Winter stew with vegetarian sausage, white beans, and kale (5 servings)

So far, 2018 has been mostly frigid, snowy, and blustery. (More like twenty-hibernate-teen, am I right?) Yesterday, thick, heavy snowflakes fell for thirteen hours straight in Durham, leaving a total of six inches in our front yard, although other parts of the Triangle received twice as much. It's definitely the most snow we've seen at once since we moved here in 2010.

The weight of the snow has caused widespread power outages in the area, but despite the damage, it was a beautiful snow. The rain that started the day allowed the snowflakes to cling to every branch and pine needle and leaf of the trees. I love how a thick snow creates definition and dimension that's easy to take for granted on an ordinary day, especially in the grayer parts of winter.

This type of chill and snow-blanketing calls for stew -- rich, hearty, flavorful stew that warms you up from the inside and enlivens the senses. This particular recipe is high in protein and fiber, so it's good for you, too! It cooks slowly in the crockpot, giving you time to read a book, reorganize a closet, write a hand-scripted letter, bake a pan of brownies, or whatever you love to do on a rare snowed-in day.

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 2 vegetarian sausages, cut into bite-sized pieces (I used Field Roast Italian)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 15-oz can Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried Italian herbs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups chopped kale or spinach

Steps:

  1. Brown the sausage in a little oil in skillet over medium-heat.
  2. Place the sausage and all remaining ingredients except the kale or spinach in the bowl of a slow cooker.
  3. Cook for 6 hours on low or 3 hours on high.
  4. Add in the kale or spinach; cook on low for another hour or high for another half hour.

Next time, I'd add some chopped celery, too. I'm sure that if you're not into vegetarian sausage, you could add another can of beans or some browned mushrooms instead. This stew was just what we needed yesterday!

Savory slow-cooked beans (8+ servings)

Happy Easter, readers! I've risen from obscurity to bring you another delicious vegetarian recipe.

If you have a slow cooker, you know it's a magical thing. You just load in the ingredients, set the time and temperature, and go about your day, returning to find a delicious, flavorful meal hours later. Although I tend to immediately think of soups and chilis when I want to use my slow cooker, I've found that beans are another easy go-to option for my Crockpot. This recipe can be customized in infinite ways, and the tender, savory beans can then be used in many different recipes or served as is. These beans freeze beautifully and reheat nicely, too.

You will need:

Basic requirements

  • 1 lb dry black beans, pinto beans, or other similarly-sized beans, picked through for debris
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 jar (15-16 oz) salsa, any variety
  • 1 tsp salt

Optional flavor boosters:

  • 1 bay leaf
  • a palmful of dried herbs and/or spices: oregano, cumin, chili powder, cinnamon, cocoa powder, chipotle powder, paprika, etc.
  • liquid smoke
  • hot sauce
  • chopped onion, carrot, celery, and/or potato
  • minced garlic
  • halved olives
  • tomato paste
  • olive oil

Secret final ingredient (after beans are cooked):

  • a splash of lime juice

Steps:

  1. Place the four basic ingredients in the bowl of a slow cooker.
  2. Add in as many ingredients as you like from the "optional flavor boosters" above, customizing add-ins to your own taste. (I love smoky beans, so I almost always add smoked paprika and liquid smoke. I love the richness a glug of olive oil adds, and if I use an onion, I usually keep it in big pieces to avoid overpowering the beans' flavor.)
  3. Give everything a stir and set the slow cooker for 9 hours on low.
  4. At the end of the cooking time, add in the lime juice. If you want to add a handful of chopped fresh herbs (cilantro is especially nice), do that now, too.
  5. Serve the beans in any way you like! (See some options below.) If you're serving them as-is, you might want to add some more salt. If you're using the beans as part of another recipe, you probably don't need more salt.

These beans can be used in a huge variety of ways. Here are some suggestions:

  • Make burrito bowls (as in the last picture above) by serving the beans on top of brown rice with roasted corn, chopped avocado, and any toppings you like (sour cream, cheese, green onions, cilantro, etc.).
  • Serve them alongside scrambled eggs, more salsa, and tortillas for a savory breakfast or brunch dish.
  • Blend them into soup for a light and quick meal.
  • Fold them into enchiladas.
  • Add them to your favorite chili recipe.
  • Use them in a potluck salad.
  • Make a spicy casserole.
  • Turn them into tacos.

If you don't like spicy heat, you could make these with a mild salsa or even substitute a can of crushed tomatoes for the salsa. At less than $1.00 a serving, you can't beat the ease and convenience of this recipe.

Sausage and lentil stew (8-10 servings)

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One of my Christmas gifts this past December was a programmable slow cooker with a "keep warm" feature. As other vegetarians know, meat-free food doesn't need as long to cook as meat does, and if I were to keep the type of food I make in the slow cooker for the whole time I was at work, it would be total mush by the time I got home. Luckily, I can now set the cooker for the amount of time the recipe needs, and then it will switch to "keep warm" until I'm ready. Lovely! Expect more slow cooker recipes in the coming months!

The recipe I'm featuring today actually comes from the Cuisinart booklet that came in the slow cooker's box. It's not originally a vegetarian recipe, but it was easy enough to turn meatless by subbing vegetable broth for the chicken broth and using vegetarian sausage. Cuisinart's version calls for cheese tortellini in addition to the veggies, sausage, and lentils, but to me, adding it would have gilded the lily a bit. The stew is already chunky, texturally-varied, and rich, so adding tortellini seemed unnecessary. Besides, you can make the stew vegan by leaving out the tortellini, as long as you use vegan sausage like Tofurky. If the sausage isn't vegan, the recipe is still vegetarian.

