Friday, March 7, 2014

Moroccan-style sweet potato, red bell pepper and white bean stew

Moroccan-style sweet potato, red bell pepper and white bean stew with ras el hanout

A few weeks ago, I was in our local supermarket and picked up a recipe leaflet for a Moroccan dish using a spice called ras el hanout.

The recipe itself contained meat, so I wasn't interested, but ras el hanout is a spice mix I hadn't tried, so I decided to buy some and experiment with some plant-based dishes.

Ras el hanout is a Moroccan spice blend which consists of anywhere between eight and eighty different ingredients - from fragrant rose petals and bitter cloves to cumin, coriander and cardamom. It's rubbed into meat, it's stirred into rice, and it is responsible for the spiced-sweet aromas of Moroccan tagines. The name is Arabic for "head of the shop" and implies a mixture of the best spices the seller has to offer.

Ras el hanout

The ras el hanout I bought contains paprika, cumin seed, coriander seed, chilli flakes, black pepper, cinnamon, fennel seed, turmeric, pimento, shallot, cardamom, mace, pink peppercorn, rose petal, black onion seed, ginger, nutmeg, star anise, clove and galangal.

As it was cold and wet outside, I decided to create a delicious sweet, aromatic, spicy, warming and nourishing dish using sweet potatoes, red and yellow bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, cannellini beans and ras el hanout.

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of carotenes. In general, the darker the variety of sweet potato, the higher the concentration of carotenes.

Sweet potatoes are also a very good source of vitamins C and B6; and a good source of manganese, copper, biotin, vitamin B5, B2 and dietary fibre.

Sweet potatoes contain unique root storage proteins which have been shown to have antioxidant activity.

Animal studies have shown that sweet potatoes actually help stabilise blood sugar levels and improve the response to the hormone insulin.

Bell peppers are some of the most nutrient-dense foods available. They are a good source of numerous nutrients including vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin K, vitamins B1, B6 and folic acid.

Bell peppers are also rich in phytonutrients with exceptional antioxidant activity, such as chlorogenic acid, coumeric acid and zeaxanthin.

Red bell peppers contain lycopene, a carotene also present in tomatoes, that protects against cancer and heart disease. Lycopene has been studied for its beneficial effects in preventing prostate cancer.

The major health benefit of common beans, such as cannellini beans, is their rich source of cholesterol-lowering fibre.

In addition to lowering cholesterol, the high fibre content of beans prevents blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after a meal, so they are a good choice for those with diabetes, insulin resistance or low blood sugar.

Beans are also good for the heart because of their high content of antioxidants, folic acid, vitamin B6 and magnesium. Folic acid and B6 help lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid which is an independent risk factor for heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.


Serves 3-4


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 1 medium red onion (finely chopped)
  • 1 clove garlic (peeled and finely chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons ras el hanout
  • 1 medium sweet potato (peeled and chopped into small chunks)
  • 1/2 red bell pepper (washed, deseeded and chopped)
  • 1/2 yellow bell pepper (washed, deseeded and chopped)
  • 1 can (400g/14oz) chopped tomatoes (drained weight 240g/8oz)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 1 300g/10.5oz can (175g/6oz drained weight) cooked cannellini beans or other white beans
  • 1 strip (2g) dried wakame sea vegetable (soaked in cold water for 5 minutes and chopped into small pieces). I add sea vegetables to every dish I can as they are so rich in minerals and healthy soluble fibre.
  • 1 dessertspoon sweet white miso (diluted in a little water to make it easier to mix into the stew)
  • Fresh parsley to garnish


Put olive oil and salt in a pan and gently saute the onion and garlic until soft and translucent.

Add ras el hanout, sweet potato, red and yellow peppers, tomatoes, tomato puree, cannellini beans and wakame and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until vegetables are soft.

Add miso to taste and simmer for a further 2 minutes.

Garnish with fresh parsley and serve on a bed of brown rice with a side dish of lightly steamed green vegetables, such as broccoli.

Nutritional information

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