Kale and black beans in curried pumpkin sauce with pumpkinseed-arugula pesto

Kale, black bean and pumpkin stew

Kale, black bean and pumpkin stew

This meal reminds me of something I used to make back in my bachelorette days. Can of pumpkin purée, can of chickpeas, loads of broccoli. It was quick, easy, cheap and not very fattening at all. I

n those days, I used to walk around the city I lived in. I’d walk for hours, every day, no matter the weather, lost in thought. And as I walked I repeated the mantra, “mad as a hatter, thin as a dime, mad as a hatter, thin as a dime.”

This time of year, we always read a lot about diet tips and trends. I always want to yell out about my story, calling out like the over-eager kid in class. It’s not much of a story, really. At one point in my life I was really skinny, and I wasted a lot of time and energy thinking about getting skinnier. I wasted a lot of energy depriving myself of energy, really. I was obsessed with numbers on a scale, I felt good at losing weight – it was a skill I’d conquered, and one it was difficult to stop once I’d started. I felt as though I’d conquered hunger, as well. The longer you ignore it, the less frequently you feel it. For me it wasn’t about looking like Kate Moss, who hadn’t been invented yet, it was about a million other things. About being the most thin; about becoming less human, more ethereal, less heavy on the earth; about getting away with something; about worrying people; about scaring myself.

And the reason any of this is worth mentioning is that I’m not like that any more. I know that millions of women are, and some men, too, and I’d like to say that it’s possible to regain balance and perspective, to feel good about yourself. And, actually, to stop thinking about yourself so much, so that you’re free to think about other things. It helps to have help, of course, from parents and boyfriends and friends. But mostly you find the balance yourself, gradually, over days and weeks and years. You learn that the better you feel about yourself, the better you feel about yourself, and that being healthy feels better than being thin and having ulcers and stomach aches, and having your hands and feet turn blue when it’s cold, and getting dizzy if you walk too far. You learn that it feels good to be strong. You’ll allow yourself to take up some space on the earth. You learn that you can loosen the vice-like grip of your control on everything you eat and how often you exercise without really changing yourself all that much. You’ll learn that all of the control in the world can’t save you from things over which you will never have control – your body will change over time, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

But you’ll realize that we’re all in it together, all heading in the same direction, and pulled by the same gravity. (And then, maybe, you’ll have a couple of kids and your whole world will turn upside down forever!) You’ll learn about the pleasure of eating with other people, and eating like other people do. You’ll find a place that you’re comfortable with yourself, and you’ll see that everything goes in cycles – you’ll gain weight, you’ll lose weight, everything will even out. You’ll throw out your scales. You’ll develop some rules to live by, probably unconsciously, that will help you to maintain your balance through thick and thin. You’ll mostly stop comparing yourself to other people, because you’ll realize that everybody is built differently. You’ll stop comparing yourself to yourself years ago, because everybody changes. You’ll know that you”re ok, and most of the time you will feel ok. You won’t worry constantly about your food and your body: you’ll take pleasure in them. That’s what I want to say when I see all of these advice columns, on websites, and on the covers of magazines at the grocery store, and on the news – all trying to sell themselves by making you feel bad about yourself so that they can tell you how to feel good about yourself.

And, of course, you’ll keep making meals like this, because they’re cheap and tasty, and full of vitamins, and yes, just a bit because they’re not very fattening at all. Kale and beans and pumpkin!! Can you think of all the vitamins and protein in this one meal! I was hoping my boys would like it, and they did like the sauce and the beans, but the kale was a little bitter for them. I bought a bag of baby kale, and because it was so young, I didn’t boil it first, but it was a bit bitter, so next time I’d parboil it just for a few minutes. I’ve been thinking for a while about combining pumpkin flesh and pumpkinseeds in a meal! It just makes sense that they’d go together, and they do! The flesh is sweet and warm, and the seeds are smoky and cool, and they’re just perfect together.

Here’s Tom Waits Diamonds and Gold.

There’s a hole in the ladder
A fence we can climb
Mad as a hatter
You’re thin as a dime
Go out to the meadow
The hills are agreen
Sing me a rainbow
Steal me a dream


2 cups kale washed and chopped into small pieces, boiled in salted water for about five minutes, till wilted but still bright
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 T olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
1 plump clove garlic, minced
1 t dried basil (or small handful of fresh leaves, added at the end)
1 bay leaf
1 t (or to taste) red pepper flakes
1 cup pumpkin purée
1 t cumin
1 t smoked paprika
1/2 t fenugreek
1/2 t ginger
1/2 t coriander
1/2 t cardamom
pinch nutmeg and allspice
1 can diced roasted tomatoes, or one large tomato, chopped
1 T butter
juice of half a lime (or to taste)
salt and plenty of black pepper

In a large soup pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the shallot, bay leaves, basil and pepper flakes. Cook for about a minute, until the shallot starts to brown, and then add the garlic. Cook for another half a minute, and add the black beans. Stir to coat and cook for a half a minute, and then stir in the pumpkin purée. Add the kale, spices, tomatoes, and enough water to cover by about half an inch. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer till the kale is as soft as you like it and all of the flavors are nicely combined. Ten or fifteen minutes should do it. Add the butter, lime juice, salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

Serve over bastmati rice, topped with…


1/2 cup pumpkinseeds (pepitos) toasted
1 cup arugula, washed and chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, roasted or toasted and mashed
1 t sage
2 t balsamic
salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper
about 1/2 cup water (+/-)

Combine everything but the water in a food processor, and process till everything is well ground. Add water, a little at at a time until you have the pesto just as smooth and thick or thin as you like it. Taste on a cracker, and season with salt and pepper.


2 thoughts on “Kale and black beans in curried pumpkin sauce with pumpkinseed-arugula pesto

  1. I just made this (with some tweaks) for dinner — it’s so, so good! Perfect on this cold day. Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

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