This will sound completely improbable, but I actually tricked myself into eating vegan. Last Sunday I was standing at the stove, doing some idle stirring and gently scolding myself for not having gotten it together for the latest round of IMBB, which I had read about but not put into my calendar. I looked at the steaming pots before me and realized that I just happened to be cooking a vegan Sunday night dinner: two Madhur Jaffrey recipes, naturally, Anatolian Red Lentil Stew with Wheat Berries and Chickpeas, and New Potatoes Cooked in Their Jackets. (Lest you think this is normal in my house, I assure you, it is not--my table is frequently meatless, but seldom cheeseless eggless creamless, and almost never butterless). Next I assumed I was too late to send my felicitous feast over to Becks & Posh, but for once, I happened to be ahead of the game.
In the last photo, I'm afraid you can see some yogurt, which was an optional garnish for the stew. The stew was, however, just as good without a spoonful of dairy--rich and satisfying. I have never been a big fan of eggplant, but this summer, one of Andrew's friends made a moussaka that has had me rethinking that position. This is definitely the kind of dish that makes you say, yes, I could do without meat for a good long while. The potatoes were spicy and satisfying--though I'm not sure my cooking technique was exactly what it ought to have been, since they were a bit mealy. For dessert we shared an orange...and a few hours later, I made a decidedly un-vegan pound cake, but that's another story.
First I made vegetable stock for the stew.
We had bought all these gorgeous vegetables at the Greenmarket--prettiest carrots you've ever seen--and Andrew was sorry to see them sacrificed to stock. But it was a rich, delicious, even, I thought, buttery vegetable broth, so they did not go in vain. For once, I think it made a significant difference in the final dish.
Cut into one-inch chunks 1 large onion, 2 large carrots, 2 celery ribs (with some leaves), and one fat leek. Peel and smash 8 garlic cloves, and wash 8 branches of parsley (I added a small handful of carrot greens as well, since I had them). Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in your soup pot. When it is hot, put everything in, along with 2 bay leaves and a sprinkle of dried thyme. Brown the vegetables for 10 minutes, then cover them with 6 cups of water and add 2 tsp salt. Bring to boil; simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes; and strain.
Then I started the stew. Alas, the first instruction was to soak 1/4 cup of wheatberries for 12 hours, and a key ingredient was dried mint, which I couldn't find at the store. So I substituted "as much time as was available" for "12 hours," and herbes de provence for the mint--going on the iffy reasoning that eggplants and chickpeas are Mediterranean ingredients that would take as well to one Mediterranean seasoning as another. Actually, I was so happy with the substantial fennel-y taste of what I made that I would worry now about trying it with mint instead.
-Soak 1/4 cup wheatberries in 4 cups of water for 12 (ahem!) hours.
-Drain wheatberries. Put in a pot with 2 1/4 cups water and bring to a boil. Cover, turn heat to very low, and cook for 1.5 hours, at which point most of the water should be absorbed (this did not happen for me, perhaps due to my drastically curtailed soaking time; but they were chewy and delicious, so we just drained and added them as if all was well).
-Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large, heavy pot over medium high heat. When it is hot, add 1 finely chopped, smallish-medium onion and fry for 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 1 or 2 cups of 1/4-inch diced, peeled eggplant (Madhur Jaffrey says 1 cup; this looked like absurdly not enough to us, so we did 2 heaping cups) and fry for 2 minutes.
-Turn the heat to medium low. Add 2.5 tbs tomato paste, stir and cook for 30 seconds. Add 1 cup of red lentils, stir and cook for 30 seconds.
-Add 4 cups of your vegetable stock (or water) and 2 tbs dried mint (or if you are me, a scant tbs of herbes de provence). Bring to a boil, then cover partially, lower heat, and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
-Once it has cooked, MJ says to blend it until smooth in a blender or food processor. Even with the immersion blender, though, this seemed to me like a silly dirtying of kitchenware, since the stew was already fairly un-chunky. So we just moved on to the next stage, which was...
-Stir in another cup of stock, if you want. Stir in wheatberries; stir in a drained can of chickpeas; simmer everything together for 15 minutes. Add lemon juice and salt to taste. Garnish with parsley.
While the stew was at the lentil-simmering stage, there was just enough time to get the potatoes together.
This is one of those recipes the recipe-writer introduces with a lyrical description of how perfect it is with the original ingredients, which you, unfortunately, will not be able to find in the United States. In this case, MJ treats us to her memories of itty-bitty potatoes in India, then sniffs that perhaps in a pinch this could be made with diced new potatoes. Luckily, we had bought some very special baby Yukon gold and baby purple potatoes at the Greenmarket.
-Wash and dice (but do not peel) enough potatoes to cover the bottom of your skillet. Soak them in cold water.
-Blend a roughly chopped 1.5 sq inch piece of ginger with 1/2 tsp turmeric and 3 tbs water to form a paste. (I just grated the ginger and stirred in the other ingredients, which worked, but not quite as well).
-Heat 4 tbs vegetable oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium heat. Toast 1/4 tsp whole cumin seeds until they take color, about 30 seconds. Add paste and cook for 1 minute.
-Drain potatoes and add them. THEY WILL SPIT. I should have been more careful about this Stir and fry for 5 minutes.
-Add one cup of chopped coriander. Lower heat and fry 5 more minutes, stirring and scraping bottom of pan frequently.
-Add 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp cayenne, 2 tbs lemon juice, and 3 tbs warm water. (You are also supposed to add 1 tsp garam masala and 1 tbs ground coriander, neither of which I had). Stir, scrape bottom, and cover. Turn heat to very low and cook for 25 minutes or until done (Mine were done in 15 minutes...perhaps I cut them too small).
Mmm, brown vegan food. It may not be the prettiest thing you've ever seen, but the spicy potatoes (just spicy enough to make my face glow) went well with the soothing stew.
nothing to see here, ma'am...no yogurt...move along.