Meatless stew with an Ethiopian flair

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A confession: This is kind of a vegetarian version of my favorite column recipe ever, a spiced lamb and chickpea stew. As I prepare to get married in September, I've been trying to bring my cooking back to a healthier default, which often means less or no meat, bread and cheese. (I will never be a person who crash-diets — this is all about balance.)

Over the past couple of weeks, I've cooked from some really wonderful recipes — you may already be familiar with "The Stew" from the New York Times, a beautiful turmeric-and-coconut number with chickpeas — but I've also been trying to create my own vegetarian recipes, and this one is a winner.

I'm not really a fan of Americanized vegetable soup — some flavor notes in there just remind me of burnt crockpot bottoms — but this more stew-like, all-veggie number has thickness from the chickpeas and potatoes, which break down over a slow simmer, and is healthy enough that you can pair it with bread and still feel good about it. (And you should.)

Spiced differently from my lamb version, this uses berbere spice mix, a seasoning used quite a lot in Ethiopian cooking. You can find it in the grocery store spice aisle, but if you're angling to make your own, it's a great mix of garlic, red pepper, cardamom, chiles and cloves. It's got a nice, low, warm spiciness to it — perfect for fake spring, where days start warm and end snowing, or vice versa.

BERBERE SPICED VEGETABLE STEW 

INGREDIENTS:

Olive oil

1 fennel bulb

2 shallots

3 cloves garlic

3 to 4 red potatoes

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2 cans chickpeas

One 28-ounce can peeled plum tomatoes

4 cups chicken broth

1 1/2 tablespoons berbere spice mix

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

Salt and pepper

1 bunch kale

Handful of chopped cilantro for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat sauce pot to medium with a glug or two of olive oil. Slice fennel thin and add to pot with salt and pepper to taste. Finely chop shallots and garlic, then add to pot with berbere seasoning, cumin and turmeric, and saute with fennel until everything is just beginning to brown — just a hair past the soft/translucent stage.

Add potatoes, chickpeas, tomatoes and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer, then let cook, stirring every so often, for 1 to 1 hour and 15 minutes. When you're done, much of the liquid will be simmered away and the chickpeas will be breaking down, thickening your stew. Chop and add kale, then let cook 5 to 7 minutes (you may need to add more stock to keep this nice and stew-y). Serve with warm pita and cilantro for garnish.


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