In my effort to add some more vegetables to my diet, I’ve been going through my numerous cookbooks on the cuisines of the Mediterranean region and I’ve come across many wonderful recipes for vegetable “stews.” While many of these countries have numerous vegetarian dishes and stews I am most intrigued by the vegetable tagines of North Africa. I think it is because of the heavy use of spices in these dishes that I am so attracted to them. I have found that I, personally, am less apt to miss a meat component in a dish if it is heavily spiced.

To truly be called a tagine, the stew should be cooked in a dish of the same name, a large, shallow earthenware dish topped with a very distinct, conical lid. The food is placed in the bottom bowl and allowed to simmer slowly until all the ingredients are tender and flavorful. Well, I don’t have a tagine to make my tagine in, but other than that this dish stays pretty true to the flavors and ingredients of North Africa. Placed on a bed of couscous, this meal easily satisfies even a diehard meat eater like me.

Vegetable Tagine

serves 4

1 cup garbanzo beans, dried (chickpeas)
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium butternut squash (or other winter squash) peeled and cut into 1″ chunks
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 can (14.5oz) stewed tomatoes
1/2 cup prunes, chopped
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (more if you like the heat)
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
olive oil

Soak the dried garbanzo beans in 3 cups of water for 8-10 hours. Drain, place in a pot with fresh water, to cover, and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 45-60 minutes, until tender but not mushy. Drain. In another pot, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until onion turns translucent. Add carrots and squash. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, then add the cinnamon, cumin and red pepper flakes. Saute for 1 minute then add the tomatoes, prunes, water and garbanzo beans.

Season with salt and pepper, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender and the squash is just starting to fall apart. Adjust seasoning, stir in the cilantro and serve.