You will need:

  • 3/4 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil
  • ~1 lb vegan Italian sausage links (Tofurky's package is 14 oz.)
  • 8 oz mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
  • 3/4 cup dried brown lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 1 small yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 lb carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 3/4 Tbsp dried basil
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 3/4 oz sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed), slivered (I didn't have any)
  • 5 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

Steps:

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage links and allow to brown, turning occasionally. When the sausage is brown on all sides (after about 10 min), remove it from the pan and allow it to cool.
  2. Add the mushrooms to the dry skillet and cook until brown (3-5 min). Set aside. Once the sausage is cool enough to handle, cut it into 1/2-inch slices on the diagonal.
  3. Place the lentils, onions, carrots, garlic, browned mushrooms, basil, thyme, sun-dried tomatoes, and sliced sausage in the slow cooker. Pour the broth over top.
  4. Cover and cook on high for three hours; then allow it to simmer for another five hours. (If your cooker doesn't have a "simmer" setting, as my previous one didn't, then you could probably let it cook on low for a shorter time.) Serve hot.

Obviously, this isn't the best recipe to cook when you're away for a whole day, because of changing the settings, but it's a good one for a day when you're home but busy. I love the "set it and forget it" aspect of using a slow cooker. It's such a treat to be busy with my work, smell a heavenly aroma coming from the kitchen, and remember, "Oh, yeah! Dinner's almost ready already!" Life is good.

P.S. Leftovers freeze nicely!

Crockpot masala chai concentrate

As luck would have it, I discovered Gina C.'s recipe for crockpot chai concentrate a couple weeks ago, and I've been hooked ever since. As long as you've got a crockpot (I suppose you could just make it on the stovetop too), access to bulk-bin spices, and a one-quart container, you can have tasty, cheap chai any day of the week! 

You will need:

  • 8 slices of ginger, about 1/4-inch thick each, from peeled stalk of fresh ginger
  • 2 short or one long cinnamon stick
  • 10 whole cloves (my version is very clove-y, so if you're not a fan, cut back a bit)
  • 15 green cardamon pods (pinch each one between your fingers to crack it open a little)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • a dash of nutmeg
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup honey, depending on taste preferences
  • 4 cups water
  • 6 Darjeeling or Ceylon teabags (I hate to be a tea snob, but run-of-the-mill black teabags just won't cut it)

Steps:

  1. Add everything except the teabags to the bowl of a slow cooker. Cover and turn on high.
  2. After three hours, add in the teabags, steep for 10 minutes, and then squeeze the teabags well to drain.
  3. Pour the concentrate through a fine strainer to remove all the spice solids. Once it's cooled, store the strained concentrate in a one-quart container in the fridge until you're ready to use it.
  4. For each serving, mix equal parts chai concentrate and milk of your choice. Heat in the microwave (or pour over ice, if you prefer).

This recipe doubles as an air freshener! I have a batch simmering in the kitchen right now, and the whole apartment smells amazing. What I love best about the recipe is its adaptability. If you don't like an ingredient, you can leave it out, or you can increase the amount of the spices you love. You could also add in other ingredients frequently found in chai, such as star anise, fennel seeds, or allspice berries. You could make orange-flavored chai by throwing in some dried orange peels, or you could make chocolate chai by adding some cocoa powder. You can make it less sweet or more sweet, depending on what you like, or you could even leave out the honey and just sweeten each individual serving as you make it.

If you want this to be vegan, you can substitute the honey for a different sweetener and use almond milk or soy milk to make your lattes.

P.S. I think the way I make it tastes closest to Tazo's organic boxed concentrate because of the amount of cloves I use.

Puerto Rican-ish beans (8+ servings)

Happy 200th post to me!

PRbeans.jpg

This recipe is inspired by my friends Gaby and Liza, who make amazing vegetarian rice and beans. They're unlike other types of beans I've had -- gently savory and comforting with tangy, salty olives and tender potatoes. I combined what I could remember of their recipe with a similar recipe I found online, and tweaked it to work in the crock pot. Again, what follows is not necessarily authentic (blah, blah, blah) and won't win any awards (The coveted  Arroz y Frijoles Award slips through my fingers yet again!), but it's simple and delicious in a you-will-love-it-so-go-make-it-now sort of way. It's sadly not as good as Gaby and Liza's recipe, but I'm still happy with how it turned out.

You will need:

  • 2 15-oz cans of beans, not rinsed or drained (I'd recommend pink beans, but I used one can of black beans and one can of dark red kidney beans, since that's what I had on hand)
  • 1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 large potato, peeled and cut into half-inch cubes
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 packets Sazon Goya seasoning with coriander and annatto (find it in a box in the Latino foods aisle)
  • a big squeeze of tomato paste
  • a handful of green olives, sliced (I found a fancy kind stuffed with spicy peppers)
  • 1 cup water

Steps:

  1. Combine everything in the bowl of a slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 2.5 to 3 hours. Serve with rice.

This makes enough to serve two people for two meals, plus a generous portion to freeze for later on! 

I don't know if the Goya seasoning is vegan, but if it is, then this dish is too.