Snow is forecast for the weekend! Snow and freezing weather. And it’ll last five days. That’ll be fun.
Snow in Istanbul is actually not at all uncommon. Every year, a few times during winter, for a few days at a time, the temperature reader turns to blue and white flakes fall outside the window. Perhaps not the light, fluffy, idyllic kind. Admittedly, it’s usually more of the wet and windy kind. But, for a few days at least, Istanbul may turn white.
On such days, it’s nice to compensate the cold outside with something warming at the dinner table. Preferably the kind that fills the house with a wonderful aroma while it’s in the making.
This pumpkin and chickpea stew draws inspiration from both Middle Eastern and North African cuisines, though its flavours are perhaps most commonly associated with Morocco. There is sweetness, courtesy of both the vegetable and dried apricots. There are warming spices paired with fresh notes of ginger and turmeric. And it’s prepared over a fairly low heat over an hour or more, leaving plenty of time for the kitchen to fill with the most wonderful of smells from the simmering pot.
The stew is meatless, though I dare say even meat lovers won’t notice. There is so much flavour going on here that it renders meat completely obsolete. That’s not to say you can’t serve it with meat – it’ll work brilliant as a side to your Sunday roast, leaving plenty of leftover stew for Monday. But I prefer it on its own, with some bulgur or rice and a few spoonfuls of yoghurt on the side. Yum.
The most common pumpkin in Turkey is a variety which is shaped like the ones Americans use for carving Halloween monsters, but smaller and blue-greenish in colour on the outside. There’s no need to look for it, however – any type of pumpkin will work here, as will butternut squash. If easier for you, a combination of sweet potatoes and carrots instead of pumpkin would also work well.
I haven’t given any definite amounts of chili in the recipe. There are too many varieties, differing too much in strength. To me, you should be able to distinguish chili in the stew, but it shouldn’t be spicy. I add 2 tsp of a fairly hot version of the Turkish pul biber (Aleppo pepper) I’ve bought from the spice market in Istanbul. Commercial varieties are usually milder, so for the same effect use 1 tbsp. If using regular chili flakes, you’ll probably need considerably less. That said, if you like it hot, this stew can take it. Serves 4-6, depending on what else is being served along.
Pumpkin & chickpea stew
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 1.5 tsp ground coriander seeds
- 1.5 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 0.5 tsp ground ginger
- chiliflakes (or fresh chili, deseeded and finely chopped), to taste (I use 2 tsp hot Aleppo pepper/pul biber)
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2×400 g cans chopped tomatoes + 200-300 ml water or 700 ml passata + 300-400 ml water
- 1 kg large cubes of peeled and deseeded pumpkin (net weight)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 small stick of cinnamon or 0.5 tsp ground cinnamon
- 3 dried apricots, finely chopped or 2 tsp sugar
- 2×400 g cans cooked chickpeas, rinsed and rained or 500 g cooked chickpeas (from 200 g dried chickpeas)
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- salt and pepper
Fry the onion in the olive oil in a thick-bottomed pot over medium heat until soft but not golden, stirring regularly.
- Add garlic, spices and some salt and pepper. Continue frying for another minute, stirring constantly. Add tomato paste, chopped tomato and water (or passata). Stir until the tomato paste has dissolved completely. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer for a few minutes.
- Add the pumpkin, bay leaf, cinnamon stick (or ground cinnamon), dried apricot or sugar. Mix well and bring to the boil again. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, put a lid on and leave to simmer until the pumpkin is soft. This may take anything from 40 minutes to well over an hour, depending on the size of your pumpkin cubes. (Mine took 1 hour 15 minutes). Stir every once in a while, taking care not to break up the pumpkin as it softens.
- 5-10 minutes before the stew is done, add drained chickpeas and lemon juice. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, spices, sugar or lemon juice as needed until you’re happy. Again, take care not to break up the pumpkin – once softened it is easily mashed.
- When ready to serve, remove the bay leaf and stick of cinnamon. Serve hot.
- As most stews, this keeps well in the fridge for several days. You can also make it a day (or even two) in advance, if you like.