Ok. The thought of eating a stew without meat makes me shudder. What's the point of beef stew, without the beef? Saving a cow's life, lowering my risk of heart disease, blah blah blah. Give me some Beef Bourgogne and a fork! Then my conscience (or was it my wallet?) got the best of me, and I thought a stew might be the true test of how successful my vegetarian cooking is. I mean the meat really makes the stew, so tender, so delicious, but maybe I could make vegetables satisfy just as well as the meat does.
Generally speaking, the toughest part of the animal (shoulder, leg) is the best part to be stewed. Braising it in some sort of sauce for long hours on end tenderizes the meat and turns the sinewy bits into pure velvet. Not literally of course. What I mean is the meat has the soft luxurious melty qualities that float over your taste buds the way velvet floats over your skin. Smooth. In any case, I picked out the toughest vegetables to substitute for the tough cuts of meat: ROOT VEGETABLES.
Carrots, parsnips, celery root, potatoes...virtually any vegetable you can think of that grows underground is a root vegetable. They are great for braising because their texture is a lot harder than many other vegetables. Of course they aren't nearly as tough as say pork shoulder might be, so you don't have to cook them as long. Shorter cooking time is another bonus in vegetarian cooking.
For my stew experiment, I decided I wanted to try a vegetarian spin on Shepherd's Pie. (Technically Shepherd's Pie is a casserole, but I treated my vegetarian version like a stew.) A traditional Irish Shepherd's Pie calls for lamb or mutton, while many American versions use ground beef. Vegetables, such as peas, carrots, and onions, are mixed in with the meat and all of it is stewed together in some sort of sauce and baked with mashed potatoes on top.
For my vegetarian version I've used a variety of root vegetables, including carrots, turnips, and parsnips along with some other vegetables with a longer cooking time, cooked them in a red wine sauce, and spiced up the mashed potatoes with parsnips. I chose to use a flavorful red wine, something smoky and spicy to give the illusion that the stew contains meat. Ask the wine guy (or girl) at your local grocery store for a good recommendation. I used 2008 Bodegas Castano Monastrell Yecla Tinto which according to the internets is a relatively inexpensive Spanish wine that has a leathery and peppery taste. According to me, it had a medium intensity and was delicious to cook with and to drink.
For the Mashed Potatoes:
3 pounds Yukon Gold Potatoes, scrubbed well and skins on
1 pound Parsnips, medium diced
2 tablespoons Butter
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
For the Stew:
2 Onions, medium diced
1 bunch Celery, medium diced
3/4 pound Brussels sprouts, stems removed and quartered
2 Turnips, medium diced
2 tablespoons Ginger, minced
4 cloves Garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Dried Rosemary
2 tablespoons Dried Thyme
1 cup Red Wine, full bodied (such as a Shiraz or a Tempranillo)
3 1/2 cups Vegetable Stock
3 tablespoons Butter
3 tablespoons Flour
Salt and Pepper, to taste
For the Mashed Potatoes:
1. Fill a large pot with water and the potatoes. Place the potatoes in the water and slowly bring to a simmer. Cook the potatoes until tender. While potatoes are cooking, you can work on the rest of the stew.
2. Meanwhile, cook the parsnips in a pot of salted water until soft. Puree in a food processor.
3. Once the potatoes are done cooking, peel the skin off and mash with a ricer, potato masher, or fork. Mix with parsnip puree.
4. Melt the cream, butter, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon together and add to the potatoes and the parsnip mixture. Potatoes should be thick and fluffy enough to sit on top of the stew.
For the Stew:
1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.
2. Blanch Brussels sprouts in a pot of salted boiling water just long enough to par-cook them, about 2 to 3 minutes.
3. In a large pot, melt the butter and caramelize onions, carrots, celery, and turnips over high heat, about 4 - 5 minutes. Add minced ginger and garlic, and sauté one minute longer. This should be done in small batches so that an even color can develop on all of your veggies.
4. Place all vegetables, including Brussels sprouts in a large cast iron pot or casserole dish. Add dried thyme, rosemary, and red wine. Reduce the wine down until it has almost all evaporated.
5. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Add vegetable stock and let cook until liquid has reduced slightly.
6. Spread mashed potatoes on top of the stew and place in the oven. cook for 30 minutes or until the potatoes have browned and the liquid has thickened.
7. Eat and Enjoy!