Creamy, Hearty and (Sort of) Virtuous

Posted November 27, 2018 7:17 p.m. EST

Spiced chickpea stew with coconut and turmeric, in New York. The dish, prepared here by Alison Roman, finds the nexus of comfort food and health food. Prop Stylist: Kalen Kaminski. (Michael Graydon & Nikole Herriott/The New York Times)

I am not the kind of person who likes to put labels on things, because doing so often makes me feel restricted. Tell me something is gluten-free, and I immediately assume I am missing out on a better version made with gluten. Call it vegetarian, and I will convince myself that whatever it is would have been better with sausage in it.

I know it is semantics, but for me it is easier to avoid the perceived restrictiveness of diets by just cooking and eating what my mind wants and body craves, free of labels.

Generally, the two are in alignment: After a night of too much wine, my mind wants pizza, and my body most definitely agrees. After yoga, my brain is thinking a salad is a pretty good idea, and my stomach is, too. Where things get tricky is around the holiday season, when my mind wants something comforting, nourishing, warm and satisfying. But my body, screaming for a green vegetable, simply cannot abide another chicken potpie or personal pan of lasagna.

Do a cleanse? Eat vegan? Neither would suit my profession or lifestyle (or, frankly, my personality). But a hearty, creamy, heavily spiced stew that just happens to be free of meat or dairy, and full of protein and leafy greens? Sign me up.

In this stew, chickpeas are crisped in a not-insignificant amount of olive oil with loads of fresh ginger and turmeric, then simmered in a bath of coconut milk (full-fat, please) until they are falling apart to the point of creaminess. Next, add as many dark, leafy greens as you can fit in the pot, cooking just long enough to get them bright and tender. If you are feeling especially indulgent, a dollop of tangy yogurt and a tangle of fresh herbs are excellent additions.

This magical stew manages to pull double duty as something I want to curl up next to and something that feels like a bit of a cleanse. (I said “a bit.”)

But I would never label this a vegetarian stew, lest we omnivores feel as if we are missing out on something. Just know that it is (and if you omit the optional yogurt, vegan, too) and that, I promise, we are not.

Recipe: Spiced Chickpea Stew With Coconut and Turmeric

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 55 minutes

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for serving

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 (2-inch) piece ginger, finely chopped

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric, plus more for serving

1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more for serving

2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2 (15-ounce) cans full-fat coconut milk

2 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1 bunch Swiss chard, kale or collard greens, stems removed, torn into bite-size pieces

1 cup mint leaves, for serving

Yogurt, for serving (optional)

Toasted pita, lavash or other flatbread, for serving (optional)

1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and ginger. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until onion is translucent and starts to brown a little around the edges, 3 to 5 minutes.

2. Add turmeric, red-pepper flakes and chickpeas, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, so the chickpeas sizzle and fry a bit in the spices and oil, until they have started to break down and get a little browned and crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove about a cup of chickpeas and set aside for garnish.

3. Add coconut milk and stock to the remaining chickpeas in the pot, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, scraping up any bits that have formed on the bottom of the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until stew has thickened and flavors have started to come together, 30 to 35 minutes. (Taste a chickpea or two, not just the liquid, to make sure they have simmered long enough to taste as delicious as possible.)

4. Add greens and stir, making sure they are submerged in the liquid. Cook a few minutes so they wilt and soften, 3 to 7 minutes, depending on what you are using. (Swiss chard and spinach will wilt and soften much faster than kale or collard greens.) Season again with salt and pepper.

5. Divide among bowls and top with mint, reserved chickpeas, a sprinkle of red-pepper flakes and a good drizzle of olive oil. Serve alongside yogurt and toasted pita if using; dust the yogurt with turmeric if you would like.