Sunday, February 14, 2010

Leek and Potato Cassoulet

I don't usually cook things with unfamiliar words in the name - I'm just not a confit or crudité kind of girl - but I made an exception because this cassoulet sounded so, so yummy.  A cassoulet, for those not in the know, is traditionally a meat and bean stew.  This one, from Veganomicon, is made with potatoes, leeks, kale, white beans, and seitan, with a homemade biscuit crust baked right on top.  It's like a supercomfort food: a stew and pot pie all in one.

This is one of the very few dishes I make that really needs to be made fresh and eaten immediately.  You can eat it a day or two after, but the biscuitty top does get a bit soggy and it's not quite as outrageously tasty.

I made mine in these adorable little single-serving casserole dishes from Le Creuset, but if you don't feel like dropping $20 a piece for your cookware, you can make this in an oven-safe cast iron pan or a regular casserole dish.

Also, this recipe calls for boiling the potatoes.  That works fine and is probably the quickest method, but for extra flavor, try roasting them.

Leek and Potato Cassoulet
Adapted from Leek and Bean Cassoulet with Biscuits, in Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

For the stew:
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2" pieces
  • olive oil, for sautéing
  • 2 leeks, thinly sliced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2-3 carrots, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 c. finely chopped kale (stems removed)
  • 1 heaping tbsp. fresh thyme (or substitute 1 tsp. dried)
  • 6 c. vegetable broth
  • 3 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1-1/2 c. chopped seitan (bite-sized pieces)
  • 1-1/2 c. white beans
  • salt and pepper, to taste
For the biscuits:
  • 3/4 c. plain nondairy milk
  • 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 c. chilled vegetable shortening (do your body a solid and get non-hydrogenated)
  1. Boil the diced potatoes in salted water, until just tender enough to be pierced with a fork.  Don't overcook them, and drain them immediately.
  2. While your potatoes are cooking, chop the remaining veggies.  In a large soup pot (or a really big cast-iron one if you have one and want to bake the stew in that), heat some olive oil over medium-high heat, and sauté the leeks, onions, and carrots until just browned.  Be careful not to burn them.
  3. Add the garlic, kale, thyme, and a bit of salt and pepper, and sauté a minute more.
  4. By this point, your potatoes should be done.  Add them to the pot.
  5. Mix the cornstarch into a cup or two of the vegetable broth.  Pour it into the pot, along with the remaining vegetable broth.
  6. Bring the stew to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes.  Turn on your oven now, and preheat to 425°F.
  7. While the stew is simmering, heat oil over high heat in a sauté pan, and sauté the chopped seitan until nice and browned.  Add the browned seitan and the white beans to the stew toward the end of its simmering time.
  8. Also while the stew is simmering, mix together your biscuits.  Stir the apple cider vinegar into your nondairy milk, and set it aside to curdle for about 5 minutes.
  9. In a mixing bowl, mix 1-1/2 c. of the flour with the baking powder and salt.
  10. Add the chilled shortening to the flour mixture in slivers, and crumble it in with your fingers.  Don't worry about getting it perfectly smooth; it should be clumpy.
  11. Drizzle in the milk mixture, and stir the dough together with a fork.  Don't overmix it.  Wash your hands, then lightly flour them and knead the dough a few times in the bowl.  Add more flour a little at a time until it's not quite so sticky.
  12. The stew should definitely be done simmering by now, so transfer it into your baking dish(es) - either the big cast iron skillet, a casserole dish, or individual casseroles.  Pull off palm-sized balls of dough, roll them into balls, then flatten them and place them on top of the stew.  You don't need to cover the whole thing.
  13. If the stew nearly fills your baking dish, put the dish on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any spillover.  Bake the stew at 425°F for 15 minutes or so, until the biscuit topping is cooked through and browned on top.  Try not to drool as you watch this bake.
Serve hot out of the oven.  Serves about 8.

If this doesn't just make your tummy ridiculously happy, there's something wrong with you.

Happy eating.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Required Reading: Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer

Whenever books like Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, are released, they're always accompanied by the same carnivore vs. herbivore debates.  We've heard all the arguments before: you need to eat meat to be healthy; animals exist for people to eat them; animals don't have feelings like people do; conditions for animals aren't really that bad; I buy free range cows/chickens so my meat is fine; I don't care that animals suffer because I love bacon.

Now, I've come up with my own educated opinions on the points above, as have all vegans: we've decided that none of the reasons for eating meat justify the sacrifices made by animals, the environment, and our bodies in order to make eating meat possible in today's world.  However, I think I'm fairly unique in the vegan community because I have no problem with people who make an educated decision that eating meat IS worth it, despite the negative consequences.  Animals are not the same as people, and you are under no obligation to care for them as such.  You have every right to decide that animal suffering is okay as long as it produces food.  That does not make you a bad person, it just means you place a different value on animal life than I do.  And that's okay.

What I can't abide, though, is the "don't preach at me" argument, also known as the "your diet choice is your own, so leave me alone about mine" argument.  Let me be clear: being vegan is NOT a diet choice.  It is an ethical choice.  Yes, there certainly are health components to the choice, and the primary venue through which the choice is enacted is in our diets.  But it is not the same as eating gluten-free, or low-carb, or raw.  It is a choice made based on moral principles, because we believe eating animals violates some non-negotiable ethical standards.

