11 November 2008
Paper Chef 34: The Minimalist Version
Last-Minute Minimalist Paper Chef: Turkey Lentil Chile Squash Stew
I was quite excited when I saw the ingredients for this month’s Paper Chef (a monthly cooking challenge, loosely based on Iron Chef): turkey, anaheim chiles, winter squash, and lentils. Whenever I see anaheim chiles, I think of chile relleños (stuffed, breaded, and fried green chiles). Relleños are more a New Mexican dish than the Tex-Mex you find at most restaurants going under the moniker “Mexican” (although you’ll also find them in El Paso Mexican restaurants, since it’s also smack dab in the middle of prime chile growing territory). But even so, relleños are my measure of a Mexican restaurant. And my measure of a home cook – my mom’s recipe (with corn meal) is so much better than my mother-in-law’s (without corn meal). That’s right, my Missouri-raised mom outcooks my El Paso-raised MIL when it comes to relleños. Or maybe that’s got something to do with what I grew up with.
Wait – where was I? Paper chef. Right. Turkey, anaheim chiles, winter squash, and lentils. I started thinking of relleños. But what to do with the turkey? Maybe I could put strips of turkey in the chiles along with the more typical cheese. Should I cook the turkey first? Probably. I could make a squash-based sauce – but where would the lentils go? Hmm.
All this musing was for naught once I got to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday, because anaheims were nowhere to be found. I could have sworn I saw some last week! Probably something to do with all the cold and hard frosts we’ve had recently. One vendor did have some other hot chiles, but not Anaheims and none suitable for stuffing. Even my co-op let me down. Scratch relleños. So next I started musing about a mole kind of dish – wasn’t the ‘original’ mole made from turkey? And I could use lentils instead of pumpkin seeds (right? they’re about the same size!) – ooh, and pumpkin seeds, that comes from a winter squash. This idea was shaping up, too.
But then I ran out of time. However, I just couldn’t let another Paper Chef pass me by, without participating. So I pulled together a clean-out-the-freezer, quick-prep, minimalist entry.
Turkey Lentil Chile Squash Stew
6 cups turkey stock (with turkey chunks)
1/2 cup red lentils
1 cup cooked squash (I had a combo of squash puree and roasted squash chunks – both butternut, as far as I could tell!)
1/2 cup chopped or pureed anaheim chiles (see note below)
salt (Tia Rita’s green chile salt preferred!) and pepper to taste
(With the exception of the lentils and salt, everything came from my freezer stash.)
Bring stock to a boil. Stir in lentils, cover pot and reduce to simmer. As the squash and chiles defrost, stir them into the mixture. Let cook for 30 to 45 minutes, until lentils are cooked. (If you start with raw squash, cook it in the stock and chiles for 20 to 30 minutes before adding the lentils for the last half hour.)
Salt and pepper to taste before serving with a starch of your choice: flour tortillas, corn chips, bread, whatever you have on hand!
How was it? Not fancy by any stretch of the imagination, but really good! It was pleasantly spicy hot (this depends on your chiles, of course!), thick, and warm – perfect for the first snowy weekend of the season. It was also good the next day, served cold, on chunks of sourdough bread. I’d make it again, except first I need some more turkey stock (so maybe after Thanksgiving…).
Edited to add: to get “pureed chiles”, this is what you do: Roast the chiles until the skin is blistered (I use our gas grill, or sometimes the oven broiler). Let them sweat in a brown paper bag. Peel. Deseed. Chop or puree. If you aren’t going to use immediately, you can freeze in ice cube trays or small portions (I currently have 1/2 cup portions in my freezer). (You can also freeze the chiles before peeling and deseeding, or freeze them in strips before chopping/pureeing.)