Friday, February 1, 2008

About Vegetable Stock

A good, rich vegetable stock is indispensable. Although decent commercial veggie stock can now be bought in most grocery stores, making your own is easy, practical and can even be creative.

In the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites cook book, they offer this advice: “The only vegetables to avoid are tomatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, asparagus, and all of those in the cabbage family, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. If you scrub the vegetables, there is no need to peel them.”

I would agree with that list and add to it; no bitter veggies like turnip and use beets judiciously depending on whether you want a sweetish (and purplish) stock or not. Barring those listed, you can use a combination of pretty much anything you have at hand. Many people keep their vegetable peelings and cuttings in a bag in the freezer in readiness for the day they will be added to the stock pot.

Personally, I like a very deep flavoured stock and to achieve that end, I often roast some my veggies.

Here’s what I do ( I have a huge stock pot):

In a large roasting pan (with a rack if you have one), place:

3-4 large carrots
2 medium-large white potatoes
2 medium-large sweet potatoes
3 stalks celery
2-3 parsnips
2-3 medium onions
1 whole head of garlic
a package of cremini (coffee) mushrooms

Roasting at 400°F in the middle of the oven for around 20 minutes. You can, if you like, lightly oil the carrots, potatoes and parsnips to help brown them a bit.

When the veggies are starting to get fragrant, remove from oven and place in the stock pot. At this point, you can add any cuttings and peelings you may have stored and/or some green beans, pea-pods, or any other handy green veggies.

Definitely add:
another head or two of garlic
any more mushrooms you have around
some fresh parsley
2 bay leaves
2-4 Tbsp of cumin seeds or more
2-4 Tbsp or more of coriander seeds
1 Tbsp peppercorns

Cover with water by an inch or two. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer 45-60 minutes or as long as three hours, depending on how much water you have used and how concentrated you want your stock to be. Using a slotted spoon, remove all the veggies (give the onions, and garlic a bit of a press with another spoon to extract some of their juices) and as much of the spices as you can. Strain the stock through a tight-weave cloth (I have an unbleached cotton tea-towel for just this purpose). Freeze when cooled or use. Add salt to taste when using.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Myth of Meat

Many people, when they think of food, think of meat. It is the center around which they plan their meals. For many, a vegetarian meal is unthinkable, especially to those who rarely or never eat fruit and vegetables at all. In Western culture, particularly in North America, there is a tendency to think of vegetarianism as an “alternative” lifestyle.

Historically though, meat was not a part of the average Europeans daily diet until well into the modern times when technology and scientific understanding began to reshape farming methods and increase crop yields. In fact, with the exceptions of peoples living in very Northern climates or in hunter/gatherer societies, most settled peoples throughout time have lived primarily on a regionally based variety of grains, legumes, pulses, dairy products and eggs with a bit of meat, fruit and vegetables thrown in when seasonably available. A detailed description of the farming and husbandry practices of the Middle Ages can be found in English Farming Past and Present, 5th Edition, by Lord Ernle.

The following recipe, while not a bona fide Middle Age dish, is certainly one that has characteristics that evoke that era. A grain-based meal with root vegetables, cabbage, nuts and cheese would not have been uncommon at this time of the year.

This has been adapted from Vermont ETV Cooks, a fund raising show that aired many years ago.

Roasted Vegetable and Barley Stew with Walnut Pesto

Stew ingredients

1 cup pot or hulled barley*
7 cups of vegetable stock
1/2 cup leek or onion, diced
1/2 cup carrot, diced
1/2 cup parsnip, diced
1/2 cup turnip, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup cabbage, chopped
1/2 cup green beans, chopped
2 Tbsps olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

1/4-1/3 cup tomato paste
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried savoury
1/2 tsp dried rosemary, crushed

Pesto Ingredients

2/3 cup walnuts
1 cup parsley leaves
1 large clove garlic, pressed
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp grated parmesan
1/2 tsp black pepper
2-3 tsps lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place rack in the middle of the oven. Spread the barley on a cookie sheet and toast for 5 minutes until slightly browned and aromatic. Be careful not to let the barley burn; shake the pan every minute or so.

Bring the stick to a boil, add toasted barley and simmer covered for 25 minutes. While the barley is cooking, toss together the veggies with the oil and salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on the cookie sheet and roast for 15 minutes or until lightly golden.

When the barley has cooked for 25 minutes, add the roasted vegetables, tomato paste and herbs and simmer uncovered 20 minutes or until the liquid has reduced to a thick stew-like consistency.

Meanwhile, combine the pesto ingredients in a food processor and grind until well blended but still coarse in texture. Fold pesto into the barley stew at the end of the cooking period, adjusting salt to taste.

* Barley is sold in three basic states; pearl, pot or hulled. Pearl or polished barley is the grain that has had the bran mechanically removed. Pot or scotch barley is somewhat less refined but still healthier and a more flavourful choice than the pearl barley. Hulled barley is the grain that has only had the tough outer husk removed and is very nutritious and a good source of fiber. It is usually only found in health food stores. If you use this form of barley, you may need to increase the cooking time and liquid. I usually use this type but haven’t yet tried in in this recipe.