When most people commit to eat seasonally, they gloss over the bleak days of winter and its dwindling produce. And though we are technically in spring, fresh produce still feels a ways away. If you’re looking for an alternative to frigid carrots and exhausted potatoes, tropical root vegetables like malanga make a great base for comforting soups and stews as you wait out the seemingly never-ending cold.
A staple of Cuban cooking, this rough brown vegetable, also known as yautia in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, is often mistaken for taro root. Ranging from creamy white or yellow to purple when cut open, malanga can be fried, boiled, or mashed into a puree. In this garbanzo stew, it absorbs the flavor of the pepper, onion, and tomato sofrito, becoming pillowy and creamy without breaking apart while the chickpeas simmer and the calabaza melts into the broth. Often overlooked in grocery store bins, it may be just the thing you’re missing to get through the final stretch.
Garbanzo Stew with Malanga and Calabaza
Makes 6-8 servings
1 pound dried chickpeas
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound cooking ham, cubed
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 large green bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup whole peeled, canned tomatoes in their juice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (labeled pimentón)
1 dried bay leaf
1 pound of malanga, peeled and quartered
1/2 pound calabaza (West Indian Pumpkin), peeled and cubed
Soak chickpeas in water with a pinch of baking soda overnight, about 10-12 hours. Drain and rinse well.
In a large heavy pot, combine chickpeas with 7 cups of water. Bring to a boil then lower heat to medium, cover, and simmer until just tender, about 30-35 minutes. Drain and reserve 4 cups of the cooking water.
To make the sofrito, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cubed ham and sauté until lightly browned, 2-3 minutes. Add the onions, peppers and garlic and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, wine and bay leaf to the sofrito, roughly crushing the tomatoes. Return to a simmer and cook an additional 5 minutes.
Return chickpeas to large pot with 4 cups of the reserved cooking water. Add the sofrito mixture to the chickpeas and bring to a simmer. Add the malanga and calabaza, and cook covered until the vegetables are tender, about 35-45 minutes. Serve on its own with bread or over rice.
Ana Sofia Peláez covers the spectrum of Spanish and Latin American cuisine on her blog, hungrysofia.com. From the rich smells and flavors of the Cuban food she grew up with to modern Peruvian causas, hearty Brazilian feijodas and delicate Mexican flor de calabaza soup, she’s always looking for her next great meal.