I’m not a big fan of change, especially when it involves chilly winds and less sunlight. But one thing I always look forward to when the weather starts getting gloomier is Halloween. Not because, growing up, it was acceptable to dress up as a princess and run around begging for candy and not even because I was allowed to eat that candy afterwards. It’s actually because of the story underlying this now overly-commercialized holiday.
According to Celtic lore, Samhain is a night when the when the lines between worlds thin and inclined spirits can pass into the world of the living. Although many spirits were believed to be well-intentioned, there was also a notion that the blurry borders left one especially vulnerable to spiritual attack on the night of October 31st. To avoid this, the townspeople would wear masks that were intended to scare away the evil ghosts. And–so–Halloween, in essence, has always been a holiday of masks.
And that’s what makes this dish so perfect for my favorite holiday: each part wears a mask of the other. The dark brown beans have donned a pepper-studded, reddish-orange costume while the orange squash has chosen a dark brown disguise. Both exist in harmony, one inside the bowl and one out, but tonight, the border’s thinned and they join, forming a most perfect of combinations.
Ingredients (makes approximately 2 cups of stew):
For the stew:
- 1 large spoonful each of minced garlic and ginger
- 1/2 c. chopped cooking onions
- 1/2 c. tomato sauce (I prefer to get the No Salt Added variety and add salt to taste)
- 1 small tomato, chopped
- 1.5 c. mixed peppers, chopped or sliced thinly
- 1 c. prepared kidney beans
- 1/4 package silken tofu
- A few small spoonfuls of garam masala
- A few good size pinches each of turmeric, cumin and coriander
- A pinch or two of salt and pepper
For the dippers:
- 1 medium buttercup squash
- A blend of equal parts cocoa powder and cinnamon
- Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds and cook until slightly soft but not fully cooked.
- Cut out dippers using Halloween-themed cookie cutters. I like to save all the leftover bits and pieces and use them in a Buttercup Squash Lassi, another Indian treat.
- Sprinkle each dipper with the spice blend and bake/broil until fully browned and slightly hard.
- In a medium pot, saute the onions with the garlic and ginger until fragrant and browned.
- Add the spices, tomatoes and sauce and stir well. Simmer gently, covered, for about 5 minutes.
- Add the rest of the stew ingredients and simmer until thick (about 20-30 minutes).
- Remove from heat and let it sit, still covered, for awhile before tasting for spices.
- Once the stew is spiced to your liking, transfer to a blender and puree until smooth.
- Serve with dippers.