quince-on-branchIf you’re familiar with quince, likely you’ve had it as the sweet-tart paste, membrillo, paired with manchego cheese in the classic tapa. Or, maybe you’ve enjoyed it in the form of a dessert compote. But this rock-hard fruit that looks like a fuzzy, knobbly apple (they are related) is fantastic in savory dishes, bringing hints of vanilla and contrasting flavors and textures to autumn braises and stews.

Here’s my latest fave, that just happens to be vegan: a brown-rice bowl with meaty white sweet potatoes, quince, and pomegranate kernels, seasoned with ras el hanout (a North African ground spice mix containing cinnamon, dried rose buds, cumin, and pepper) and pomegranate molasses (think Middle Eastern balsamic reduction).  I talk you through this dish and farmer Becky Terry tells you more about her quince crop on KCRW Good Food. Yes, you may substitute apples for the quince; yes, you can use orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. BUT, this dish is way more interesting with quince and white sweet potatoes.

Wonder why you ever bought a melon baller? This little tool is perfect for quickly and safely coring hard fruits or vegetables.

Makes 6 servings

1 onion, chopped
1 to 2 garlic cloves minced
2 medium quince, about 1 ½ pounds total
3 white sweet potatoes, about 1 ½ pounds total
1 tablespoon ras el hanout
Kosher or sea salt
Olive oil
1 to 2 cups water or stock
Juice of ½ orange, optional
Pomegranate arils (kernels)
Pomegranate molasses
Generous handful of cilantro leaves, chopped
½ bunch green onions, green and white parts, chopped
Brown rice to serve

Scrub quince and peel if you like. Cut in half and scoop out seed cavity thoroughly (a melon baller makes quick work of this job). Cut quince into cubes, about 1-inch square. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into same size cubes.

Over medium heat, heat 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil in wide pot large enough to contain all ingredients. Cook onion with a little salt until soft and pale golden, 7 to 100010 minutes. Add garlic and stir 1 minute. Add quince and ras el hanout to pot and stir. Cook until quince loses its dull raw look, about 5 minutes, adding a little water to pot if onion starts to stick. Stir in sweet potatoes and a little salt, and cook 5 minutes more. Stir in enough stock or water to come up 1 inch. Cover, lower heat to keep things at a nice simmer, and cook until potatoes and quince are tender, about 20 minutes longer. You should have tasty thickened juices; add more stock as needed and cook a few minutes longer.

Stir in juice of ½ orange. Serve over brown rice, topped with cilantro, green onions, pomegranate arils, and a drizzle of molasses.

© 2017, Amelia Saltsman