Keeping the Elves Happy

Moroccan Quinoa and Chickpea Stew in Baked Squash Bowls

Just as accountants are buried under mounds of paper in April and road workers are up to their eyeballs in hot tar in July, the hectic time of year for Santa's elves is the last weekend before Christmas. Perhaps you know one or two who are a little stressed.

Here in our neck of the woods, one of two elves is busy in the woodshop and the other is fiendish on the knitting needles and wrapping gifts, with imminent shipping deadlines looming.

In order to keep productivity high and the elves from getting cranky, Santa prescribes a nice break for a healthy, nourishing meal highly spiced with warm Indian flavors. The proper care and feeding of the elves makes for the gay and bright Christmas season Norman Rockwell would like to capture, and the one we all want to live.

How lucky we are to still be using homegrown produce from our summer garden for such a meal. The little sweet red peppers that ripened in abundance in October are wintering over well, and a good handful went into this stew.

A plump buttercup squash brought up from the root cellar (garage) and mint that is still surviving our morning frosts made their way into this meal too.

We popped the cork on one of our wedding gifts (thank you again, Paul and Terry!), a bottle of Trinity Vineyards 2006 Oregon Syrah. Its smoky, peppery and cocoa notes worked well with the exotic spiciness of the dish, and its inky depth of fruit gave it nice structure.

Moroccan Quinoa and Chickpea Stew in Baked Squash Bowls

1 large buttercup or acorn squash

One small onion, finely diced
One small red bell pepper, diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, pressed
2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
One 14 oz. can ready-diced tomatoes with onion and green pepper
One 14 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained
3 large handfuls of spinach, chopped
About 3 tablespoons mint leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375˚. If using buttercup squash, slice in half horizontally so that both sides will rest in a baking dish. If using acorn squash, slice in half vertically. Scoop seeds out. Place cut sides down in baking dish and bake for 45 minutes or until tender.

In the meantime, heat olive oil in a 4 quart pot. Saute onions and red bell pepper until onions are soft and turning translucent, about 6 minutes stirring occasionally. Add garlic and stir for another minute. Add paprika, garam masala salt and pepper and stir for another minute to open up the spices.

Drain the can of tomatoes into a 2 cup measure, fill the remained with water to measure 2 cups. Add the quinoa, the tomato juice/water mixture and garbanzos to the pot. Bring to a rapid boil, cover, and return pot to low heat. Cook for 15-20 minutes until quinoa is tender, stirring and adding additional water to keep moisture loose. In the last 3 minutes stir in spinach and mint. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Ladle stew into baked squash bowls. Sprinkle with additional mint to garnish.

Merry Christmas!!


  1. This sounds delicious, I have had quinoa in the pantry for so long and am always wondering what to do with it! Thanks :)

  2. I love everything but the paprika, is there a substitute you can think of? This would be perfect in one of the little butternut squashes from our garden :-) Thanks! Kate

  3. Oh this looks wonderful! I can almost taste it!

  4. This looks delicious. I too have an abundance of squash from our local farms in my root cellar (a closet underneath the stairs shared with a wine collection and Christmas ornaments!) and realize I need to start cooking it! This sounds wonderful and I love Indian seasonings. Love the wine stopper too!

  5. I always wondered what Oregonian Christmas elves ate. Their drinking habits are less unusual and are more consistent with the broader species.

    Merry Christmas!

    Did you get my e-mail about a visit in 2011?


  6. I have some quinoa in my cabinet that's been waiting patiently for me to do something with it. This recipe sounds perfect!

  7. Hope the elves made it! Merry Christmas!

  8. yummm the squash looks phenomenal! Happy New Year

  9. what an interesting combination of flavors.What a beautiful seasonal dish.


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