Comforting mushroom and lentil stew

The snow may have gone, but it’s still definitely winter! Whilst my husband sends me pictures of brilliant blue skies and crisp white snow from his skiing holiday, I sit here looking at a dull grey February day, the type where you wonder if it’s ever really going to get light.

There are signs of spring though – I snapped these brave little snowdrops yesterday outside a friends house – and I’ve notice the daffodil leaves beginning to sprout. All hopeful signs of better weather to come.

In the meantime, comfort food is needed! Something to warm, sustain and give you a little hug on the inside. This deliciously quick mushroom and lentil stew should hit the spot. Packed full of rainbow veggies, it tastes wonderful and provides a whole range of helpful anti-oxidants and nutrients that help support the immune system. Not only that, but it contains a range of fibre that helps keep helpful gut microbiome happy too. That’s important, as this time of year can be hard for people suffering from depression and low mood. Recent research from the Gut Project suggests that the make-up of gut bacteria and psychological health are directly connected. So the food we eat really can make a difference to how we feel.

I’ve used tinned lentils for this recipe, purely to save time. If you want to cook your own, feel free to do so, just add extra water and give yourself more time. Using tinned makes this a quick plant-based and gluten-free mid-week supper when time is short. This also freezes well, so get ahead of the game and double the amount, keeping half aside to freeze for another day.

I’ve added a little balsamic vinegar to the recipe. This is optional, to add a little extra flavour. If you cannot tolerate vinegar, then try a little tamari or even vegan Worcesteshire sauce, but take care not to overdo it, as they are strong flavours that easily dominate.

I hope you enjoy this recipe; it certainly hit the comfort food spots for me! Let me know what you think if you make it – don’t forget you can now print it out now I’m using the WP recipe maker plug in. I hope it makes it more user friendly. And remember, winter always turns to spring!

Comforting mushroom and lentil stew

Quick and tasty, this is a perfect mid-week plant-based dish. Serve on pasta or baked potatoes (it’s particularly good with sweet potato) and a seasonal green like broccoli or kale.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time30 mins
Keyword: comfort food, dairy free, dinner, gluten free, plant based, vegan
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, red or white diced
  • 1 large carrot diced
  • 1 large celery stick diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 fat clove garlic finely chopped
  • 200 grams mushrooms sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or Italian herbs
  • 400 grams tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 400 grams tinned cooked lentils rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Heat 2 tablespoons water in the bottom of a medium-sized saucepan and sauté the onion, carrot, celery and bay leaf for 5 minutes over a medium heat. Stir frequently so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan – add a little more water if it does
  • Add the garlic and sliced mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes, then pour in the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree and add the herbs. Stir well, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add the tinned lentils and balsamic vinegar and cook for another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, remove the bay leaf and serve.

Odds and end smoky tomato and parsnip stew

Last day of the veg box blogging challenge, and I have to say, the ingredients on offer look rather forlorn! Tuesday evening tends to be my ‘creative’ night, using up as much produce as possible. It always makes me think of the Goodness Gracious Me character Mrs’ I can make it at home for
nothing’. All she needed was a small aubergine and piece of string to create anything. Sometimes I feel like that!

So what was left? We had one onion, a large parsnip and a handful of chard leaves. Doesn’t look much to start with, but thankfully I have a well stocked store cupboard.

Random ingredients like this usually work well in a one pot stew, adding in herbs and spices to jazz things up a bit. My go-to spice in these situations is smoked paprika – as my daughter wisely states, everything tastes better with a little smoked paprika!

We always have tins of beans in the cupboard; a great plant based source of protein, minerals, B vitamins and fibre, beans give texture and substance to a dish, and can fill up the hungriest of stomachs. And because of their high fibre content, they’re really healthy, particularly good for reducing cholesterol and maintaining blood sugar levels. Adding the tomatoes brightens everything up, as well as adding another load of phytonutrients.

I used pinto beans for this dish for their texture and colour. Random fact – these beans have brown speckles, like splashes of colour in a painting. Pinto means ‘painted’ in Spanish, hence the name. May come in handy one day in a quiz, you never know.

