Zuni Stew

This is a delicious soup using late-summer vegetables. On the face of it, the ingredient list may look a little ordinary, but the spices are the key — don’t skimp on those!

It’s one of the first recipes I ever pasted in my cookbook, but I never made it until now. I clipped it from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and even wrote the date next to it: August 19, 1993. It’s originally from “The Greens Cookbook” by Deborah Madison, who was the first chef at Greens, a well known vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco — and it turns out the stew is pretty well known, too.

I didn’t realize it was so well known until I was making it and poked around a bit to see if it was anywhere online. I also didn’t realize the origin of the name. Zuni refers to the Pueblo Indian tribe, and at least one article I read said the ingredients involve what is a Native American grouping of corn, beans, and squash.

One note about the tomatoes. The recipe calls for a pound of charcoal-grilled tomatoes, pureed. I wasn’t able to do that, so I just used a can of diced tomatoes and drained them. I have also used finely diced fresh tomatoes. They worked just fine, but I’m sure the charcoal flavor would have been far more delicious.

I have also substituted fresh basil leaves for the cilantro, based on what I had on hand at the time.

Makes 8 servings

2-3 Tbsp. canola oil
2 large yellow onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4-1/2 tsp. ground coriander
2 Tbsp. chili powder, or more to taste (I used about 1 tsp. cayenne pepper)
1 lb. charcoal-grilled tomatoes, pureed
1 lb. mixed summer squash like zucchini (courgettes) and yellow squash, cut into large pieces
2 1/2 to 3 cups canned corn kernels
1/2 lb. green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 1/2 cups canned, drained pinto beans (reserve liquid)
1/2 bunch cilantro (fresh coriander), roughly chopped
4 oz. Monterey Jack cheese (if it’s not available, use a very mild cheddar)
Whole cilantro leaves for garnish

Heat the oil in a pot and saute the onions over high heat until translucent. Lower the heat and add the garlic and spices, and stir everything together. Add a little liquid from the beans if needed.

Cook until the onions begin to soften, about 4 minutes, then add the tomatoes and stew for 5 minutes. Stir in the squash, corn, green beans, and pinto beans and enough of the liquid to make a fairly wet stew (you may need to add water if you run out of liquid). Cook slowly until the vegetables are done, about 15-20 minutes.

Taste the stew and adjust the seasoning. Stir in the chopped cilantro, then garnish with cheese and cilantro leaves.

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