Eric Akis: Slow cooker, plus vegetarian request equals chickpea stew

Eric Akis

I was in my basement recently and noticed my slow cooker sitting on a shelf — I realized I hadn’t used it in a while. That changed when I received a request from a reader for a recipe made in that popular kitchen appliance.

About the same time that request came in, another reader sent me a note wondering why I don’t offer more vegetarian recipes.

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So, for today’s column, I decided to create a heavenly spiced vegetarian chickpea stew that was, you guessed it, simmered in a slow cooker.

A slow cooker is a fairly uncomplicated cooking device that consists of a metal container that has a heating element inside its walls. A heavy ceramic cooking pot sits inside that container.

When the slow cooker is turned on, the element heats up the pot, but does not directly touch it, which prevents foods from sticking and scorching. As the food slowly cooks in the pot, steam also rises, hits the lid and drops back down on the food, preventing it from drying out, even after hours of cooking.

I made my vegetable-rich, slow-cooker chickpea stew Mediterranean/Middle Eastern in style by flavouring it with such things as orange, olive oil and a mix of spices, such as cumin, smoked paprika and coriander. I’ve also given you the option to top portions of it with harissa, a North African-style red paste of chilies.

The recipe makes about seven cups of stew, four to six servings, depending on the size of your appetite. I like to serve the stew with couscous or rice and pita bread. Any leftover stew, once cooled to room temperature, will freeze well.

Slow Cooker Chickpea Stew with Aromatic Spices and Vegetables

In this easy vegetarian dish, chickpeas, a mix of vegetables, raisins and aromatic spices are slowly simmered into flavourful stew. Its flavour is enhanced even more when servings are topped with tangy yogurt or cultured coconut milk, palate-awakening harissa and fresh herb leaves.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Slow cooker time: Six hours

Makes: Four to six servings

1 (28-oz/798 mL) can whole Italian San Marzano plum (roma) tomatoes (see Note 1)

1 (19 oz./540 mL) can chickpeas, drained, rinsed in cold water and drained again

1 cup vegetable stock

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, diced (see Note 2)

1 medium carrot, diced

1 medium green pepper, diced

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup golden raisins

2 tsp finely grated orange zest

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp salt, plus more as needed

1 1/2 cups packed baby spinach, thickly sliced

• thick plain yogurt, or plain cultured coconut milk, to taste

• mild or spicy harissa, to taste (optional; see Note 3)

• small, whole fresh mint, cilantro or Italian parsley leaves, to taste

Open and pour the can of whole tomatoes into your slow cooker (see Note 4). Use your fingers or a potato masher to break the tomatoes into fairly small chunks.

Add the chickpeas, stock, olive oil, onion, carrot, green pepper, garlic, raisins, orange zest, cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne pepper and 1/2 tsp salt and mix to combine.

Cover and cook the chickpea stew on the low setting for six hours, or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the spinach and cook a few minutes more, until it just wilts and is hot.

Taste and season the chickpea stew with salt, if needed.

Top portions of the stew with a dollop of yogurt or cultured coconut milk, a small spoonful of the harissa, if using, and some mint, cilantro or parsley leaves.

Note 1: Deep-red canned Italian San Marzano plum tomatoes are sold at Italian food stores and many supermarkets. They give this stew a nice, rich tomato flavour.

Note 2: Diced in this recipe means to cut into 1/4- to 1/2-cubes.

Note 3: Harissa is sold in jars in the condiment aisle of some supermarkets. It’s also sold at specialty food stores selling Middle Eastern foods. I bought it in Victoria at Alia Halal Meat and Deli, 2618 Quadra St. (halalmeat2u.com). If you would like to make your own harissa, you can find my recipe for it on the Times Colonist website, timescolonist.com, by searching “Eric Akis harissa.”

Note 4: This recipe is designed for a slow cooker with a four- to six-litre capacity. I tested it in an oval-shaped slow cooker that had a five-litre capacity.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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