As a city girl who went away to summer camp, I found campfires bewitching. On the weekly Friday night cookout, heating foods over the open fire made me feel like a young alchemist. Even the simple act of grilling a hot dog on a stick seemed magical, starting with the ritual of finding the right branch.

The perfect stick had to be green enough not to burn, strong enough to hold the frankfurter, but slim enough not to rip it apart. Debates over whether to spear the frank in the middle or push it lengthwise onto the branch were fruitless since the likelihood of a partially cooked hot dog falling into the fire was high either way.

As I grew older, my fascination with open-fire cooking continued. As a Girl Scout I earned a merit badge for outdoor skills that included campfire cookery. The mikeys my troop mates and I made - big baking potatoes wrapped in foil and buried to cook in the fire's white-hot ashes - were divinely creamy. But our most memorable success was gypsy stew: a combination of ground beef, canned tomato soup, frozen corn and green beans, boiled together in a pot over the fire.

I was recently reminded of the dish when doing research for a book featuring traditional Mediterranean food. Searching through old cookbooks, I found recipes for a Spanish dish called Olla Gitana, which translates roughly to gypsy stew.

Traditionally cooked in an iron or heavy earthenware pot called an olla, there are many versions of this dish. While many include some form of pork, others are meatless, like this one. They always includes a picada, however - a combination of bread and ground nuts, which Spanish cooks use to thicken and enrich their dishes.

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Gypsy Stew

Makes 5 servings.


  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 slice whole-wheat sandwich bread
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 10 almonds
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 3 cups reduced sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 cups chopped Swiss chard
  • 1 cup frozen cut green beans
  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


  1. In medium skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add bread, garlic and nuts and cook until they all are golden on both sides, turning as needed, 2-3 minutes. Transfer garlic and nuts to a blender or food processor. Tear up bread and add. Process until mixture is finely ground, and set aside.
  2. In same pan, saute the onions until golden, 8 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook until they soften, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Stir in paprika and turmeric and set aside.
  3. In large saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add chard, green beans, chickpeas and cook 10 minutes. Mix in the two previously prepared mixtures and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes or until vegetables are very tender.
  4. Mix in vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
210 calories
9 g total fat
1 g saturated fat
25 g carbohydrate
8 g protein
6 g dietary fiber
470 mg sodium

Diabetic Exchanges:
1-1/2 Bread/Starch, 1 Vegetable, 1 Lean Meat, 1 Fat