Hearty Vegetarian Stews

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A Step Above Soup

When autumn arrives with its chilly breezes and cold, crisp nights, it’s time to make stew. Indeed, after the weekend’s intense weekend wind storm blew down a bundle of branches, I thought about making a Moomintroll-style fir needle stew for a traditional Finnish pre-hybernation dish. In most human traditions, stews are largely meat based, though versions based on fish or fowl abound. FInding recipes for vegetarian stews is more challenging, since there is a fine line between making soup and making stew.

For most people, the word ‘stew’ creates an expectation that there will be a protein-dense main ingredient. Some vegetarian cooks get around this difficulty by using vegetarian versions of sausage or faux-chicken. Others replace meat with chunks of tofu, tempeh, or seitan. Though I rarely use processed foods, I must admit that a line of vegan “sausage” called Field Roasts is pretty tasty and is hearty enough to turn soups into stews.

Stews Are Chunkier

I find that even omnivores enjoy vegan stews without even noticing their meatlessness as long as the vegetables are in big enough pieces. Cutting potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. into larger-than-usual hunks makes the dish look more like an entree and less like a soup to Western eyes. Curried Chickpea Cauliflower Stew, for example, is rich with coconut milk, lush with caramelized onions, and crunchy with pumpkin seeds, but only because of the fairly large chunks of cauliflower does it make the cut to rate as stew.

This version is truly delicious, but the spice prep does take a while. Personally, I enjoy the scents and colors and textures of homemade curry blends. However, if you are in a hurry or simply don’t want to bother with toasting and grinding spices, you can make a highly acceptable version by dumping in some canned (jarred?) Tikka Masala sauce or Madras Curry sauce instead. If you want to serve this over brown basmati rice, start the rice cooker before starting the stew and they’ll finish up at about the same time.

Curried Chickpea Cauliflower Stew

1 tablespoon safflower oil
2 large yellow onions, halved and thickly sliced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar (any kind)
2-3 teaspoons curry spice blend (optional, see below)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1-2 inches fresh ginger, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 cups red, yellow and orange peppadew peppers, chopped
1 medium head cauliflower, cut in large florets
1/2 cup apple cider (preferably organic and non-filtered)
1 can coconut milk (preferably organic)
12-14 ounces Tikka Masala sauce (optional, if not using spices)
3-4 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds

In a large pan, combine oil, onions, salt and sugar over medium low heat and cook slowly until very soft (20-30 minutes). Increase the heat to medium high and cook, stirring often, until golden brown (8-10 minutes). Add spice blend if using (see below) garlic, ginger, celery, peppers, cauliflower and cider, cover pan and cook until vegetables are barely tender (10-12 minutes). Add coconut milk and Tikka Masala sauce (if using), adding broth as needed to cover vegetables. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve hot, garnished with pumpkin seeds. Serves 6. Even better the next day!

Spice Blend

If you like Indian food, you’ll have a splendid time making this aromatic stuff. If not, buy garam masala mixture, or find a commercial curry blend you like. Good grocery stores often have various spice blends available in their bulk food department, so you can try a tablespoon at a time to see which types you prefer.

Homemade Curry Powder

1 teaspoon green cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon brown mustard seed
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon turmeric

In a dry frying pan, toast the seeds to the fragrance point (about 1-2 minutes) over medium high heat, shaking pan often to prevent burning. Stir in remaining ingredients and cook, stirring often, for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and grind together (I use a dedicated coffee grinder for spices, but you can use a blender if need be). Makes about 2 tablespoons. Store in a tightly sealed glass container out of direct light for up to a month or freeze indefinitely.

Celebrate Mushrooms In Autumn

The woods are full of mushrooms this year, and many of them roast up nicely (notably chanterelles), so use any kind you like in this manly dish. Portobello mushrooms are more generally available, and roasting makes these big guys dense, chewy and extremely tasty. Cut them in thick strips, give them a light coating of oil, then roast to fullest flavor, adding them to the stew just long enough to heat through, so the pleasing texture is not lost.

Portobello Stew

4 Portobello mushrooms, stems minced, caps thickly sliced
2 red bell peppers, quartered
2 large yellow onions, 1 quartered, 1 chopped
6 large cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 stalks celery, chopped
4 Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped (about 2 cups)
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 quart vegetable broth
1/2 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon chives, chopped

Preheat oven to bake 450 degrees F. In a rimmed baking sheet, gently toss mushroom slices, quartered onion, garlic and red peppers with  1-2 teaspoons oil and bake at 450 until lightly caramelized (15-20 minutes). Let cool and slip skins from peppers, set aside. In a soup pot, heat remaining oil with chopped onion, sprinkle with salt and cook over medium high heat until barely soft (6-8 minutes). Add celery and potatoes, cover pan and cook over medium heat until potatoes are sweated (8-10 minutes). Meanwhile, chop roasted peppers, onion, and garlic and add them to the potatoes, along with the smoked paprika. Cover pan and cook for 1 minute, then add broth, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and simmer until potatoes are fork-tender (about 8 minutes). Add mushroom strips, heat through and serve, garnished with sour cream or yogurt and chives. Serves 4.

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