The place where I struggle most with plant-based cooking is in the art of the fancy dinner party entree.
In my first cookbook, we tried to have a vegetarian option for each type of entertaining chapter. The chili buffet and the boozy brunch recipes were easy. But when it came to the big kid dinner party spread, we spent hours trying to brainstorm a perfect composed plate with just vegetables. What would be the bed, the sauce, and the star?
Eventually we landed on a French-toast style bread and goat cheese kebab. So basically, the star of the plate was a giant crouton on a skewer. Creative, yes. Also…weird.
The latest addition to my cookbook collection did a much better job of figuring out how to make veggies play both star and supporting roles with panache. I’ve long been in awe of Hetty McKinnon’s style, warmth, and way around the stove. Her new book, Neighborhood: Hearty Salads and Plant-Based Recipes from Home and Abroad, has all those things in spades.
Hetty really understands how to make vegetarian dishes feel substantial, yet light. Her recipes are packed with interesting uses for hardy, often-overlooked grains and legumes, yet are also balanced out by handfuls of fresh greens and herbs. Such is definitely the case of this Spicy Chickpea Stew with Roasted Carrots, Spinach and Za’atar.
The chickpeas are slow simmered in a mixture of tomato sauce and red peppers. If you wanted to make it summerier, you could easily use fresh tomatoes and add them to the blender with the red peppers. Two large heirloom tomatoes should do the trick as a replacement for the sauce.
While slow cooking anything in July seems like overkill, if you happen to find yourself by the shore during a cool summer night, this spicy chickpea stew is the perfect thing to give your insides a little beach bonfire. It’s from the Mediterranean section of the book, after all.
Most importantly, it’s topped with whole roasted carrots (the star!) and tons of fresh herbs—the perfect main event on a platter or composed plate, if you’re getting real grown-up and fancy.
Read on for the recipe, and for more vegetarian show boats and gorgeous salads, pick up a copy of Neighborhood!
From one healthy hedonist, to another,
Spicy Summer Chickpea Stew with Roasted Carrots, Spinach and Za’atar
For the red pepper paste:
For the chickpea stew:
- 2 cups tomato puree or passata (500g)
- 1 teaspoon superfine sugar
- Two 15oz cans chickpeas (750g), drained
- 10 small carrots (about 1 3/4 lbs/800 g), peeled
- 1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 cups baby spinach leaves , washed thoroughly
- 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves , roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup mint leaves
- 1 tablespoon za’atar
- sea salt and black pepper
- Preheat oven to 400˚F (200˚C).
- To make the red pepper paste, put the oil, onion, garlic, tomato paste, cayenne pepper, paprika, red capsicums and sea salt in a food processor and blitz.
- In a large pan, add the red pepper paste and fry over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the tomato passata, sugar, chickpeas and 250 ml (1 cup) of water. Bring to a very gentle simmer, cover and cook over a very low heat for 1 hour, stirring from time to time and adding water as needed to maintain a sauce-like consistency (the sauce needs to thicken without the chickpeas becoming dry). When ready, leave to cool.
- Place the carrots on a large baking tray, drizzle with the olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Roast for 40 minutes, or until the carrots are tender and starting to turn golden.
- To serve, spoon the chickpeas onto a large serving dish, scatter over the baby spinach, and arrange the carrots on top. To finish, sprinkle over the herbs and za'atar.