As a volunteer with the refugee resettlement group Canopy Northwest Arkansas, I made a family’s first meal in their new home.
The mom and dad, ages 30 and 28, have been living in camps since fleeing Democratic Republic of Congo in 2003. Their son just turned 6. Who knows what they’ve been eating all this time. A recipe, a north African-style tajine stew that my wife and I enjoyed a couple of times in recent months, made the most sense.
Did they like it? The adults were nearly beyond exhaustion, and there was a language barrier. They ate silently but heartily. The volunteers who brought them to the apartment from the airport wanted the recipe, it smelled and looked so good.
The boy? For a long time, his folks couldn’t tear him away from the toy trucks the group had waiting for him.
- 1 teaspoon coriander, ground
- 1 teaspoon cumin, ground
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, ground
- 1/4 teaspoon, or less (or none), crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 large onion, diced to bean size
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste (about 1/3 of a 6 oz. can)
- 2 pounds sweet potatoes (3-5 tubers), 1/2-inch dice
- 2 (15- or 15.5-ounce) cans beans, such as garbanzo and black or garbanzo and kidney, including liquid
- 1/2 cup pitted green olives, sliced
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 2 Tablespoons dried parsley or dried cilantro or a mixture
- 2 tablespoon lemon juice
- 4 cups cooked grains (brown rice, kamut, bulgur, couscous etc.)
(Optional step — Bloom the spices: Preheat a small skillet on medium 4 minutes. Place spices in saucer. Dump spices all at once into skillet, stirring constantly with spatula 15-20 seconds until they begin to smoke. Pour back onto saucer.)
Except for the lemon juice and grains, put all ingredients including the spice mixture into a Dutch oven or 4-quart saucepan. Heat to boiling over medium-high heat then reduce to simmer. Cook gently 20-30 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender but not mushy. Add a little hot water if needed to keep a soupy stew consistency. Take off burner, stir in lemon juice. Serve over hot grains.
Serves 4. This is a fully nutritious meal, vegan and low fat. The coriander could be replaced with fennel, ginger or turmeric (each way different but complementary). Tossing in a couple of cups of a mild green vegetable, like a cut-up zucchini, would be nice. Bread on the side could replace the grains. Drizzling a spoon of good olive oil over the stew would enhance.
Adapted from Sweet Potato and Chickpea Tagine on the Whole Foods Market website. Renamed to honor Canopy NWA.