Thursday, November 11, 2010

Peanut Pumpkin Stew with Caramelized Seitan

Have you ever tried to cook a jack-o-lantern? Or have you ever bought a big ole pumpkin with the intention of carving it for Halloween and then dropped the ball only to be stuck with a 15 useless pounds of vegetable? Make no mistake, there is no turning Jack into pie. I learned that the hard way last year when I had 2 enormous orange faceless heads taking up space in my 1 bedroom apartment. I did get a good batch of seeds from them, and at least I gave their flesh due diligence on the stove (sorry if this sounds like a slasher blog talking about heads and flesh). However, carving pumpkins taste like...well they don't taste like anything. Something that large has a hard time hanging onto it's sugars. Most of us have the opposite problem - the sugars go right to the thighs and never leave. Oh well.

So this weekend I was meandering through the food store who was having a special on pie pumpkins! I was ecstatic about not having to buy canned pumpkin and getting about 2 cans worth for half the price. I got home with my precious pumpkin and stared at it thinking, "now what?" While I love a good pumpkin pie or cookie, those are pretty standard and too simple to do my pumpkin justice. Warm, savory, adventurous - that's what I wanted for my pumpkin's fate. The last savory dish I cooked didn't turn out so well because the recipe I actually followed called for pumpkin puree in a sauce with a bagillion breadcrumbs and something went very wrong, so following a recipe was out of the question. I peeked through a few and some ideas stuck - for some reason my brain was fusing African peanut and African pumpkin stew together so that's what this became. I have no idea if the spices pertain to the appropriate geography, but they worked.

Next time I will most likely serve the caramelized seitan on top of the stew and garnish with cilantro. I didn't have any cilantro on hand but it would have been nice for some color. I'm crazy and made my own seitan and Worcestershire (vegan of course) but store bought version would be fine, though I highly recommend making your own Worcestershire sauce with any recipes sans anchovies for the best results. I served this with a skillet cornbread that I have yet to perfect, but it was damn good.

Peanut Pumpkin Stew
Makes 3-4 servings
Cook time: 1 hour


1 jalapeno
1/2 T. canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 T. garlic, minced (4-5 cloves)
1 1/2 T. fresh ginger, minced
1/2 tsp. cumin, ground
1/4 tsp. garam masala
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/2 small pumpkin, peeled and cubed
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
1 can diced tomatoes
2 c. vegetable broth from bouillon
2 T. peanut butter
1 c. Caramelized Seitan (recipe below)
1/4 c. roasted peanuts
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
Cilantro for garnish (optional)


Broil whole jalapeno on high and cook until skin is blackened and blistered, rotating periodically to make sure all sides are heated. Remove from heat and let cool. Split the pepper open, remove the seeds, and chop into small pieces (wear gloves or hold the jalapeno with a fork/tongs and spoon out the seeds without touching with your fingers). Set aside.

In a medium stock pot, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until golden brown stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, and half of roasted jalapeno (reserve other half for another use or throw in and brace yourself). Stir until garlic and ginger become fragrant, about 30 seconds, and add the rest of the spices plus a pinch of salt. Cook another minute until spices are aromatic and throw in the pumpkin and bell pepper. Stir to coat with spices and cook until pumpkin starts to become tender, about 7-8 minutes. Add tomatoes with juices and increase heat to high. When mixture starts to boil, add vegetable broth. Bring stew to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low. Let stew simmer at a low boil for 20-30 minutes.

When pumpkin is very tender and breaks apart easily, stir to mash some of the pumpkin and thicken the stew. Add the peanut butter and stir to blend completely. Add Caramelized Seitan and peanuts (you can either add this into the stew or place on top when service). Season with salt and a little pinch of cayenne pepper if there's not enough heat for you. You can also soften the spice and bring out the peanut flavor with a small pinch of sugar. Garnish with cilantro if desired.

Caramelized Seitan
Makes about 1 cup
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes


2-3 T. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 c. water
1-2 T. sherry or other sweet wine
1 c. homemade or store bough seitan, cubed
Cooking spray


Whisk all marinade ingredients together and marinate seitan for at least 30 minutes (while you prep the stew or while it's cooking). Drain the seitan reserving the marinade.

