Vegan Cassoulet

Cassoulet is a classic comfort food from France: a thick, bean-y stew which clings to your ribs. I had it as a pre-vegetarian teenager, when we vacationed there years and years ago, and was so enamored of it, that when I turned vegetarian, I wanted to retain the ability to eat it.

CassouletWhen I first devised this veganized and simplified version, I was still eating wheat, and instead of tofu, I used 4 large spiced veggie sausages which were utterly yummy here, but much to my frustration were wiped off my menu when I realized I had to ditch the wheat. It took me a fair few years to get around to figuring this gluten free version.

Now, I should point out that ‘normal’ cassoulet not only has meat in it, it also has everything cooked together for quite a long time to cook the beans, tenderize the meat, and form a rich tasting crust. Tofu isn’t going to be improved by a long slow cook in bean juices! It’s quite tender enough, and if anything, it needs to be firmed up, which is why I bake mine first.

If you want to, you can certainly use 1 1/2 cups (~9 oz) dried beans in this dish. Just soak and cook them up according to packet instructions (along with the bay leaf) beforehand, and retain enough of the cooking liquid to cover them by about 1/2″ when adding to the other ingredients.

The tofu can either be fresh, or frozen and defrosted before use. Defrosted tofu has a different texture to that of fresh which releases its water more easily, and may well have a more acceptable texture for those folks who don’t normally eat tofu.

Serves 3-4 people

2 tsp oil or margarine
1/2 large (or 1 medium) onion, coarsely diced
2 cloves garlic
2 cans great northern, haricot/navy, or other small white beans (not drained)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp pepper
salt to taste (depends on how salty your cooked beans are)

~14 oz firm tofu (regular, not silken), drained
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp pepper
dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400F, so the beans won’t cool down too much after being put in.

half cooked cassouletHeat the oil in a dutch oven, and cook the diced onion over medium heat until medium brown (~10-15 minutes). Add the garlic, beans, the bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, 1/4 tsp pepper, and enough bean liquor / water to cover by 1/2″. Check seasoning (it should taste slightly under salty at this point). Bring all to a gentle simmer, and transfer to the hot oven (uncovered).

Stir together the tsp of salt, nutritional yeast,  and one of the 1/4 tsp pepper in a large bowl. Add a dash of cayenne, if liked.

Cut the tofu into 3/4″ cubes or chipolata, pat dry with kitchen paper, and use your hands to toss the tofu gently with the seasoning mixture. (Defrosted tofu is particularly delicate.)

Spread the tofu out on a baking/cookie sheet which has been lined with baking parchment, and place in the oven for about 1/2-3/4  hour until starting to firm up around the edges. (This will depend on how wet your tofu is, and how big the chunks are.)

cooked cassouletWhen the tofu is ready (firmed up on the outside and chewy), stir it into the beans, and continue cooking the beans in the oven until the sauce has finished thickening (a total cooking time of about an hour for the beans).

Serve hot with crusty GF bread, and warm fluffy blankets next to a roaring fire.

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Shiitake Mushroom Risotto

This dish is courtesy of some fine fellows down at the Fallbrook Mushroom Company, who periodically drop a few (large) boxes of shiitake mushrooms off at a Bank of America down in Temecula. I get to take a load home, and experiment! Shiitake mushrooms are quite different to regular mushrooms in my mind. Although they taste fairly similar, I don’t think you can rinse them like normal mushrooms, and the stems are really chewy. In this dish, I removed the stalks, but I didn’t throw them away, as they are wonderful in veggie burgers!

This risotto is an uncomplicated, richly mushroom-y supper. A really personal pleasure.

shiitake risotto

Serves 2 well
1 tbsp margarine
8 oz of shittake mushrooms
1 tbsp margarine
1 cup arborio rice or similar short grain white rice (do not wash)
4 tbsp mushroom powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 pint white wine (I used a pinot grigio)
black or white truffle oil garnish

Prepare the mushrooms by wiping any dust/dirt off them with a paper towel. Remove the stems. If the mushrooms are fairly small, leave them whole, otherwise, quarter them.
Melt the margarine in a medium saucepan.
Add the mushrooms, and fry for about 5 minutes until softened.
In a second pan, warm 2 1/2 cups of water, with the mushroom powder, salt, pepper, and wine.
Remove the mushrooms from the pan, and put to one side.
In the mushroom pan, melt the second tbsp of margarine; add the rice, and stir frequently until the rice is all coated with fat and turning translucent.
Add about 1 cup of the warmed water mixture to the rice, and stir frequently until the water is almost completely absorbed.
Keep adding the warmed water mixture 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently, and allowing each addition to be almost completely absorbed before adding the next. Repeat until all the warmed water mixture has been added.
Check the rice is cooked; if necessary, add another 1/2 cup water and continue cooking.
Stir in the cooked mushrooms.
Serve with optional (and highly recommended) black or white truffle in olive oil garnish.

Black Eyed Pea Goulash

Over the last few years, I’ve strayed somewhat from the beany stews that I so loved when I was first learning to cook. Could it be that I see them as unsophisticated? Certainly their image is somewhat austere, and they can seem unexciting, and yet (for some reason or another), they are warming, comforting, homey, reassuring, kind to my tummy.

