Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Solstice Cassoulet: Squash & Anasazi Beans

The season of "the longest night" is upon us, when dark chilly days call out for warming, substantial foods like this savory cassoulet. Anasazi beans, winter squash and chile peppers imbue it with a distinctive southwestern flavor as well as many healthy nutrients. Adjust the level of spicy heat to suit your taste! Black beans, pintos, kidney beans or adzuki beans are all equally suitable for this dish.

Just two simple steps are involved in preparing the recipe. First the beans are simmered with the aromatic vegetables; then the squash and spices are added and cooked for a few more minutes. The cassoulet's flavor deepens with time; if made in advance it may be safely stored in the fridge for several days.

Cassoulet of Winter Squash and Anasazi Beans:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup leek, finely sliced
1 rib celery, diced
1 large carrot, sliced
2 cups Anasazi or other beans, soaked and drained
1 bay leaf
5 + cups fresh water
1 medium winter squash, cubed
1-2 red chile peppers thinly sliced (optional)
2 teaspoons maple syrup (optional)
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
1- 2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon oregano or marjoram
1 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
1- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice for garnish
2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro or parsley for garnish
1-2 red chile peppers, thinly sliced for garnish

Heat olive oil in a heavy pan; saute leek and celery until fragrant. Add carrot and continue to saute briefly. Add beans, bay leaf and water and bring to a simmer. Cover beans and cook on a low to medium flame until just tender, about 45- 50 minutes. Stir in squash, chile pepper, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, paprika, oregano and sea salt. Simmer until squash is tender but not mushy, adding more water if needed. Remove from heat and adjust seasoning. Serve cassoulet very hot with a generous sprinkling of fresh lemon juice, chopped cilantro or parsley and additional chile pepper as desired.

Note: The backyard birds in my neighborhood seem to appreciate all manner of squash seeds when I am too lazy to prepare them for human consumption.