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!

North African "beef" stew (4 servings)

Let's make 2018 a year of heartfelt, well-intentioned risk-taking. Let's get to know people we might have looked past before. Let's talk to neighbors we previously hadn't met. Let's take the time to learn what's going on in our communities and assist the organizations that are trying to make a difference. Let's then look beyond our zip codes to the beautiful, complicated, frustrating, joyful, always-evolving globe we all call home. Let's read and cook and eat and play outside our comfort zones.

To that end, this North African-inspired dish is an exciting way to widen your flavor horizons. The ras el hanout -- a blend that includes spices like cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice -- and the harissa paste hail from Morocco and Tunisia, enhancing the flavor of earthy root vegetables. The broth is richly-perfumed and slightly spicy but balanced by the sweetness of the currants and the herbaceous notes of the garnish. I can't say I've ever made anything quite like this before, but I'm looking forward to trying similar recipes in the near future. I took inspiration from this recipe but changed up some of the ingredients and quantities.

One note: As long as your beef substitute is vegan, this dish is vegan.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

You will need:

  • 1 - 1 1/2 lbs vegetarian beef substitute, such as Quorn, Morningstar, or Beyond Meat brand (weight will vary by brand)
    • You could also use seitan or mushrooms if you prefer!
  • 1 1/2 lbs mixed root vegetables (such as carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, or rutabagas), chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 Tbsp ras el hanout spice blend (You can find it in some grocery stores or make your own)
  • 2 tsp harissa paste (Trader Joe's has a great blend or you can also DIY)
  • 1/3 cup red wine
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/8 cup currants or chopped dried apricots
  • fresh parsley, mint, and/or cilantro

Steps:

  1. Using a stockpot, brown the "beef" according to package directions. (The brand I used needed a little oil over medium heat for 10 minutes.) Remove from stockpot and set aside. Cut into smaller pieces if needed once the beef substitute has cooled.
  2. Turn heat to medium low and add 2 Tbsp olive oil to the same stockpot. Add in the root vegetables and garlic; cook and stir for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are slightly softened but not browned.
  3. Add in the ginger, ras el hanout, and harissa. Cook and stir for 2 minutes.
  4. Add in the wine to deglaze the pan; cook and stir for another 2 minutes.
  5. Add in the cinnamon stick and broth; increase heat to bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and let it simmer for 30-35 minutes, adding more liquid if it boils down too quickly.
  6. Once the vegetables are just barely fork-tender, add in the currants and simmer for another 10 minutes. Then add the beef substitute back in.
  7. Serve garnished with chopped fresh herbs. You can serve it over cooked rice or couscous or with a side of naan, pita, or chapati bread.

Yes, this recipe calls for some ingredients that may be a little tougher to find and it includes a long list of steps, but it really isn't difficult. A little bit of searching will reward you with a decadently-scented stew that fills your belly and home with flavor.

To purposeful, enthusiastic, compassionate risks in 2018!

Vegan baked lentils and brown rice (4-5 servings)

I have an old, brown blanket that I love to snuggle under to read or watch TV. It's seen better days; the fluffy, plush surface on one side is starting to wear a little thin, and the stuffing on the other side is beginning to pop out. The blanket isn't much to look at. You'd never see it in a West Elm catalog or at Crate and Barrel. But I love that blanket. It's warm and soft, and I know it's going to make me feel good whenever I drape it over myself on a chilly evening, no matter how stressful the previous hours have been.

This dish is the food equivalent of that blanket. It's not particularly pretty or trendy or stylish, but it's filled with the predictable sort of comfort I crave at the end of a long day. Its rich, earthy colors and simple flavors fill me up and let me know I'm home.

Plus, it's so simple to make. I love "dump-and-bake" recipes, as unattractive as that name sounds. It's basically just a veganized version of this Food.com recipe. I hesitate to call it a casserole, because to me, casseroles involve more layers and textures, but I suppose it's a very simple sort of casserole. Whatever you call it, it's an easy, soothing, healthful meal, and I think you're going to love it.

You will need:

  • 3/4 cup green lentils, dry

  • 1/2 cup long-grain brown rice, dry

  • 1/2 cup unsalted cashews, toasted

  • handful of dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes (opt.)

  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano

  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme

  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/2 Tbsp onion powder

  • 2 2/3 cups vegetable broth

  • 1 1/4 cups white wine

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Place all ingredients in a 1 1/2-quart ungreased casserole dish and mix gently.
  3. Bake, covered, for 90 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

And that's it! It bakes for a long time, but the prep couldn't be much easier. I think I might add chopped celery and carrots next time and maybe some mushrooms for a little more depth. I love that the simplest foods are often the best!

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.