Black Eyed Pea Goulash

Black Eyed Pea Goulash with Garlic Mashed Potatoes

It doesn’t hurt that they’re economical and healthy, too. I wanted to make Boston Baked Beans for dinner this evening, but found I’d run out of haricot beans, and there was this packet of black eyed peas sitting in the dried bean draw waiting to be tried. In a rather bad mix of enthusiasm and disorganization, I put the beans on to soak, and then headed for my copy of Rose Elliot’s The Bean Book, which I’ve had since the mid 80’s and is now festooned with annotations and post-it notes, and has lost much of its glue, so is falling apart and has to be treated with respect in what is definitely the autumn of its life.

Anyway, I made the Beany Goulash, with my inevitable tweaks (more garlic, less oil, sun-dried tomatoes instead of puree … that sort of thing), served it up with garlic mashed potatoes, and watched while both of my girls cleared their plates, and told me I should make this more frequently. So much for austere and uninspiring. I shall make this more often. It will probably surface every couple of weeks on a weekday evening, warming tummies, and not requiring a whole lot of my attention.

8 oz dried black eyed peas/beans
2 tsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and diced
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
16 oz (4 cups) green/red/yellow pepper strips (frozen works fine)
28 oz canned, chopped tomatoes in juice
4 oz (1/2 cup) sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and minced
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1-2 tbsp sugar (white or brown)

Pick the black eyed peas over for debris, rinse, and cover with plenty of water before leaving to soak over night.

Drain the peas, rinse once or twice, then cover with fresh water, bring to a simmer, and cook until the beans are soft but not falling apart (~30-40 minutes stove-top, or just bring up to pressure in a pressure cooker, then remove from the heat and allow to cool naturally).

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and gently fry the onion for about 10 minutes until it is soft and translucent.

Add the garlic and pepper strips, and carry on frying and stirring for 5 minutes.

Drain the beans. Stir all ingredients together, and allow the stew to simmer gently for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the surface turns a little darker, and the oil separates and rises to the surface, and the sauce has thickened.

Check seasoning before serving, and eat with a clear conscience.

By the way, if you want to make garlic mashed potatoes: peel, dice, and boil 4 baking potatoes (~2 lbs) until soft but not disintegrating. Mince 6 cloves of garlic and warm through in 2 tbsp vegan margarine (I like Earth Balance). Once the potatoes are cooked, roughly drain them, add the garlicky margarine and 1 tsp salt, then mash thoroughly with a potato masher. Check seasoning before serving.

(Boston) Baked Beans

boston baked beans

Boston Baked Beans served in a bowl of garlic mashed potatoes.

When thinking about gluten free diets, the temptation is to focus on replacements for bread, pasta, cakes, and such like, so when I include naturally gluten free foods in the blog, I sometimes feel a bit sheepish. However, I’ve been making Boston Baked Beans for far longer than I’ve been interested in making gluten free bread, because they’re such a good staple, and they are gluten free, so I hope you enjoy them! In actual fact, I’ve included two recipes, below. For Boston Baked Beans, the sauce is chunky. For regular baked beans, blend the sauce with some non-dairy cream cheez until completely smooth before adding to the beans.

If you’re not used to cooking beans from scratch, don’t get fazed. It’s really straight-forward: Clean the beans. Soak the beans. Cook the beans. Add the beans to the other ingredients. Most of the time is spent doing other things while the beans do their thing under water.

1 lb (2 cups) dried navy or great northern beans (or other small, white bean)
1 medium onion, diced
2 tsps oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3-4 tbsp brown sugar (use white sugar for standard baked beans)
1 tbsp honey mustard (check for gluten!)
3 tbsp black strap molasses
1 x 28oz tin of tomatoes (Doesn’t look like enough to start off with, but it is – once it’s cooked.)
1 tbsp fresh thyme OR 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1-2 tsps salt
(1 oz vegan cream cheez for standard baked beans, omit for Boston Baked)

Check the beans over for debris and damaged beans to be discarded, then rinse them.
Put the beans in a pressure cooker pan or large saucepan, with water to cover them by about 2 inches; bring to the boil; turn off the heat; cover, and leave to soak for an hour or until a bean can be split in half with your finger nail, and appears to be the same color all the way through. Soaked bean

Drain the beans, and rinse them. (This makes them less gassy for those folks who don’t eat beans frequently.)

Return the beans to the pot with enough clean water to cover by about 1/2”. If you don’t use a pressure cooker, you’ll need to add more water either at the beginning, or as the cooking continues. Aim to have the water remain above the level of the beans throughout the whole process.

In a pressure cooker, bring the beans up to pressure, turn off the heat, leaving the pan in place, and allow to come down from pressure naturally.

If you’re just boiling the beans in a regular pan, cover with a tight fitting lid, and simmer for about an hour (this may be more depending on how old the dried beans are), checking the water level once in a while.

Cook beans until tender but not disintegrating. They won’t soften further after the addition of the other ingredients, no matter how long you boil. Any slight crunch will be obvious, and the beans won’t be a pleasure to eat, so taste one to check! If you’re using the pressure cooker, just boil the beans conventionally, if they’re still not quite soft enough when they come down from pressure.

Sauté the onion in the oil until soft.

Add the garlic to the onion, and warm through for a minute before adding all the other ingredients (except the beans).

If making standard baked beans, now put all the sauce ingredients into the food processor (or use an immersion blender) and blend. Pass the sauce through a sieve or chinois, if available, but you can skip this step, if not.

For both kinds of beans: Drain the beans; add the sauce to beans, and simmer for 30 minutes until the beans have taken up the flavor and color.

Serve hot with baked potatoes, or on almond bread toast, or under a cobbler topping.