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June 3, 2015

West African vegetable stew in peanut sauce {vegan, gluten-free}

West African vegetable stew in peanut sauce, a great main dish for vegans.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about adapting favorite recipes for changing dietary needs (newly gluten-free, pre-diabetic, vegetarian). When Jared, a local filmmaker who just happens to be vegan, and Jessica, an old friend of my husband Ted's, came to lunch a few weeks ago, I decided to take the West African chicken mafé recipe in my previous post, and veganize it. Out with the chicken, in with chickpeas. Potatoes, zucchini, mushrooms: the combination of firm and soft vegetables really worked, and with the rich peanut, tomato and coconut sauce, nobody missed the meat at all. Reaching for a tube of tomato paste in the refrigerator, I grabbed an identical-shaped tube of harissa instead, and added it to the dish before I realized my error. Wow! Great flavor, just a hint of smoky heat, that elevated the vegetable stew to another level; that's one error I'll make again and again.

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May 31, 2015

West African chicken mafé (chicken stew in peanut sauce) {gluten-free}

West African chicken and peanut stew: gluten-free, dairy-free, party-easy!

Ever since sixth grade, when I used my required year-long project to learn all about Ghana -- history, culture, geography, show and tell, and lots of book reports -- I've longed to travel to that part of the world. Recently, while flipping through one of my favorite mail-order catalogs, I spied a jar of West African maffé sauce. As I read more about it, I realized it was simply a shortcut sauce to use as a base for chicken mafé (yes, different spelling, but the same thing), a rich, thick stew combining peanuts (or peanut butter), tomato and a few spices you already have in your pantry. With coconut milk as the foundation, West African chicken stew is a perfectly rich and thick dish that happens to be both gluten-free and dairy-free. One jalapeño pepper, with the seeds and ribs removed, provides just the right amount of heat without overwhelming the peanut flavor; although the cayenne pepper really adds to the flavor of the chicken, you can cut the amount in half, or omit it. Serve the stew over rice, and it's a feast in a bowl, great for entertaining but easy enough for everyday.

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May 13, 2015

Easy rice pilaf

Rice pilaf, easy to make in 20 minutes, makes a perfect side dish for anything off the grill.

Now that my husband Ted and I have moved back to Boston, we miss more than ever the long-closed Cedars Restaurant that used to live at the end of our street. Cedars served Middle Eastern food in a space that reminded you of your favorite aunt's kitchen, with formica tables and frilly curtains, and velvet paintings on the walls. We almost always ordered the garlic chicken on skewers, and it always came with a mound of rice pilaf on the side. If you have access to a Middle Eastern market, you can buy authentic chayrere, the thin vermicelli-like noodles, or look for fine egg noodles in the supermarket. Or, buy the thinnest vermicelli pasta you can find, and break it into two-inch pieces. The remaining ingredients come straight from your pantry. Make a pot of this rice ahead of time, and reheat in the microwave. It's the perfect side dish for anything you throw on the grill.

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April 12, 2015

Slow cooker North African beef and rutabaga stew

North African beef stew with rutabaga, lemon and cilantro, made easy in the slow cooker. From The Perfect Pantry.

"That's really, really good," my husband Ted declared as he inhaled his second helping of this beef and rutabaga stew. We're reaching the end of stew season, but this year's crazy New England weather has left snow on the ground where there should be daffodils, and stew on the stove where there should be fiddleheads and ramps and asparagus. No complaints in my house. Ted loves beef stew in all forms, at all times of year, and this version is so very different from the heavy stews I usually make for him. I cheated a bit, and used a bag of frozen, diced rutabaga; it was my first time trying this convenience food, and for a long-cooking dish like stew, it was great. You can swap fresh rutabaga, of course, or white turnips if you like those better. Warm spices, harissa, lemon, and a hit of fresh cilantro infuse this stew with an unusually bright flavor. Substitute gluten-free flour to make this easily gluten-free.

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February 4, 2015

Moroccan beef stew/tagine with apricots and onions {gluten-free}

Moroccan beef tagine with apricots, onions, and a hint of cinnamon.

Packing continues for our move to Boston in a couple of weeks, and as I pack my kitchen, I'm downsizing like crazy. This means that every pot, pan, dish, and utensil undergoes scrutiny. Have I used it enough to give it precious shelf space in the tiny kitchen I'll have in the new apartment? My Dutch oven makes the cut, of course, and my favorite tagine pot -- one with a cast iron bottom and a ceramic top that looks like an inverted flower pot, made by my friend Bob -- earns its place, too. As I was about to pack the tagine, I decided to give it one more turn in the log house kitchen, and this beef stew with apricots and onions was the happy result. The combination of meat and dried fruit, so popular in North African and Middle Eastern countries, along with cinnamon, elevates this beef stew with a sweet and sour note that's both unusual and pleasing, giving the stew a brighter flavor. I used organic dried apricots, which have a dark, musky color; for little pops of orange in your tagine, choose regular dried apricots, found in the produce section of your supermarket. Ras-el hanout is a spice blend that contains cumin, along with a dozen other spices, and if you can't find it, cumin makes an acceptable substitute.

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my tiny kitchen in Boston's South End, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives. Thanks so much for visiting.

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