Squash, Sweet potato & Chickpea Stew

I love flying in the rain. That may sound like an odd thing to like. Most people have a problem with this, but not me. Sure, these flights can be tedious before take-off but in the rain, there is a slowing down of things. The little window shows you a shiny tarmac in a world washed clean. People in cheery neon raincoats scurry about their jobs working to get your flight going on its way, hardly minding the dull weather. The bright orange cones and yellow leader signs dot the grey landscape, firmly guiding the planes. They lie scattered amidst the large gleaming tubes that lugubriously lumber about like lounging whales. It seems impossible that any of them could get moving with any amount of haste, let alone take off the ground and into the air. I love the unfolding choreographed drama of it all.

The drops of rain steadily trickle down the  window reminding me as they always do now of the title sequence of the movie The Matrix. I turn to check my IPad to see if I have a copy of it on there. I don’t, so I continue to watch the rain. It will be time to turn off electronic devices soon anyway.

Despite having been on numerous flights, I still have that breathless moment at take-off when it feels like this tin can I am in is straining every nerve and will likely never manage to pull off the take off. But, slowly, then with growing urgency, it always does. The ground falls away along with all of the roads, buildings and people on it.

Soon we’re up into the clouds, the vapor trailing off the shiny wings of the plan, cutting through the seeded rain clouds like butter. This is where take off during the rain is so much different than if the day were clear. There is clarity here. There are thick clouds. You disappear into them quite suddenly and when you look around there is nothing to see, only whitewash. It’s a bit alarming how easy and quick it is to lose any spatial reference. You wonder if you will make it out or if you will continue to fly like this forever. Then just like that, the clouds break away and you see that glorious sun, hidden away from the world below behind the very clouds you broke through.
The clouds now fluff out below you like so much cotton candy. You catch a glint of silver in snatches and realize that’s the ocean spilled out below. It takes your breath away and you spend the rest of your flight trying to keep catching another glimpse.

Give me take off in the rain over a sunny day any time. The wonder of it all turns your humdrum flight into a place of enchantment.

Stews, I think, possess such magic of their own. You throw a few ingredients into a pot and with a little time and some steady application of heat, you get this amazing brew that is so much more than the sum of its parts. You become the magician in the kitchen, wielding the power to dispel the gloom. You become the creator of comfort.

I got back home from a day’s trip one evening to find a butternut squash and a few sweet potatoes was all I had for dinner. No aromatics, no fresh herbs, nothing else. I did have a few cans of fire-roasted tomato in my pantry and with that I put together this spiced and very fortifying stew. While I’m a fan of whole spices at any time, it in the winter they really deliver that much needed heat. The fire-roasted tomatoes bring a big punch of flavour here, the kind that you might not get even after long hours of cooking a dish.

I used crème fraîche because I had this in the fridge. If I had cream, I might have used that instead. I wanted a thick, filling stew to ladle over some quickly cooked couscous. You can reduce the quantity if you wish, or you can leave it out and add some more yogurt. The gravy will just be a bit thinner. This is a great stew for dunking bread. The tender bite of the squash contrasts well with the more deliberate textures of the sweet potato and nut-like bite of the chickpea. It’s a great stew to make when you find yourself without aromatics. You won’t miss them at all. You can always use regular chilli powder but the flavour of adobo chilli powder is spectacular here.

Squash, Sweet potato & Chickpea Stew
Makes about 6 servings

Butternut squash – 1, medium, chopped into 1 inch chunks
Sweet potatoes – 3, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
Canned Chickpea (Garbanzo beans) – 1 can, drained and rinsed
Fire roasted tomatoes – 1-1/2 cup
Star anise – 3
Peppercorn – 6
Black Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Cumin seeds – 2 tsp
Bay leaf – 1
Cloves – 4
Adobo Chilli powder – 2 tsp
Crème fraîche – 3/4 cup
Yogurt – 1-1/2 cup
Sugar – a pinch to balance the flavours
Olive oil for frying
Salt as needed

– Place a large stainless steel or non-stick pot (one with a fitted lid) over medium high heat. Add a couple of turns of oil.
– When the oil shimmers, add the mustard seeds, bay leaf, cumin seeds, cloves, peppercorn & star anise to the pot.
– When the mustard and cumin start to splutter, add the butternut squash and sweet potato pieces. Fry in the tempered oil for about ten or so minutes until the vegetables turn slightly golden brown. Add the chickpeas.
– Add the roasted tomatoes, yogurt and creme fraiche and mix to coat all the vegetables. Add the chilli powder.
– Mix everything well. Add a cup of water. Let the stew come to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pot and let the stew cook for about twenty or so minutes, until the squash and potatoes are cooked through.

Serve over rice, couscous or grain of your choice. Tastes even better the next day when the flavours have has a chance to marry.



  1. Nupur

    That stew looks seriously tempting. You’re using all sorts of interesting spices here- can’t remember the last time I used star anise.

    I hate flying..in the sun, in the rain, in all sorts of weather 🙂

    • Sharmila

      Thanks Nupur. I love star anise, but even so don’t get to use it as often as I’d like.
      The joy of flying lies outside the window for me. It’s pretty uncomfortable on the inside.

  2. Siri (@Sirime)

    Your post reminded me of all the flights I took all alone while living in US. Once I was stranded on Chicago airport runway for 2 hours due to rain (not a fun thing at all). Having said that, rain has its own character and is perceived differently by each one of us. To me, its just magical – in a plane or not! I love the stew you whipped up there. A combination rarely made by me. I should just give it a try sometime.