Monday, February 20, 2012

A tale about 'Big Red'...

My last post was not about a potato; this post is not about a pot. But yet, it is. 

I don't often use "Big Red", as it's been aptly named.  Not because I don't love the way it cooks; but because using it is such a production. I have a similar relationship with my Dutch Oven that many have with their slow cookers (although I think a Dutch Oven is probably less of a pain).  It's beautiful, it distributes heat fabulously and makes light work of even tough dishes, and it's relatively easy to keep clean.  But it's one of those appliances I don't use often, so it doesn't garner prime real estate in my already-too-small-and-crammed-with-stuff kitchen. 

Big Red lives on a shelf; in a cupboard barely used, right next to the refrigerator, about 6 feet above my head.  Being an even five-feet tall has many disadvantages - especially in the kitchen.  Digging out the 'once-in-a-while' appliances notwithstanding.  It's a delicate balancing act to retrieve Big Red that requires me, a step stool, some heavy lifting and baited breath.  And that's just to get to the lid (which I'm convinced weighs more than the pot).  Or I could just ask Daddy Vegan to get it down for me, but I'm fiercely stubborn and independent about these things (and I wonder where Little Miss gets it from). One of these days I'll learn.

Anyway, enough about the pot. Safe to say it survived it's perilous journey from the cupboard to the stove, otherwise we wouldn't be looking at this pretty picture of it.

There's one dish I always make in my Dutch Oven: Lentil Stew.  I'm not sure how or why this tradition began.  I don't even think the inspiration for this recipe started with "In a Dutch Oven..."; it probably just called for a large stockpot.  But Daddy Vegan had recently surprised me with this much-longed-for pot in my absolute favorite color in the world, and I was eager to try it. So 'Dutch Oven' lentil stew was born.

It's a hearty, deeply rich and satisfying stew; the kind you make on a cold winter's day, in a Dutch Oven, and sop up with tons of fresh crusty bread. To the uninitiated, you'd swear it was a beef stew. But, seeing as it's being posted on a vegan website, it's completely animal-free. 

Perhaps the best part about this stew is how simple - and versatile it is.  I call it "Leftover Lentil Stew" because it's a great way to use up leftover veggies kicking around your fridge or freezer (yes, you can use frozen vegetables here).  Any combination of veg works, from the basic celery and carrots to eggplant, squash, sweet potato and more.   Oh - and did I mention it only takes 20 minutes to cook?  (Weeknight Dinner Warriors rejoice!)

The broth has a southwestern kick to it, with cumin and chili powder being the dominant flavors, but additions of pure pumpkin puree and oregano give it a wonderful earthy "meaty" flavour too.  It's been cold and a bit snowy this weekend, and Daddy Vegan and I were craving something a little more warm and cozy.  And it just so happened I had some celery, carrots, corn and other veggies that were looking a little sad.  They're much happier now! 

Try this stew once as it's written below, and then experiment with the flavors; add different vegetables, adjust the amount of seasoning, or even try new seasonings.  It's a great canvas for carrying delicious bold flavours.


"Leftover" Lentil Stew
(adapted from


1 medium onion, finely diced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced (if you like heat then leave in some seeds)
zest of half a lemon
2-3 cups vegetables - fresh or frozen - diced or cut into small chunks (I used carrots, celery and corn)
1 19oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 15 oz can cooked lentils, drained and rinsed well
3.5 cups + 2 tablespoons vegetable broth
1 tsp oregano
2 tbsp chili powder, divided in half
1 tsp ground cumin
1/3 cup quinoa
2/3 cup canned pure pumpkin puree (if you can't get pure pumpkin puree, you can use pumpkin pie filling)
1 tsp brown sugar (skip this ingredient if using pumpkin pie filling)
salt and pepper to taste


1. In a Dutch Oven, heat 2 tbsp vegetable broth on med-high heat.  Add onions and saute until golden and translucent; about 5 minutes.  Add garlic, jalapenos and lemon zest. Cook, stirring constantly to keep garlic from burning until soft; about one minute.  Add cumin and 1 tbsp chili powder and cook for 1 minute, allowing spices to warm through and become fragrant. 

2. Stir in tomatoes, using your spoon and the juice from the tomatoes to loosen any brown bits on the bottom of the pot. (That's where the real flavor is).  Stir in mixed vegetables, lentils, remaining 1 tbsp chili powder and oregano.  Pour in remaining vegetable broth and stir well.  Bring to a boil.

3. Add quinoa and simmer, covered, on medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until all veg are tender.  Add in pumpkin puree, salt and pepper to taste and brown sugar (if using).  Simmer uncovered on medium heat for an additional 5 minutes.  Stew will appear a bit liquid, but will thicken as you stir it and will continue to thicken after it's removed from heat. 

4. Remove from heat; stir and allow to sit for 5 minutes.  Serve hot.

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