Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stew, Reframed.

This is a spectacular week for some of us, kicking it off by sitting at a table where we don't eat for hours and then drink a lot. Somehow, starting off cranky and drunk is a wonderful way to connect with our friends and families, our joys and passions. I think it breaks our thought processes down into simpler bits and allows us to reassess our words and actions. An example:

Yesterday, this stew was a working lunch without a message, poor thing. I threw the entire post out and started over this morning. After the heart-dropping act of deliberately hitting the delete key, the last things I wrote in the notebook were these:
  • Beans should be salty, broth should be sweet.
  • Give thanks.
There. Simpler. Less cranky. New post. As a friend pointed out, a blog post about stew should, like stew, be better the next day, anyway. Thanks, Robby.

Farmer’s Market Stew
Burwell General Store
Serves: 6 with bread

Total active time: about 45 minutes
Total cooking time: about four hours

One large sauce pot
One stock pot

A note on flavors:
Cooking and salting the beans separately from assembling and sugaring the stew broth ensures each element has its own flavor, a challenge in a dish that is designed to meld together. I added everything together for a final 45 minutes of simmering, keeping the various flavors and textures separate but cooperative in the pot. 
2 cups dried farmer’s market bean variety, including some Scarlett Runners (or substitute a black, white and Pinto bean combination from your pantry) rinsed and sorted
One clove shallot, halved
One bay leaf
1-2 Tbsp salt

Stew ingredients:
One large parsnip, diced
One medium yellow onion, diced
5 medium pink fingerling potatoes, about two cups, diced (A sturdy variety like a Red Thumb, Yukon Gold or Russian Banana will hold up okay – use what you have)
3 sprigs of thyme
8 oz vegetable stock, or water
1/2 cup water
1 28 oz can crushed organic tomatoes
1 cup pot liquor from beans
1-2 Tbsp sugar

Start beans in a large sauce pot, covering with about two inches of water. Add bay leaf and shallot, cover, leaving a crack between the pot and lid and bring to a low simmer.  Check periodically, adding water as necessary to keep beans moving in the pot. They will feel crowded and should have an inch or two of water covering them at all times. This allows for a strong pot liquor to form. 
After about two hours, when beans are softened but still taste a tad grainy, or, in your kitchen expertise, need about 45 minutes more to go, (cooking time to this point can be up to three hours for store-bought beans) add one tablespoon of sea salt. After a few minutes, taste one of the beans with a little of the broth, adding more salt if desired.
Set a separate stock pot over medium heat. Add olive oil, and when shimmering, add onions, sautéing for three to five minutes to soften.  Add parsnip and potatoes, sauté for another three to five minutes to soften slightly.  Add tomatoes, thyme, vegetable stock, water and sugar and bring to a simmer.   
When stock pot is simmering, transfer the beans, bay leaf, shallot and one cup of pot liquor from the bean pot, reduce heat and simmer for an additional 30 to 45 minutes or just until the potatoes and beans are tender. Adjust the salt and sugar content to taste.
Spoon into bowls, top with cracked black pepper and serve with fresh bread on the side.  Enjoy the bounty of your kitchen, and share with others.

Notes: In my humble opinion, fresh dried beans are unmatched in their ability to add flavor, texture and vibrancy in a vegetarian dish. If you have any access to them, whatever their variety, please pick them up. If you aren't near a farmer's market, try Rancho Gordo, a character of a bean retailer in northern California devoted to sourcing locally farmed beans and propagating rare varieties. His stash is fantastic, and it is worth treating yourself to a few of his varieties to perhaps inspire you to grow or source your own locally. He is a disciple of pot liquor, the oft-discarded bean water that contains all of the flavors of the pot.

Yes, I brainstorm on a chalkboard. Hey, I made it. (here)
Guess what, you just ate a vegan dish!

A note on giving thanks:
It is a miniscule step, but incorporating vegan cooking in my non-vegan kitchen tends to use up odd amounts of ingredients and is a small act of kindness towards animals, our planet and our local farmers. I would love to hear about your daily acts of compassion. Please tell us about them below.

1 comment:

  1. Love that you use parsnips and not carrots. I need to use it more often. Never heard of Russian banana potatoes though now I will look it up. This vegetaruan market stew looks awesome!


Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Stay positive!