Because I’ve been so terribly busy lately, I haven’t really done the home-cooking thing for about two weeks. I thought it wouldn’t be a problem, but it turns out to be. Apparently, my body is no longer up for ingesting all of the heavily processed frozen and preserved stuff I used to live on like it was manna from heaven. Who knew? As often happens when I travel or get too stressed out and busy to cook, I also fell off the mostly-vegetarian wagon for a week or so, and…well, the results have not been pleasant. Sorry, body.
So: thank all of the gods and my employer for giving me two days off this week, because I finally got to cook and eat decent food again! Woohoo! In celebration, I decided to re-work a recipe that I had tried before with…well, let’s just say the results were not ideal. My refusal to actually measure my spices had unfortunate results. Of course, that’s not to say I actually measured any of the spices this time, either, but the results were warm and yummy and a lot less mean.
Behold Today’s Lunch: Drunk Vegetarian Stew with Apple and Pretzel Bun
I call this “Drunk Vegetarian Stew” because there’s booze in it — specifically a whole bottle of Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout (which, by the way, I just discovered is completely vegan-friendly, at least in its UK version). The stout is what makes this thing work, flavor-wise, especially for people looking for a hearty vegetable concoction that nonetheless provides the hefty (dare I say “beefy”) taste of a fair-to-middling Irish stew. You could theoretically use any stoutish booze you like, of course — I’ve seen Guinness stews like this that work pretty well, and if the Guinness isn’t vegan enough for you (isinglass), there are others (Sierra Nevada Stout, Goose Island Oatmeal Stout), but I really like the Imperial. The plus side to making a stout stew, naturally, is that once you’ve cooked it, you have five bottles of stout left. Now all you need is friends!
Anyway, here’s the deal:
1 bottle of Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout
1 14.5oz can of Swanson’s Vegetable Broth [If you’re ambitious, you could make your own veggie broth, or use whatever other brand suits you — this is what my local store has, so this is what I used.]
1 large yellow onion
2 medium-sized russet potatoes
2-3 cloves garlic [I like more garlic rather than less; I also use the jarred, minced garlic from the store instead of cutting it up by hand.]
1 bag of frozen peas and carrots [Unless you feel a burning urge to cut up your own into teeny, tiny pieces, this’ll do. Note that it’s a combo bag, not one bag apiece of two different things.]
1/3 cup of Textured Vegetable Protein [You can use any meat substitute you like, really, but I find that I prefer something like TVP because it’s unobtrusive (unlike flavored meat substitutes) and it’s easier to handle and use that straight tofu. If you want more serious chunks of something meaty that doesn’t intrude (taste-wise), try frying some tempeh chunks.]
4 or 5 tbl flour [Don’t overdo it — the flour is one of the things that really thickens this stew up. You can probably get away with 4 if you want a thinner soup texture. Too much flour will make this really gummy and horrid.]
Black pepper, basil, oregano, and rosemary, in whatever amounts please you. I advise about a tsp of black pepper, 1/2 tsp of basil, 1/2 tsp oregano, and a pinch or two of rosemary. Do not overdo it with the rosemary, or this stew will hurt you.
Extra-light olive oil [for the cooking]
1. Heat the oil (however much you think you need to simmer the onions, etc.) in a dutch oven on medium while you cut up the onion nice and small. Put the onion, the garlic, and the peas and carrots in the pot, stirring occasionally, while you peel the potatoes. Also: Boil some water, put the TVP in a bowl, and pour enough of the water over the TVP to cover it. Let it sit and absorb.
2. Once you’ve peeled the potatoes, throw 4 tbl flour into the pot and stir that stuff around, letting the oil and the flour coat the veggies while you cut up the potatoes into smallish bites.
3. Dump that whole yummy bottle of stout in the pot and bring it to a light boil.
4. Toss in the veggie stock, the potatoes, the last 1 tbl of flour and the TVP. Stir it all together well and then stir in the spices. Bring the whole mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally to keep the potatoes from sticking too badly to the bottom.
5. Once the whole mess is boiling, take the heat down to low, cover, and let it sit and simmer for about an hour, stirring periodically.
6. Once it’s all cooked up nicely, let it settle and cool just a little bit before serving with a nice, fresh hunk of some serious bread (I think sourdough would be ideal, but the pretzel bun I had at lunch today was nice, too).
This recipe makes about six servings at about 1.5 cups apiece (maybe a little more); I usually eat one on the day I make it and then freeze the rest. It’s on the sweeter rather than the more bitter side, if you want to give it some more bite, try shuffling the spices (perhaps less basil, maybe a little salt?). The stew really, really thickens when it’s left to sit or refrigerated, and I think it would be really nice served over noodles or rice after reheating. If you’re a vegetarian who cooks for non-vegetarians, this stew is “meaty” enough in taste and texture that they probably won’t know for sure that there’s no noticeable bovine remains in it until you tell them.