In autumn, along the roads of the Bekaa valley in Lebanon, street sellers stack hundreds of pumpkins of all colours and sizes under make shift tents.
With no Halloween tradition, the Lebanese pumpkin is never carved, it serves its natural purpose: to feed and satiate. Inexpensive, filling, and with a long shelf life, it is is a popular ingredient in the regional kitchen.
Steam it and substitute it to meat in a vegan kibbe rich with mellow spices. For a hearty soup, cream it with chicken stock; if you crave a thick stew, add some beef and a few potatoes and braise it in tomato sauce.
Having moved to the US a few months ago, I experienced Halloween and its fanfare for the first time. Preparations started slowly over the month of October. Shops and homes began displaying haunting decorations or cobwebs, giant spiders, ghosts and grimacing pumpkins. Charmed at the idea of a pumpkin patch, I went to a farm and came back laden different pumpkins, gourds and squashes. I thought I would use them as decorations on my table until it was time to cook them. This was simple, for it happened according to the weather and to my mood. On a cold day I turned them into soup. On a warm day I served kibbe at room temperature and finally last weekend during Halloween night, I made a big and filling stew with chickpeas.
As a cook I find it difficult to dissociate a pumpkin, however radiantly glowing, from food and it got me thinking about the fate of the hundreds and hundreds of that lined the city streets.
Chickpea and Pumpkin Stew
2 celery sticks
850 g or 2 cans of cooked chickpeas
600g pumpkin, acorn squash or butternut squash or a mixture of all three ( weight after peeling and trimming)
2 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoon smoked paprika
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
40 parsley, chopped
1 crushed garlic
- Heat olive oil in a deep, heavy based pan and sauté the leeks for 1 minute.
- Add the crushed garlic and sauté on medium heat for 1 more minute.
- Finally add the carrots and celery which are cut into 1 cm rounds sauté until they begin to change colour; lower the heat, leave to cook 5 minutes.
- Add the spices and mix them with vegetables, the heat will release their aromas.
- Add the chickpeas and 800 ml vegetable stock or water. Add the saffron strands and bring to a boil, lower the heat; simmer covered for 10 minutes.
- Add the pumpkin cubes, mix and leave to simmer for 15 minutes or until tender.
- Take two ladlefuls of soup mixture and cream in a blender.
- Return to the soup to give it a smooth texture.
- Just before serving, stir the chopped parsley in, it will add fresh fragrance to the stew.
- Serve plain or with a dollop of garlic yogurt.