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Butternut Squash and Chickpea Stew with Israeli Couscous

Who says comforting food has to be unhealthy?  This hearty stew is both nutritious and satisfying, and the bright, warm Moroccan flavors will be a welcome surprise to taste buds exhausted by holiday overindulgence.

It’s time for another virtual lunch date with my pals on twitter, and today we’re eating hearty stews.  As I mulled over some stew ideas, my first thought was to create something with beef and butternut squash.  I knew I had a squash on the counter and some tri-tip in fridge and the combination sounded like a great one for stew.  But when my coffee-addled brain realized that I had already cut the tri-tip into steaks and thrown them in some marinade, I decided I’d better rethink my plan.  It was then I realized that I didn’t have a butternut squash sitting on the counter either.

Yes, I think I am going crazy.

Since I liked the idea of a stew featuring butternut squash, I picked one up at the store yesterday.  I decided against buying more beef, figuring it would be more fun (and inexpensive) to create a stew using ingredients I had on hand.  After surveying the contents of my pantry, I grabbed a can of chickpeas, some canned tomatoes and a half-empty bag of Israeli couscous I found stuffed way in the back.  My hearty stew was coming together nicely.

I ran across a few butternut squash and chickpea recipes online and they all seemed to incorporate Moroccan flavors. Since I had half a jar of preserved lemons in my fridge, I decided to follow suit.  Some of the recipes included raisins, but I chose to go with dried tart cherries.  While cherries might seem like an unusual ingredient for a stew, Moroccan tagines often include dried fruit and I love the combination of lemon and cherries.

The stew turned out to be a great lunch and there’s a good chance I’ll be eating more for dinner.  The bright flavors of preserved lemon and tart cherries contrast nicely with the warm cumin and cinnamon and I absolutely love the added texture of the Israeli couscous.  I found it hard to stop eating, but the soup is healthy enough that I didn’t feel guilty after a second bowl.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Butternut Squash and Chickpea Stew with Israeli Couscous

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2-inch piece of cinnamon stick
4 canned whole tomatoes
1/2 preserved lemon, pulp removed, rinsed, and minced*
1 ounce dried tart cherries (raisins or other dried fruit may be substituted)
1/2 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch cubes (about 2 cups)
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup Israeli couscous
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock**
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)
chopped cilantro for garnish

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until softened and starting to turn golden.  Add garlic, cumin, coriander, and the piece of cinnamon stick and cook, stirring, for one minute.  Add the tomatoes, crushing by hand as you add them, or crush with a wooden spoon in the pan.  Add all remaining ingredients except for the salt.  Turn up heat and bring soup to a simmer.  Turn heat to low and let simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.  Add salt to taste.  Remove cinnamon stick before serving.  Garnish with chopped cilantro if desired.

Recipe Notes: *Zest and juice of one lemon may be substituted for the preserved lemon.  **I used chicken broth for my stew, but vegetable stock may be substituted to make it vegetarian.  For even more flavor, substitute whole spices for pre-ground:  toast whole cumin and coriander seeds in a dry pan until fragrant, let cool, then grind in a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle.  All spices may be adjusted to suit your own taste.

Yield: approximately 6 servings

Nutrition Info per serving (1/6 of recipe):  229 calories; 4 grams fat; 42 grams total carbohydrate; 6 grams fiber; 6 grams sugars; 6 grams protein.  Nutrition information is approximate – analyzed through NutritionData.com

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