Wednesday, October 17, 2012


I just love to look at the fall vegetables when they come into the market especially winter squash.  There are so many varieties, colors and shapes spilling out of the produce bins.  Some of these squash I recognize as old friends, a few that I am acquainted with, and many I’ve never met before but I hope to be introduced to. 
Acorn squash is an old friend I was glad to see again; so glad to see in fact, that I build a whole meal around it!  Winter Vegetable Stew is such an easy and healthy meal to throw together.  If you want to keep it vegan, you just throw all the ingredients into a slow cooker and fugetaboutit!  Pearl barley and chick peas (garbanzo beans) provide protein making this a terrific one pot meal.
Billy has to have meat, so I browned some chicken thighs and threw those into the crock, which made this a two pot meal, but still super simple. 
I can hear some murmuring  out there,“Brown the chicken?  Why doesn’t she just throw the chicken into the crock, it will cook in the slow cooker just fine?”  It will cook, but browning your meat before adding it to the slow cooker will give the dish so much more flavor…so please trust me and always brown your meat first; you’ll be glad you did.
I used warm spices in this stew that are used often in North African cooking.  For me the cayenne is important to balance out the spices and the sweetness that comes from the sweet potato and the pear.  The aromas wafting through the house were AMAZING; and the flavors were slightly exotic, but perfectly suited to each other!
Keep it vegan, or add chicken, either way Winter Vegetable Stew is so yummy that you won’t even notice that it’s good for you too!
Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper.
Dredge it in flour.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high.  Once the oil is hot, add the butter.
start the chicken skin side down, don’t over crowd the skillet or the chicken will steam instead of brown.

I love my splatter screen.  Smooch!
When the chicken is pretty and brown remove it to the crock of a slow cooker.  There’s no need to cook the chicken all the way through, it’s going to cook for 4 more hours. 

Deglaze the skillet with a cup of water, scraping all the yummy bits of goodness from the bottom of the pan.  Add this to the crock as well.
Cut the acorn squash in half.  Use a big, sharp knife to achieve this.  There may be some grunting and banging of the squash to get the knife through, don’t ask me how I know this.
Scoop the seeds out with a spoon, just discard those.
Peel the acorn squash with a sharp knife.
Cut the squash halves into wedges or large cubes.
Cut the onions and celery into a nice large dice.
Smash and chop the garlic.
Look at the pretty colors of the parsnip, carrot and sweet potato.
This is an easy way to remove the core from a pear.  Cut the pear into quarters, lay the pear flat, and angle the knife down and cut the core away
Then dice the pear.
I planned in advance and used dried chick peas that I had soaked overnight.  Dried beans really do have better texture and flavor than canned. I don’t always think that far ahead however, so I sometimes used canned beans.
I soaked extra chick peas so that I could make hummus while the stew was cooking!
I usually only have the large cans of whole tomatoes, so I measured out 1 cup and broke up the tomatoes; if you have a smaller can of tomatoes feel free to add the whole can.
Throw the vegetables, pear, chick peas, pearl barley and vegetable or chicken stock into the crock.
Add the spices and herbs.  I like to break the cinnamon stick and the bay leaves in two pieces.
Taste the liquid for seasoning.  If the liquid is bland, your stew will be bland; so add salt if needed.
Put the lid on the pot, turn the slow cooker to high, and cook the stew for 3 ½ hours.
After 3 ½ hours, make a slurry with the corn starch and a little cold water.  Stir it into the stew, being gentle as to not break up the chicken thighs.
Put the lid back on and cook the stew for another 30 minutes.
This goes perfect with a loaf of crusty bread.
Serves 8
8                             Chicken thighs *optional
1/3          cup         All-purpose flour* for the chicken
1              Tbsp.     Olive oil* to cook the chicken
1              Tbsp.     Butter* to cook the chicken
1 ½          lbs.         Acorn squash
1                            Medium onion, large dice
1              stalk      Celery, large dice
1                            Medium carrot, large dice
1                             small parsnip, large dice
1                              Small sweet potato, large dice
1                              Bosc or Barlette pear, diced large
2              cloves    Garlic, chopped
½             cup         Dried Chick peas that have soaked overnight (this will yield about 1 ¼ cups of hydrated chick peas), or 1- 15 ounce can of chick peas.
¾              cup         Pearl barley
1              cup         Canned, diced tomatoes with juice
1              qt.           Vegetable or chicken stock, low sodium
1              cup         Water
1              tsp.         Ground cumin
¼             tsp.          All spice
½             tsp.         Cayenne pepper
1                              Cinnamon stick, broken into two
2                              Bay leaves
12           sprigs     Fresh thyme, tied into a bundle with kitchen twine (or 1 tsp. of dried)
                                Salt and pepper to taste
1             Tbsp.      Corn starch
1.       *Season the both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper; be generous.
2.       *Dredge the chicken in flour.
3.       *Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, add the butter and put the chicken in the hot skillet skin side down, do not over crowd the pan.  There’s no need to cook the chicken all the way through, just brown both sides of the chicken, and remove the chicken to the crock of a slow cooker (Crock Pot).
4.       *Use the cup of water to deglaze the skillet, scraping the bottom to release the bits, add this to the crock.  (If you’re making this vegan, then add the water to the crock with the other ingredients.)
5.       Use a large, sharp knife to cut the acorn squash in half.
6.       Scape the seeds out with a spoon.
7.       Peel the squash with a sharp knife.
8.       Cut the squash halves into wedges, or large cubes; add the squash into the crock.
9.       Put the remaining ingredients EXCEPT for the corn starch into the crock.
10.   Taste the liquid for seasoning; add salt for your taste.
11.   Put the lid on and cook on high for 3 ½ hours.
12.   In a small bowl make a slurry by mixing 1 Tbsp. of corn starch with 1/3 cup of cold water.  Stir this into the stew, put the lid back on and cook for 30 minutes more.

Hey!  Check out more healthy recipes at:  Simple Meal Fridays


  1. This looks amazing, Kari. Makes me all warm inside.

  2. 40 something here this morning - although I hate it, I want summer back - That looks perfect!

  3. Vegan for me please! This looks very comforting :)

  4. this looks so warm and yummy! Thank you for sharing with Simple Meals Friday! I hope you join us again this week!

  5. I realise this is really late, but I've been desperately trying to find a squash stew recipe that features neither meat nor chickpeas. Do you think this would work with extra barley rather than the chickpeas, please? Or SOMETHING else that's not legumes?

    1. You can absolutely leave the chickpeas out of this recipe. Barley really absorbs liquid, so I might only increase the amount of barley to 1 cup.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Apologies for the lateness of my question, but I've only just found this. I've been desperately trying to find a squash stew that features neither meat nor chickpeas (or ANY legumes). Do you think this might work with extra barley rather than the chickpeas? Or something else? Even white beans would be a happier option if you think they'd work. I appreciate any suggestions, & thanks for the recipe--except for the chickpeas it sounds marvelous.

    1. I'm sorry, I had misunderstood you the first time thinking that you didn't want beans of any kind. Canellini beans, or black eyed peas can be substituted for the chick peas if you would prefer. You may even leave the beans out and increase the amount of barley to 1 cup.