just that. Many cultures give it significant meaning, equating the small legumes with coins, symbolizing prosperity. Besides that, lentils are very nutritious, delicious, and perfectly satisfying on a cold fall day.

The cuisine of Morocco inspires this dish, which features a classic combination of lentils, chickpeas, and squash. Ras el hanout, the Moroccan spice blend, as well as saffron, give this stew its exotic flavor. Translating to "top of the shop," Ras el hanout is a special spice blend that is traditionally sold in markets by spice mongers, each of whom has his own secret mix, which can include cumin, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, and other spices. It's like the Moroccan version of the Indian spice blend Garam Masala.

The choice is yours—make this recipe into a stew or soup. The ingredients give you the option of using more or less stock, depending on how thick or thin you want the consistency. Since this recipe uses vegetable stock and contains no dairy, it's completely vegan. But all you omnivores, don't be afraid, it's packed with protein and fiber, so you won't even miss the meat. But if you can't live without meaty flavor, use chicken stock.

Butternut Squash, Red Lentil, and Chickpea Stew

Note: If you can't find Ras el hanout, substitute Garam Masala.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon grated ginger (about 1/2-inch piece)
1 tablespoon Ras el hanout
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
6 to 8 cups vegetable stock
1 2-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
2 carrots, sliced
2 cups red lentils
1-1/2 cups chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
1 large pinch saffron, crumbled
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
chopped hazelnuts, for garnish
chopped parsley, for garnish

Warm oil in large pot or Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and ginger. Sauté until onion is soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add Ras el hanout, cumin, and coriander and toast until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in stock. Add squash, carrots, lentils, and chickpeas. Add saffron and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook, partially covered, until chickpeas are tender, about 30 minutes. Serve in bowls and garnish with chopped hazelnuts and chopped parsley. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.