As we approach the winter solstice, I delight in the nights getting darker earlier. It is as irrational as my sister’s love of nighttime traffic jams, but I love the gleam of the streetlight emerging from the gloom of a wet road. Leaving work, I rush home to burn the lights brightly and feel the warm blast of the heater. Peering out the window, all is formless and black. Ugliness fades. Beauty surrenders. The shadows are full of mysteries. Darkness hides a myriad of faults and promises many wonders.
So too does dark food fascinate us. Only in the depths of winter do we really crave food that is unbelievably rich and complex in flavour. A slice of pumpernickel bread, a lick of promite, a glass of port and a slab of rich chocolate cake fill a need. Reluctant to venture outdoors, we embrace such comforts.
For me, such winter food brings to mind the dark rich meaty stews simmering gently in my mum’s oven when we came in from school. The house would fill with the intense aromas. As a vegetarian, it is harder to find such dark pleasures in winter stews. But after years of eschewing meat that I have started to discover pleasingly rich stews of vegetables and legumes.
The key agents of darkness seem to be molasses, cocoa and mushrooms. All were present in the stew I made last night upon returning from holidays in grave need of vegetables and protein. It was simple, nutritious, intensely flavoured and black as the night. Most pleasing was taking it out of the oven and finding a dark stew which was starting to crust around the edges. It is full of vegetables but many dissolve into the murky undercurrents. I have been told by E that not only is it delicious but it is also very neofolk!
I am sending this stew to Carrie at Ginger Lemon Girl who is hosting this month's "Go Ahead Honey It's Gluten Free" blogging event, started by Naomi at Straight into Bed Cakefree and Dried. The theme is one pot meals. In the spirit of the event, I have tried to note the ingredients to watch are gluten free if cooking for a GF diet.
Dark Lentil and Vegetable Stew
(adapted from Vegan by Tony Weston and Yvonne Bishop via Zlamushka’s Spicy Kitchen)
- 2 medium potatoes, cut into chunks
- 20 g dried mushroom (I used shitake but would like to try porcini) broken in pieces
- 190 g lentils (I used green lentils)
- 900 ml vegetable stock*
- 125 g mushroom (I used button mushrooms), sliced
- 1 red onion, sliced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 parsnip, diced
- 170 g cabbage (I used red cabbage), diced
- 1 zucchini, diced
- 140 g frozen peas
- bouquet garni (I tied together bay leave, sprig of thyme and sprig of parsley but this is optional)
- 2 heaped tsp cornflour*
- 2 tsp cocoa
- 2 tsp vegetable stock powder*
- 1 tbsp blackstrap molasses
- 1 tsp yeast extract* or flakes (I used promite)
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 125 ml dry sherry (or dry red wine)
- Lots of black pepper
- Small handful fresh parsley, chopped, to serve
- Nutritional yeast flakes or grated parmesan cheese, to serve
* For gluten free diets, check these items are gluten free
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (350F).
Place all vegies, lentils, bouquet garni and vegetable stock into a large stockpot (preferably ovenproof). Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
While vegetables are simmering, mix the cornflour, stock powder, yeast extract, cocoa in a small bowl. Gradually mix in the molasses, tomato sauce and then the wine.
Mix molasses mixture into the vegetables and bring to the boil. The stew should thicken slightly. If not then simmer for a few minutes til it does thicken. Remove from the heat. If you are not using an ovenproof dish, pour into a baking dish. Check seasoning (I found it a little on the sweet side and needed lots of pepper and some added salt).
Bake for 30 minutes. Remove bouquet garni if using. Garnish with parsley and yeast flakes or cheese. Serve as is or with mashed vegetables, rice or toast.
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