North African Bean Stew with Barley and Winter Squash

SUPER BOWL TIME!!! Yes the Super Bowl is tomorrow!!! We have been invited to what I know will be a wonderful party held in a private room at an Irish pub in midtown. How do I know it will be great? Well first of all we love this couple and she is a professional, highly successful event planner and he is a wine expert and a Broncos fan!! So we will don our orange and be set to root for his team. Should be loads of fun!!

This is unusual for us as we typically have a few folks over for a small Super Bowl party at our apartment. If you are having friends over, may I suggest my Super Easy Nachos, delicious (and easy) Spicy Chicken Chili along with a wedge of Cornbread, with or without the cheese sticks. And if you’re feeling even more adventurous and healthy, try this new recipe out.

North African Bean stew - finished in a white bowl

Sorry this bowl is a little messy with overflow!

This is a total big bowl of soothing deliciousness. There is no better way to describe it. Complete, deep, yumminess with unique spices and flavors to perk up your palette. I don’t usually like to post time consuming recipes. I want this blog to encourage and show you how to cook healthy delicious meals that are not hard or take that much time. But here, I have to make an exception, because this recipe from Melissa Clark of The New York Times for her North African Bean Stew with Barley and Winter Squash is so wonderful, I just have to share.

A word of warning though – start this early in the morning if you want to use dried beans. Or do it in two weekends as I did. At one point, I had my doubts and swore that it had better be good!! (You’ve been there, right?)

And you know what?

This one delivered. It’s that good. Yes, it really is.

And it’s totally meatless and even my husband had two bowls and really LOVED it! No discussion about it being meatless because its flavors are so rich! (Well actually I put a little bacon in the beans when cooking them, but that is not necessary.)

The nice thing about it is the combination of spices. Melissa has you make up a Baharat, which is a Middle Eastern spice mix. This creates an intense and soothing flavor base, a little like a curry but different, and I am very excited to use this on all sorts of things such as chicken, pork, lamb, perhaps a sprinkle in steamed rice, certainly roasted delicata, acorn or butternut squash. I even think it might be good on some roasted sole or flounder. I’m looking forward to having fun with this one!

Also in this article, she definitely recommends you cook your own dried beans as opposed to using canned and she eschews soaking them overnight to encourage you to do this. Just go ahead and start cooking them right away in salted water. Usually they tell you to salt only near the end of cooking, but she claims the salt integrates better into the bean if you start in salted water and I do think she’s right! It worked out well for me. So I’ve outlined what I did for my beans below.

Make this with LOVE and EVERYONE will be so happy!! Please note, I have changed some things from her original recipe – but of course!

NORTH AFRICAN BEAN STEW WITH BARLEY AND WINTER SQUASH – adapted from Melissa Clark of The New York Times

⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
2 leeks, white and green parts, diced
1 bunch cilantro, leaves and stems separated
1 cup finely diced fennel, fronds reserved (1/2 large fennel bulb)
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 ½  Tbs. baharat (see note)
1 cinnamon stick
2 Tbs. tomato paste
2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth, preferably homemade
½ cup pearled or regular barley
2 ½ tsp. kosher salt, more as needed
Large pinch of saffron, crumbled
4 cups cooked beans or chickpeas
2 cups peeled and diced butternut squash (1 small squash)
¾ cup peeled and diced turnip (1 medium)
½ cup red lentils
Plain Greek yogurt, for serving
Aleppo pepper for serving

Browning leeks in a Le Creuset pot.In a large pot over medium heat, heat oil and cook leeks until they begin to brown, 10 to 12 minutes.


Cilantro stems, leaves and a cut lime on a wooden cutting board.

This is a pain to do – separating the stems and leaves of cilantro. Note that the lime was for my Lillet cocktail!

Finely chop cilantro stems. Stir into pot, along with diced fennel and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes. Stir in baharat, cinnamon and tomato paste, and cook until paste begins to caramelize, about 2 minutes.

Stir in broth, 3 cups water, the barley and the salt. Bring to a gentle boil, stir in saffron, and reduce heat to medium. Simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Stir in beans, squash, turnip and lentils; cook until barley is tender, about another 20 to 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, if desired. Remove cinnamon stick.

Ladle stew into bowls. Spoon a dollop of yogurt on top and drizzle with olive oil. Garnish with cilantro leaves, fennel fronds and Aleppo pepper.

Making the Baharat or Middle Eastern Spice Mix.

Lots of different spices go into this!

Baharat is a Middle Eastern spice mix. You can buy it at specialty markets or make your own.

To make it, combine:

2 Tbs. sweet paprika
1 Tbs. ground coriander
1 Tbs. ground cumin
1 Tbs. ground turmeric
2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. grated nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. allspice.

To cook the beans:

1 lb. of dried cannellini beans
½ of a thick slice of bacon, chopped, optional
2 tsp. coarse sea salt
25 grinds of black pepper
1 celery stalk, sliced in half lengthwise and then cut in 4 pieces
1 carrot, peeled, sliced in half lengthwise and then cut in 4 pieces
1 medium yellow onion, peeled trimmed and quartered
4 whole cloves – to stud each onion quarter
1 large or 2 small dried bay leaves

Ideally, you can soak the beans overnight before cooking. They say that soaking does have benefits. It will help beans cook faster and more evenly, and it can help leach out the intestinal-distress-causing sugars that some people are particularly sensitive to. But if you don’t have time, just carry on!

Place one pound of dried cannellini beans in a large pot. Cover with water, swish around to rinse and drain water.

Cover with fresh cold water again, at least 3 inches above the beans. Add in everything else and stir. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer, partially cover and cook for 2 – 3 hours. This depends on your beans. They should be soft and creamy inside to be done. If you take a bean between your two fingers, it should smash easily. Taste one – they need to be tender all the way through but still firm and intact.

When beans are done, do not drain the water, otherwise the skins will come off and they’ll be very messy. Let them cool in the liquid. Remove the vegetables. Lift 4 cups of beans out with a slotted spoon to use in the stew recipe. Save remaining beans in a good amount of liquid in a container. This freezes well for another time or store in the refrigerator for 5 – 7 days.

What to do with your extra beans? Warm them up with some of their liquid, add minced garlic, a good drizzle of olive oil, some grated parmigiano and fresh ground pepper, or a dash of vinegar or lemon juice. Enjoy!!