So we have a choice, as vegans.  We can keep our mouths shut, be quietly vegan, and try not to cause too much inconvenience to those around us.  But let's pretend that instead of animal rights, we're talking about a direct violation of human rights.  If you knew for a fact that an activity everyone around you participates in every day was the direct cause of the torture, suffering, and death of thousands of human beings, wouldn't you want to do something about it?  Wouldn't you want to tell your friends about this connection, because you're sure that if they knew the consequences of their actions, they wouldn't want to continue to be the cause of such suffering?

Now, walking around and screaming at everyone that they're murderers isn't respectful of your fellow humans, and more importantly, it isn't going to accomplish anything.  So what would you do?  You would try to educate people.  You would provide information, start discussions, make suggestions, about this horrible situation.  You would try to show people the face of this unpleasant reality, and you would hope that their consciences would lead them to the same decision yours has.

This is what vegans do.  Almost none of us were born into veganism; we made this choice for ourselves after someone else showed us the reality to which we had previously been ignorant.  Books like Foer's elucidate the truths of the meat industry, and beg you to align your actions with your conscience.  They eliminate the ignorance that allows people to chomp a hamburger without a second thought, and they demand that we reconcile our personal values with our choices.  If you can read or watch information about the meat industry, or even better, visit a real slaughterhouse or factory farm, and still have the stomach to eat meat, then I respect your decision to do so.  All I ask is that you understand what goes in to the choices you make, and take responsibility for their consequences.

But the willful ignorance that most people cling to when it comes to issues of animal welfare is entirely unacceptable.  Failing to educate yourself about the ethical choices you make in life is lazy, selfish, and downright immoral.  So when we try to make it really, really easy for you to understand this choice by providing books, pamphlets, videos, and discussions about what it means to eat animals, don't you dare accuse us of preaching.

You have a responsibility as a self-aware, cognizant human being to understand the consequences of your actions, and to align your choices with your principles.  Whatever decision you make is perfectly acceptable, as long as you understand it.  The greatest ethical crime you can commit is to remain ignorant of the effects of your behavior, especially when that information is made so readily available to you.  Educate yourself, and make your own decision.  Ignorance is not an option.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Vindaloo Curry

Vindaloo was my next foray into the Savory Spice curry sets I got for Christmas.  It's quite spicy, tangy, a little sweet, and totally awesome.  It's the kind of dish that tastes a little weird in the first bite, and then suddenly you're licking the bowl clean.

This is a really hearty curry, chock full of potatoes, butternut squash, and carrots.  These sweeter winter veggies help temper the spice a bit, and make this warm you right up on these bitter cold nights.  Feel free to use whatever veggies you like: I expect sweet potatoes and other types of winter squash would be delicious in this as well, and I'd even try cauliflower, garbanzo beans, or plantains if you're feeling really crazy.  Mine was a little too chunky for my tastes with all those veggies, so I added more tomatoes and a little vegetable broth, shown in the recipe below.  I also added a splash of almond milk (any nondairy milk or cream would work - try coconut for extra sweetness) although that's not traditional for vindaloo, as I understand it.  I served this with naan (a traditional Indian bread) and spooned it over some brown rice, which adds a lovely texture and mellows out the heat a bit.

This is adapted from Isa's Vegan with a Vengeance (you need to buy this book, for reals), and she lists all the spices and seeds you need to make a vindaloo curry from scratch.  I was lazy and wanted to use my vindaloo mix.  I'm not a curry expert, and I have no idea how "authentic" Savory's vindaloo is, but this sure was tasty.

Vindaloo Curry with Butternut Squash, Potatoes, and Carrots
Adapted from Butternut Vindaloo in Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
  • olive oil, for sautéing
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tbsp. vindaloo curry spice
  • 1/4 c. red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 c. red wine
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (I used fire roasted)
  • 1/2 c. vegetable broth
  • 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2" chunks
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2" chunks
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped into bite-size chunks
  • 3 tbsp. plain nondairy milk
  • 2 tsp. agave nectar or other sweetener
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • salt, to taste
  1. Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of a large pot over medium-high heat.  Sauté the onions until soft.  Add the garlic, and sauté a few minutes more.
  2. Stir in the curry spice, and fry for a minute or so, until the spices become fragrant.
  3. Mix in the red wine vinegar, red wine, crushed tomatoes, and veggie broth.
  4. Add the potatoes, squash, and carrots.  Stir everything really well.
  5. Bring everything to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low.  Simmer until veggies are tender, about 25-30 mintues, stirring frequently.  Be careful to not burn the curry on the bottom of the pan.
  6. Uncover and stir in the nondairy milk, agave nectar, and lemon juice.  Taste, and add salt as needed - don't be shy with the salt.  Simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, until the curry has your desired thickness.
Makes about 6 servings.  Serve with naan or over rice.

Eat this on a cold winter night, and blow a big ol' raspberry at the stupid weather.  Yum.

Happy eating.