So here it is, my odds and ends smoky tomato and parsnip stew. Served with some mixed quinoa, it has a protein punch and a little spicy kick to make it interesting. And no string in sight!

Odds and ends smoky tomato and parsnip stew.
1 onion, diced
1 large parsnip, peeled and diced
2 small potatoes, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 small celery sticks, chopped
handful of chard, washed and chopped
2 handfuls frozen peas
1 tin pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
1 teaspoon thyme
black pepper
Heat a dash of olive oil in the bottom of a pan and sauté the onion, potato, celery and parsnip for a few minutes until soft. Add the garlic and chard stems and cook for another couple of minutes. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and add the spices and herbs. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the parsnip is soft. Stir in the beans and peas, and season with black pepper. Cook for a few more minutes, check the seasoning and add more if needed. Enjoy!

Stew or soup – beans and kale do the job.

Having spent the last three autumns away from the UK in India, I had forgotten how suddenly the weather can change – even in the same day! We’ve had some beautiful sunny days recently, the low sunlight magnifying the stunning autumn hues. Vivid red, yellow and deep orange leaves have created a spectacular view. But now the temperature has suddenly dropped, and so have the leaves, almost overnight, the last few clinging on to stripped branches battling the bitter northern wind.

When it’s cold outside, it seems only natural to turn to comforting food to warm us up on the inside. This kale and bean soup is perfect for a cold November day; warm and tasty, it’s packed full of nutrients that really do feed the soul!

Kale is being hailed as the latest wonder food, and with good reason. Yet another one of those miracle-working cruciferous vegetables, it’s packed full of vitamin A and C, provides good amounts of calcium, iron, manganese and potassium, has a wide range of phyto-nutrients such as carotenoids, flavonoids and lutein, and a hefty dose of fibre. So basically, it’s really good for you! All these anti-oxidants help protect the body from a range of health problems. Kale also contains excellent amounts of tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids. Tryptophan is essential for the formation of serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters in the brain that affects mood – so kale can make you feel good on so many fronts, and help battle those winter blues.

However, kale is not perfect for everyone and some people need to exercise caution. Kale also contain whopping amounts of vitamin K – this is involved in clotting and potentially could cause problems for people who take anti-coagulants such as warfrin. Kale also contains oxalates. Some people with kidney or gall bladder problems may have difficulty breaking it down and may lead to other health problems. But I guess it’s a question of how much you eat of it!

Kale does have pretty tough cell walls, so it needs a good chopping to get the nutrients going.
The other star in this dish – cannellini (or navy if you’re in the States) beans – are also wonderfully good for you, and brilliant for this kind of dish as they hold their form even when cooked for a long time and don’t go really mushy, although they do mash easily if you want a creamy texture. Low in fat, high in fibre, magnesium and B vitamins, these wholesome white beans are a brilliant ingredient to have in your store cupboard.

I first made this dish as a soup, adding in some cooked black rice afterwards to make it a mega hearty lunch. This worked so well, I realised dropping the fluid content would also make a wonderful creamy stew. I love finding a dairy free alternative for creaminess! The tomatoes give a fabulous contrasting texture, so don’t miss them out. The squeeze of lemon juice at the end it to help make the iron content more absorbable, but leave it out if it’s not your thing.

I served this as a stew on a bed of wholegrain rice, but a couple of chunks of beautifully crusty wholemeal bread would mop up the juices a treat! Maybe I need to make some soda bread to get a yeast free bread accompaniment…..
Autumn was made for dishes like this!!!

Cannellini bean and kale soup/stew
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
150g raw kale, washed and well chopped
1 courgette chopped
up to 500mls vegetable stock
1 400g tin of cannellini beans, well rinsed
2 fresh tomatoes cut into 8’s
1 teaspoon Italian herb seasoning
squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper
Heat the olive oil and sauté the onion until its soft. Add the garlic and fry for a minute or so but don’t let it brown. Add the kale and sauté until it’s wilted slightly – a few minutes. Add the courgette and sauté for a minute. Now add 2/3rd of the beans, the tomatoes, herbs and seasoning and stir well.  This is the point you need to decide if you are having a soup or stew. For soup, pour in 350mls of the stock, for stew about 200 mls – enough to nearly cover the veg and beans. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Place the remaining cannellini beans and a good dash of the stock in a blender and blitz until smooth. Stir this mixture into the simmering pan – this thickens the sauce and gives it a creamy texture. Continue to simmer for another 15 minutes, adding in more stock if you need it.
Just before serving, squeeze in the lemon juice if you are using it, then ladle into a large bowl and feel hugged and warm from the inside!

