North African elements permeate this hearty vegetarian stew. One of these elements is harissa, a fiery (some might say blistering) red chile paste. You can purchase it, in jars or tubes, in the international section of urban supermarkets or in stores that cater to a mid-east clientele. You can also make it–there are, as with so many condiments, multitudinous variations, so I will leave it to you to choose one that appeals to your palate. You can also substitute other ethnic chile pastes or whatever hot sauce you have on hand. Do keep the ingredient in the stew, it’s just the thing for these cold winter nights. Serve this, traditionally, over couscous or over other cooked grains (I’ve had this stew with pasta.).

2 T vegetable oil
1 c finely chopped onion
3 – 4 minced garlic gloves
salt, to taste
1 t ground coriander
1 t ground cumin
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 t (smoked) paprika
3 c (peeled) diced beets
2 1/2 c water or vegetable stock
2 – 3 T harissa or other hot paste or sauce, or to taste
3 c (peeled) diced winter squash
2 c diced (peeled) radish or Japanese turnips, or a combination
2 c cooked chickpeas; or other cooked beans
1/4 c (golden) raisins or other dried fruit, chopped up if necessary
1 T honey or agave syrup
1 1/2 t finely grated lemon zest
fresh, chopped cilantro, for garnish, optional but really good

1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other large pot, or a large, deep skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and a good dash of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic, more salt to taste, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, and paprika, stirring to combine with the onions. Cook until fragrant, about a minute or so.

2. Stir in the beets, water, and harissa. Increase the heat and bring to a simmer. Keep the simmer going for about 10 minutes, stirring now and then. Add the squash, radish, beans, raisins, and honey. Return to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and cook for about 45 minutes, stirring every so often. You want the vegetables to be tender but not falling apart.

3. Taste for seasonings. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon zest. Serve over grain of choice garnished with cilantro.