Now that summer is on the way, I’m thinking about gardening and veggies and mounds of fresh produce. It’s still a little bit chilly out, though, so I’m also still enjoying warm dishes hot off the stove.
In keeping with the winter-to-spring transition, this Vegetable Medley Stew is a cross-seasonal dish – it’s warm and hearty like a winter stew, but is chock-full of veggies and could easily be lightened into a peak-of-summer soup by adding more broth and fewer grains. Likewise, you could season the stew/soup with whatever fresh herbs you have on hand rather than using dried sage (although the sage imparts a subtle lemony tang). And with the addition of grains and lentils, the stew is both fragrant and satisfying…and will be for several days, because the flavors will deepen as the soup sits in the fridge. Just add more broth when reheating if the veggies and grains have absorbed too much liquid for your taste.
Serves at least 4 as a main course.
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
32 oz. vegetable stock (or chicken or beef, preferably from pastured animals)
15 oz. diced tomatoes
1 zucchini (or yellow squash), chopped
1/2 cup dried lentils
1/2 cup steel-cut oats (choose gluten-free oats if you want this to be a gluten-free dish)
1 tsp. dried sage
Sea salt and freshly-cracked pepper to taste
1 cup curly spinach, coarsely chopped
In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, sautée onion and carrot in a pat of ghee or butter for about 5 minutes or until onion is soft and translucent. Stir in stock, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze it and bring those caramelized flavors into the liquid. Stir in tomatoes, zucchini, lentil, oats, and sage. Simmer for 30 minutes or until oats and lentils are tender. If it looks like the stew is getting too thick for your taste and you’d prefer a lighter soup, add another cup or two of stock (or water).
Season stew with salt and pepper to taste, then quickly stir in spinach. Take pot off heat and let sit for 3 minutes to soften the spinach. (The stew will still be hot enough to “cook” it.)
Serve hot, garnishing each bowl with a spoonful of a creamy cheese such as fresh mozzarella or soft goat cheese if you’d like.
When it comes to most things in life, I think it’s safe to say that the difference between “failure” and “success” is largely a matter of perception. This philosophy is certainly true in the kitchen! It’s even more true when it comes to baking – you never know when breads won’t rise or muffins will turn out to be too grainy or cakes will have an odd shape. Most of the time, everything still tastes great, but it doesn’t look the way it’s supposed to and/or it doesn’t have the expected texture for that particular category of baked goods. (Too-crumbly muffins, for example, wouldn’t be too crumbly if they were meant to be scones…but then they wouldn’t be shaped like muffins.)
Enter the Jumblecake. I made up this new category of baked goods last week when my triple-nut muffins didn’t quite work out the way I’d hoped they would. (I had used all freshly-ground nut flours in place of wheat, and I think the added moisture of so many nuts backfired in terms of muffin structure.) To put it bluntly, the muffins were a disaster: they came out of the oven completely concave. They tasted fabulous, though, and were actually one of the best baked goods I’d ever concocted.
I tried to use the concave muffins as cups to hold more tasty items like fruit and/or ice cream, but they were so tender that they fell apart under the strain. I resorted to enjoying them straight out of the muffin tin with a spoon, which was fine by me but not the classiest way to serve them. That’s when I decided to spoon all of them into a large bowl and then serve spoonfuls of them as individual heaped Jumblecakes. In that form, they could be garnished, adorned with fruit, nestled next to ice cream, whatever I wanted.
So, that’s the trick: if your baked good doesn’t have the shape or texture you expected, make it into a Jumblecake! This works for any and all baked goods that are cake-/bread-like in nature. (Doesn’t work for soft items like custards, cheesecakes, or pies.) Your guests will be impressed by your one-of-a-kind, highly-customizable baked item and will probably ask for the recipe.
Whether you share the secret of your success is entirely up to you.
Serve at room temperature with a plate of bite-sized raw veggies (carrots, celery, zucchini), crusty bread, and/or good-quality tortilla chips. You could also garnish the dip with a few Greek olives.
Note: you can use this trick of grain-thickening with any dish that calls for thickening with bread. The classic chilled Spanish gazpacho soup, for example, can easily be made with a cooked grain instead of bread.
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Lisa Howard Culinary Speaker, Recipe Developer and Food Coach