Wednesday 18 June 2008

Great Stew of Darkness!

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)
serves 4

- 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 but vegemite would also work)
- 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.

On the stereo:The Great Rock and Roll Swindle: The Sex Pistols


  1. That look delicious Johanna! I always love your food so much! Graham would enjoy a plate of this with butered bread or mash potato. I would be straight in with a spoon, tasting it as I cooked! I sometimes am full before I serve up!

  2. Shorter, colder winter days never sounded so appealing! (But sorry, I stop short of yearning for winter). "The key agents of darkness"--love it! And this stew also sounds wonderful. Am saving this recipe for when I DON'T love the gleam of the streetlight on gloomy wet roads!!

  3. Johanna, you have captured the essence of the season - those long, dark nights - so well! This is the best time of the year for those rich stews and such.

    Beautiful words here. Your sister's fear sounds an interesting one!

  4. I adore your post title! Another dark flavor that works really well in chili is coffee. Sounds strange, but it really works!

  5. thanks Holler - I know what you mean about tasting as you go - how else would you have any confidence in what you serve up!

    thanks Ricki - I did wonder about if I was just being romantic about streetlights on dark wet roads tonight as I headed home on my bike in the rain but even then it did give me some shiver of delight. By the way, I had saved this from a post in a northern winter, so I would understand if you wait til winter comes around again.

    thanks Edward - kind words and much appreciated after I struggled to say more than dark, depths, dark, depths :-)

    thanks Ann - you are right about coffee but I can't stand the taste - I have found the Australia's ground wattleseeds make a palatable substitute for me

  6. Well, I don't miss winter, but I know what you mean about comfort foods like this. Mind you, I'd eat this anytime of year.

  7. thanks Lisa - it would taste equally good in Summer but I would be tempted to just cook it on the stovetop on a very hot day

  8. What a fantastic name for a dish! And good to see the promite featuring again! I find that most of the up-sides of winter are culinary, and I hope that meals like this are seeing you through.

  9. Thanks Lysy - you are so right about winter being all good for lots of baking and stewing - and more excuses to use promite :-)


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