TGIF – totally great information on food and an Estofado recipe

Life is just so busy at the moment, it’s hard to find time to blog. Our shipping still hasn’t arrived back either, so I’m missing the computer as well as all my cookery books and paraphanalia.

Although I’ve not been writing as much, I have been cooking! Being back in the UK, I feel like I’m discovering a whole new range of products again. It’s amazing how things have changed in just under three years. And how much things cost!

One of the great things I’ve noticed is how much awareness of food allergies and sensitivities has increased, as well as recognition of different diet choices. The range of products on a menu may still be limited (unless it’s a vegan restaurant!) but it seems much easier to order food that’s not going to create problems a few hours later. For example, I visited TGI Friday’s yesterday with the kids, and they have a special menu for people with allergies, mainly gluten and lactose. Our waitress was so helpful, and not only told us about this menu (you need to ask for it) but got the kitchen to serve our nachos in a way that it was half with cheese and sour cream, and half plain near to the guocomole. And they happily swapped bits around so we had a meal we could all enjoy without worrying what was in it. And there’s more information on their website too that takes the guess work out of  how to avoid intolerances.

The recession, and the general need for people to reduce their household expenditure has also increased the popularity of vegetarian food, with food magazines and programmes jumping on the bandwagon. Generally, vegetarian food is cheaper than  meat based, as long as it’s made from scratch rather than just another ready meal, over processed and full of sugar and salt..And campaigns like Meat Free Monday, which promotes the environmental benefits of a plant based diet, not just the financial, is gaining more support.

This is good news for those who eat a wholefood plant based diet, or have to avoid certain foods like dairy. I love reading food magazines and articles, but so often the recipes are packed full of items that are a no no. One of my favourites is the Obeserver Food Monthly; a couple of weeks ago I excitedly bought my first issue for some time. The theme was cooking on a budget. One article challenged top chefs to come up with a family meal for under £5.00. There were some interesting suggestions in there, including a mouthwatering dahl, but the one that caught my eye was this vegetarian estofado.

Estofado is Spanish for stew (so the internet tells me!), or slow cooked food. This dish doesn’t really take much time to cook and the flavour develops well. The outstanding surprise was the amount of garlic – a whole bulb! I have to say that it does give you serious garlic breath, but it’s what gives this stew a deep, rustic flavour.

Nutritionally, it has just about everything you could ask for – protein in the chickpeas, beta carotene and vitamin C in the pumpkin, folates and other B vitamins in the spinach and omega 3 fats in the walnuts, as well as the healthy heart properties of the garlic. Unless you have a nut allergy, there’s not much in there to upset any sensitive eaters, and it passed the kids test with flying colours (I did cut down on the garlic a bit!!). Serve this with some rustic wholemeal crusty bread, or wholegrain rice, and you have a fabulous tasty and cheap dinner.

Chickpea, pumpkin, spinach and walnut estofado (recipe by Jose Pizarro) 1 small onion
1 bulb garlic
1 tbspoon olive oil
400g tin chopped tomatoes
800g of pumpkin or squash flesh, chopped into 2.5cm pieces
800mls vegetable stock
400g tin chickpeas, drained
1 bag baby spinach
50g walnuts roughly chopped
Chop the onion and garlic. Heat the oil in the base of a large pan and sizzle the onion and garlic for a few minutes, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn. Add the tinned tomatoes and fry off the excess juice gently. Once reduced, add the pumpkin and vegetable stock, and simmer until the pumpkin is tender. Add the chickpeas and seasoning, and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Most of the fluid should have evaporated by now. Just before serving, stir in the spinach and heat through for a couple of minutes until it’s wilted. Serve out into dishes and scatter the walnuts over the top. Enjoy!