Many moons ago, I was a Montessori teacher (or Directress as we are known in the IAPM world). I worked with many wonderful women from Sri Lanka and India who introduced me to their amazingly flavorful cuisines. They would giggle at my white bread sandwiches and I would watch in awe as they would eat curries and rice dishes with chilies and spices I had never seen. It was an eye opening experience for a young adult from Orange County, California to encounter culture from so far away.
While curry was never my favorite, I came to love the diversity of flavors Indian cuisine had to offer. Spicy, sweet, tart, and earthy, the dishes these amazing women brought to work with them were never boring like my food was! As I became a mother and soon after moved to Texas, I began to miss the deliciously fragrant dishes that would be cooking in our Montessori school’s kitchen during lunch time.
One day I ran across a recipe on The Food Network website for an Indian Summer Stew made with pigeon peas (yellow split peas), butternut squash, and shredded coconut that piqued my interest. It was finished by frying flavorful spices in oil and tempering them with some of the finished stew. Husband and my then toddler loved this colorful dish and we ate it often during my second pregnancy. As time went on, I forgot about this stew and moved on to exploring Asian and Mexican faire.
Until last week, that is.
During my weekly meal planning session, I remembered this beautiful dish. It features a good dose of turmeric, which is one of my favorite spices and also uses whole mustard seeds, which is not something I cook with often. I knew I could make it oil free and vegan fairly easily, but looking at my week, I knew I needed to convert it to a slow cooker meal to fit my busy schedule. I planned to have ingredients in the fridge for some filling salads just in case this turned into a kitchen disaster.
This slow cooker version of the stew turned out EVEN BETTER than I remember! The flavors are balanced, the ingredients are simple, the texture is both soft and tooth-some (due to the shredded coconut), and it cooks for you-which is honestly the best part. Instead of frying the spices in oil, I toasted them in a dry skillet first and then added some of liquid from the stew to get the mustard seeds to soften and release their flavor. That extra step took less than 2 minutes right before serving and it was totally, totally worth it. Have all the ingredients for the finishing spices ready next to your stove before you turn it on. But whatever you do, DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!
I served this stew with some brown rice that I had made on my meal prep day and a simple green salad to make it a very filling and satisfying dinner. It’s safe to say I won’t be forgetting about this dish again any time soon.
Slow Cooker Indian Summer Stew
adapted from The Food Network
- 2 cups yellow split pigeon peas (you can use green, but be warned that the color of the finished stew will not look appetizing!)
- 2 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced into 1/2 in cubes (use the pre-cut butternut squash in the freezer section to save time!)
- 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 7 cups low sodium vegetable stock
For Finishing Spices:
- 2 teaspoons whole mustard seeds (yellow or brown)
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1.5 Tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 limes, juiced
- 1 cup fresh cilantro, minced
Optional for Serving: Cooked brown rice, basmati rice, or quinoa. Save yourself time and make your grains on your meal prep day or cheat and use the oil-free microwave versions from the store. Don’t worry, I won’t tell.
- Rinse the pigeon peas in cold water until the water runs clear.
- Combine the butternut squash, drained pigeon peas, tomato, coconut, turmeric, cumin, and stock in the slow cooker.
- Cook on low for 6-8 hours, or high for 5.
- Check that the pigeon peas are softened to your desired texture.
- For Finishing Spices: In a small skillet, toast the mustard seeds over medium heat for 30-60 seconds until they are fragrant.
- Add a ladle full of the stew liquid to the skillet and when the mustard seeds soften (or stop popping-about 1 minute) add the red pepper flakes, garlic, and salt. Swirl the skillet so the contents cook evenly, and cook another 10 seconds.
- Pour the contents of the skillet into the slow cooker. Spoon another ladleful of soup back into the skillet, (it will sizzle!), swirl around to collect any leftover spices, and pour back into the slow cooker.
- Finish with the maple syrup, lime juice, and cilantro.
- Adjust the seasonings, to taste, and serve immediately with the grain of your choice.
- Store any leftovers in a lidded container in the fridge for 3-5 days.
Do you have any world cuisines that you love? Share with us in the comments below!
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