Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Eric Akis: Winter squash a vegetarian alternative in this stew

Sturdy vegetable and a complementary mix of other ingredients simmer up flavourful dish
Chunks of squash, and two types of beans, star in this hearty, southwest-style stew. ERIC AKIS

If you’re in the mood for a rib-sticking, comforting winter dish, but don’t want meat to play the lead role, buy and cube up some winter squash instead. With that sturdy vegetable and a complementary mix of other ingredients you can simmer up very flavourful, southwest-style stew.

To make it, I started by sautéing some diced onions and bell peppers until softened. Minced garlic and seasonings, such as ancho chili powder, oregano, cumin and smoked paprika, were mixed in and heated a short while, allowing their flavours to bloom.

The next step was to add the cubed squash, which could be types such as banana or butternut, along with some tinned tomato products, vegetable broth, corn kernels, drained canned black beans and drained canned pinto beans. The stew was then simmered until the squash was tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.

If you’ve not heard of them before, ancho chili powder is made from dried ancho chilies, and has a sweet, fruity flavour and mild spice level that can add a pleasing warmth to a stew or other dish it’s added to. Smoked paprika is a sweet type of paprika where the peppers used to make it are smoked before being dried and ground. It, not surprisingly, gives a stew or other dish it’s added to an appealing, smoky flavour. Both of those spices are sold in the bottled herb/spice aisle of most grocery stores.

When the squash and bean stew was done simmering, it was ladled into serving bowls and dressed up, to taste, with such things as chopped cilantro (or sliced green onion), dollops of sour cream (or plain yogurt) and/or small cubes of ripe avocado. For a filling meal, you could serve the stew with some steamed rice and tortilla chips, for dunking into it.

With regard to the latter, the crisp and appealing chia-flecked tortilla chips you see in the recipe photo were made by Saanichton-based Adriana’s The Whole Enchilada. Bags of those chips are sold at some Vancouver Island food stores and they are listed on that company’s website,

While enjoying the squash and bean stew, take heart in knowing the cholesterol-free beans, squash and other vegetables in it provide such things as vitamin C and A, protein, fibre, iron and other minerals.

Ancho Chili Spiced Squash and Bean Stew

Hearty, comforting stew, made by simmering cubes of winter squash with other vegetables, two types of beans, oregano and aromatic, flavour enhancing spices.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 30 to 35 minutes

Makes: four to six servings

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 small to medium green bell pepper, diced

1 small to medium orange or red bell pepper, diced

2 medium garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp ancho chili powder

2 tsp dried oregano

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 (28 oz./796 mL) can diced tomatoes

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can tomato sauce or 1 3/4 cups strained tomatoes (passata di pomodoro)

1 1/4 cups vegetable broth

4 cups peeled banana, butternut or other winter squash, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 550 grams)

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can black beans, drained, rinsed in cold water and drained again (see Note)

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can pinto beans, drained, rinsed in cold water and drained again

1 cup frozen corn kernels

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• chopped cilantro or thinly sliced green onions, to taste

1 medium to large ripe avocado, cut into small cubes avocado (optional)

• sour cream or plain yogurt, to taste (optional)

• Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce, to taste (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot set over medium, medium-high heat (my pot was eight-inches wide). Add the onion and bell peppers and cook and stir until softened, about four minutes. Mix in the garlic, chili powder, oregano, cumin and paprika and cook and stir one minute more. Now add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce (or passata), stock, squash, drain beans and corn (the stew will look thick, but will thin out as the vegetables cook).

Bring the stew to a gentle simmer, and then lower heat as needed to maintain that gentle simmer. Simmer stew, uncovered, 20 to 25 minutes, or until the squash is tender and stew is rich and flavourfull. Taste the stew and season it with salt and pepper, as needed.

Ladle the stew into serving bowls and top each serving with some chopped cilantro (or sliced green onions) and, if using, some cubed avocado and a dollop of sour cream (or yogurt). Serve the stew with Tabasco (or other hot pepper sauce), to sprinkle on it at the table, if desired.

Note: If you want to use dried beans in the stew, instead of canned, 1/2 cup dried black beans, and 1/2 cup dried pinto beans, when soaked and simmered until tender, should yield the four cups of drained, canned beans used in the recipe.

Saanich Winter Vegetable Recipe Contest

If you enjoy creating dishes made with local ingredients, are 19 and over and live in Saanich, write down one of your recipes. Why? So you can enter it in a contest being held by a climate-action group called Cedar Hill Urban Food Farmers (CHUFF), an initiative of the Quadra Cedar Hill Community Association.

If you’re interested, the recipe must be vegetarian and 75 per cent of your recipe must be made from B.C. grown produce, produce you recently bought from a food store or farm market, and/or produce you grew yourself or purchased locally and preserved for winter use. Greenhouse-grown produce is not allowed in the recipe, but B.C. egg and cheese ingredients are. Each recipe submission must include an original photo of your prepared recipe.

To learn how to submit your recipe and photo and about other contest rules, go to the contest’s website

The deadline for recipe submissions is Feb. 10. Eligible recipes that are submitted will be entered into a random draw for prizes donated by local businesses supporting this initiative, including The Root Cellar, Borden’s Mercantile, Babe’s Honey Farm, Full Circle Seeds and Caffe Fantastico.

“I think most folks are just beginning to realize the impact our food choices have in the climate crisis,” says CHUFF founder Sher Morgan. “What we consume matters. And the contest is a fun way to celebrate our local farmers and food producers and the amazing food choices they offer us in Saanich.”

[email protected]

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.