8-Spice Squash and Chicken Thighs Stew — The Weekender

By: Marisa McClellan
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One time when I was in college, I brought a few friends home for the weekend. It was a 4-hour drive from Walla Walla, Wash. — where we went to school — to my hometown of Portland, Ore. Knowing we’d be hungry, my mom had dinner waiting for us when we arrived. She'd made a big pot of her chicken curry, with brown rice to sop up the juices and plenty of garnishes like yogurt, diced apple and fresh cilantro leaves.

I was thrilled to see what she'd prepared. It was just the sort of flavorful, interesting food I’d grown up eating and didn’t see much of in the dining hall at school. My friends, on the other hand, weren’t so excited. I didn’t know it until we sat down at the table, but they weren’t fans of chicken on the bone or saucy dishes that include cooked raisins.

I am grateful that my parents chose to be amused by my friends’ collective reluctance to eat the meal and willingly served them lots of rice with just a little sauce for flavor. I am also appreciative that my parents made sure to make interesting food throughout my childhood, as it has made me a more adventurous eater as an adult.

Recently, I had a craving for a dish like the hippie curry that my mom served to my friends and me that night. A phone call to her was dissatisfyingly vague, so I did a little digging in the hopes that I’d find something with a similar flavor profile. What I settled on was Rachael Ray’s Eight-Spice Squash and Chicken Thighs Stew With Lentil Rice.

It tasted exactly right and the meal mirrored my memories of that night, right down to a dining companion who was not at all interested in eating chicken on the bone in a spicy sauce (this time, it was my husband). Still, I’m glad to have found a recipe that hits all the right notes and I'm planning on making it again soon. I highly suggest making this one your Weekender soon.

Before you start cooking, read these tips:

— Most of the spices called for in this recipe are kitchen basics. If your pantry doesn’t contain the Moroccan spice blend called ras el hanout, however, there are instructions at the start of the recipe on how to build your own with spices you probably do have.

— This stew is one of those magical creations that manages to improve overnight in the fridge. If you’re serving this to guests, I highly suggest making it a day ahead to give the flavors a chance to marry.

— The only thing I found missing from this recipe was a sweet element. Next time I make it, I’m going to add a handful of raisins, just like my mom used to do.

Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round , is now available.

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