I need to cook. Not want to (though I do), I really do mean need – it refreshes the soul!
It has to be a simple dish, so that I can do the prep in stages, as I can stand for only a few minutes at a time, and what follows lends itself nicely to that.
I suspect I’m having a problem with dairy products at the moment, so I thought – what better time to make a vegan dish? I was a veggie for around 20 years – probably longer, it fizzled slowly rather than just stopping dead – and years later, when I had a look at my recipe book, a lot turned out to be vegan, which I hadn’t realised at the time.
And so is this, a simple stew of carrots, onions, Pink Fir Apple potatoes, butter beans, and a touch of leek (dehydrated in this instance), and a little lemon zest, any other veggies I have kicking around, all in a light vegetable stock which is lightly thickened so that it coats the veg nicely. It was, to be honest, inspired by watching Rick Stein get stuck into a bowl of Welsh Cawl on TV – but without the meat.
Quantities don’t matter, it depends on what you’ve got and how much you want to make.
There’ll be carrots (Sweet Spear, for their flavour), sliced on the diagonal; lots of onions, thinly sliced (shallots are good, too, if you can get big ones, like Echalion); the potatoes are scrubbed, any manky bits cut out but otherwise unpeeled, and thickly sliced (about twice as thick as a pound coin); a small handful of dried leek (or a little fresh); a little lemon zest (there’s a small bag in the freezer). There might also be a few tiny Brussels sprouts too (there’s a bag of frozen button sprouts in the freezer which I’ll pillage for the smallest, and a handful of shredded cabbage, with maybe some frozen peas, just for colour. The butter beans are Napolina – none better – two cans, rinsed and drained. The stock, as so often, will be a couple of Kallo organic veg stock cubes, plus a healthy dose of rosemary for its intensity of flavour. Ignore the anti-rosemary brigade – a lot of pro chefs seem to fear the stuff, as did Elizabeth David, from whom, I suspect, they caught it – and pay no heed to those who claim it can taste soapy if you use to much – no it bloody can’t!
The onions are sweated in a good splash of olive oil until soft, then stir in 2 level tablespoons of plain flour and cook for a few minutes more, then add boiling water, with the stock cubes dissolved in hot water, and stir well until it thickens up. Then add the sliced carrots, lemon zest** and leeks (if you have fresh leek, put it in with the onions), cabbage, and add more water to cover well. If it’s too thick at this stage, add more water. Don’t season at this stage.
**I buy unwaxed lemons, peel off the zest in strips with a Rex peeler, and freeze it. In use it can be left in strips but for this, I’ll finely chop it.
Simmer until the carrots begin to soften, then add the spuds, the sprouts (if you have any), add more water if needed, bring back to the boil, reduce and simmer until everything is cooked.
Let it cool for a while, then taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt, Maldon is good with veggies, and black pepper (a little balsamic vinegar is good, too), stir gently so it doesn’t break up, and when cold refrigerate until the following day. Like all soups and stews, it benefits from a spell in the cold and dark, to allow the flavours the chance to snuggle up and get to know each other.
And having felt appallingly ill for the last few days, I feel so much better for having written this – hopefully I’ll feel better still when I make it tomorrow…