'Off the Books': One-Pot Spicy Squash Stew
Seasonal, affordable meals cooked from scratch. It’s the holy grail of modern home cooking, and yet how many of us manage this every day? At the end of a busy day, the last thing we want is to spend ages following complicated recipes, full of ingredients we’d have to buy specially.
So, unless you’re a fully-fledged domestic goddess with plenty of time on your hands you can forget regular home-cooking, right? Well, not quite. Why not take a leaf out of your grandmother’s book and commit to memory a repertoire of basic meals – off the recipe book. These basic dishes can be customised to suit your family’s taste, budget, fridge contents, as well as the season.
Stews make good use of seasonal vegetables, and what better in the autumn than the squash, with its burnt orange colours and warm flavours. Using just one cooking pot – a heavy-bottomed pan – you can quickly create a welcoming meal and have fun experimenting. You can play with herb and spice combinations, adding meat or fish to ring the changes.I make double the quantity of this squash stew to save time the following evening, when I'll add prawns and some mangetout.
There are, of course, pitfalls to one-pot cooking. The 'chuck it all in' approach can lead to bland or confusing flavours. You can guard against this by focusing on a star ingredient and building complementary flavours around it. (Take fennel, so often the bridesmaid as an accompanying vegetable, it can take centre stage when backed with potato, cream and garlic in a smooth winter white soup. Some combinations such as scallops with lime and red chilli are tried and tested, others can come about by happy accident such as star anise ice cream.)
Err on the side of caution with chillies until you’re used to judging the likely heat. The aim is more spicy than hot, which means it suits everyone (including my fussy thirteen year-old). Also beware the one-note dish – there’s a risk of perhaps too much creaminess in the combination of squash and coconut milk. Counter this with texture - crunchy spring onion slices - and a touch of sharpness from lemon juice, or perhaps green peppers.
Spicy Autumn Squash Stew
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small red chilli, very finely chopped (or dried red chilli flakes, to taste)
1 red pepper, cut into short strips
6 spring onions, sliced diagonally
1 tsp ground coriander
1 medium butternut or red onion squash, peeled, deseeded, and rough cut into 2cm/1in pieces
2 handfuls cherry tomatoes, halved
400ml/14fl oz coconut milk
½ lemon, juice only
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
small bunch coriander, leaves and stalks chopped separately
1. Heat the oil in a a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the onion, garlic, chilli, red pepper and spring onions and cook gently for about five minutes until soft.
2. Add the ground coriander and cook for a minute then add the squash, coriander stalks, and tomatoes. Cook this for a further five minutes.
3. Add the coconut milk and simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes or until the squash is tender.
4. Add the lemon juice, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and sprinkle over the coriander leaves. Serve with white or brown basmati rice
- Substitute sweet potatoes for the squash and half a 400ml/14fl oz can chopped tomatoes for the cherry tomatoes
- Add green pepper and half a 400ml/14fl oz can drained chickpeas
- Add 3-4 skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
- Add about 200g/7oz prawns, a handful of mangetout, and a dash of fish sauce
What's your favourite one-pot stew to riff on?
Katharine Reeve teaches food writing and publishing at Bath Spa University, and is the co-author of the Rough Guide to Food.