Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Stewing Bee

I would describe myself as a happy, healthy omnivore; we all four enjoy eating meat, and I make sure to buy as much as I can from the local butcher or direct from the producers at the farmers' market. What I don't like is the term 'carnivore' being attached to those of us who choose to eat meat; we almost invariably enjoy more than just meat in our diets and so, pedant that I am, I prefer the correct term to be used. If I'm going to be labelled, I want it done accurately!

Having said that, however, I love vegetables and enjoy the challenge of cooking a meal with nothing but veg, especially with the beautiful produce we get in our weekly organic box. Vegetables give the cook such a wide palette of flavours, colours and textures that I can't imagine life without them; nor could I enjoy eating wholly without meat and its by-products. Tonight I made a really hearty vegetable stew, though I admit the dumplings on top weren't 100% vegetarian-friendly; I can't resist a dumpling made with proper beef suet. If your tastes differ, substitute vegetarian suet (whatever that is) or vegetable shortening (something like Trex; chilled in the freezer and then coarsely grated). A touch of spice livens up the starchy roots no end, and pulses bulk it out perfectly.

Chunky Root Stew with Dumplings

I used ground de arbol chillies from Mexgrocer, which are very hot - use your favourite and adjust the quantities to your taste.

1 onion, peeled, halved and sliced
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
pinch ground chilli (and see above)
4 potatoes, peeled and chopped

3 parsnips, peeled and chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed

80ml/⅓ cup split red lentils

Heat a little butter and oil in a large casserole and gently fry the onion with the spices until softened. Add the vegetable chunks, chickpeas and lentils and pour in enough cold water just to cover everything. Bring to the boil, then transfer to a 180°c oven and cook, covered, for 30 minutes, while you get on with the dumplings. God, I love dumplings - even the word itself is comforting.

150g self-raising flour
50g suet (and see above)
1 tsp mixed dried herbs
salt and pepper

Stir the suet, herbs and seasoning into the flour, then add milk to bind to a sticky dough. Divide into eight ball-like lumps and drop into the top of the stew. Cook, this time uncovered, for a further 15 minutes. If you like your dumplings less crusty on top, either baste them with some of the juices from the stew, or cover the pan completely for a really soft dumpling. I do them this way on top of stews in the slow cooker, too - which works really well. Just plop them in for the last half-hour before you want to eat.

I steamed some broccoli for a bit of 'green', but it was more because we had it left in the fridge from this week's box; the children and I are going away for Easter tomorrow and somehow I can't imagine Hubby cooking broccoli for himself while we're away...

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