Heat a skillet or stove top wok over high heat. When hot coat with cooking spray and throw in the seitan. Reduce the heat only slightly, when the pan starts to dry and seitan browns, pour in 1/4 cup of the marinade. Let reduce until thick and sticky. Scrape the skillet to rotate the seitan and pour in more marinade. When seitan is brown on all sides pour in any remaining marinade and turn off the heat. Remove from heat when there is still a small amount of thick marinade coating the seitan.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Vegan Hachis Parmentier: BB Shepherds Pie

Classic French cuisine is mouth-watering, aromatic, and beautiful but not terribly vegan-friendly. Let’s have a brief glimpse at the typical French fare: croque-monsieur, coq-au-vin, soufflé, paté, bouillabaisse, crème brulée. Meat, cheese, butter, and cream in any form you could possibly concoct. Translating French to English might be a forte of mine, but the challenge of translating French recipes into meatless meals is much more fun and very much a vegan venture. And just in time for the holiday season, amidst my search for a vegan offering that will satisfy my need for challenge and impress my omnivore audience, my NPR addiction paid off - All Things Considered did a segment on cooking French with shortcuts featuring a dish called Hachis Parmentier (wha?).

This is essentially a Beef Burgundy or Boeuf Bourguignon Shepherds Pie, a classic meat and potato comfort food. I recently tried a similar dish with a biscuit topping, but it came out all biscuit. So I thought I’ve give tubers a shot. It was incredibly easy and I loved how well the potatoes browned in the oven. Bite by bite, I became more convinced that this will be a Thanksgiving or Christmas highlight. Why does it make perfect holiday fare? It’s salty, meaty, dark, rich, tender and it doesn’t scream vegan. That seems to be the equation that works with my family anyway. They don’t take to seitan roast or Tofurkey as well as something smothered in gravy and topped with starch.

A good trick to giving tempeh a meaty flavor is to simmer it in seasoning. I actually didn’t have vegan Worcestershire sauce, so I made my own and just put threw the tempeh in the sauce pot. If you choose to use seitan, this method doesn’t work the same way as it softens the seitan too a near mush – use the marinade method instead. The traditional recipes would have you remove the vegetables only using the stock and “meat,” I think that’s a travesty and insult to the savory chunks responsible for the flavor. Save the veggies! Don’t let them cook in vain. The classic also mixes Gruyere into the potatoes. I personally did not use vegan cheese, but Daiya might be a nice addition if you’re into it. This passed the omnivore test. I recommend enjoying with a bottle of red.

Vegan Hachis Parmentier
Makes 4-6 servings
Total cook time: 1 hour


For the “Beef”
3-4 T. vegan Worcestershire sauce
1¼ c. water
1 pkg tempeh, cubed or 2 c. seitan, cubed
Cooking spray

For the Stew
2 T. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 small turnip, chopped
1 c. mushrooms, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced (1½ T)
1 bay leaf
1 tsps thyme, dried
2 T. tomato paste
2 c. vegetable broth (from bouillon)
½ - 1 c. water
2 tsp cornstarch
Salt and pepper

For the Potatoes
2 large russet potatoes, cubed
2 T. Earth Balance
¼ - ½ c. almond or soy milk or creamer
Pinch of salt
¼ c. parsley or chives
½ c. vegan cheese (optional)


Cooking suggestion: The tempeh or seitan can be prepared before or at the same time as the stew. Preheat the oven to 400ºF and cook potatoes while the stew simmers.

For the “beef”: If using tempeh, bring the Worcestershire sauce and water to a boil and add tempeh. Lower heat to medium and let sauce reduce by half, stirring tempeh occasionally to make sure all cubes are coated evenly about 8-10 minutes. When reduce, strain tempeh reserving sauce. Heat a skillet over high heat and coat with cooking spray. Brown the tempeh until cooked evenly on all sides. If using seitan, mix Worcestershire sauce with ¾ c. water and marinate seitan in a medium bowl for 20 minutes. Brown the tempeh until cooked evenly on all sides Set aside to add to stew.

For the stew: In a large sauce pan or wide, deep skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, celery, carrots and turnips. Cook until vegetables soften, 8-10 minutes. Add mushrooms, garlic, bay leaf and thyme. Stir in tomato paste and cook 1 minute before adding vegetable broth and ½ cup of water. Bring stew to a boil and reduce heat. Let simmer for 15 minutes. Mix ¼ cup of water with cornstarch and whisk into stew. Add “beef” and ¼ cup of reserved Worcestershire. Season with salt and pepper to taste. When stew has thickened, remove from heat and transfer to casserole dish.

For the potatoes: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add potatoes. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender. Strain the potatoes and mash with Earth Balance, “milk” of choice, and pinch of salt. Stir in parsley or chives and cheese if using. Spread potatoes over stew in a single, smooth layer.

Bake in oven for 30 minutes or until top is golden brown. Let cool 15 minutes before serving. Garnish with parsley if desired.