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Winter Vegetable Casseroles

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During the winter months we often think of whipping up a big pot of stew, laden with succulent chunks of meat. Believe it or not those chunks of beef aren't mandatory. In fact some of the heartiest meals you can have this winter are 100% vegetarian. And there are many ways to make a steaming bowl of cooked vegetables flavorful and appealing. 

A vegetable stew is a great opportunity for improvisation. Here's one way to go about it. First of all, decide on a "matrix." This is the term I would use for the base of the stew. It could be a thick purée, a dense broth or things like rice, quinoa, beans, bulgur wheat, barley or lentils. Cook up your "matrix", using vegetable broth or stock of course, and then start to think up add-ons.

This is where you can let you imagination run wild. Every veg under the sun is fair game. The one thing I would suggest is to add the hardest vegetables first, like your carrots, rutabagas, or potatoes; then add you more tender veggies toward the end of your cooking. Spices, herbs and other seasonings can go in at any time, but I would save the most aromatic seasonings for last, so their aroma doesn't dissipate. 

I searched the web for some recipe ideas that will stimulate your creativity, and here's what I found.

From The New York Times (Tara Parker-Pope) comes a chickpea and winter  vegetable stew. This stew uses garbanzo beans and couscous as the "matrix" and features potatoes, carrots, butternut squash and turnips. Seasonings include the North African spice blend harissa, caraway seeds and cumin.

The website Rabbit and Wolves has a recipe for a vegan winter stew with cheesy herb dumplings. The matrix is diced potatoes in a vegetable broth. Further ingredients include onions, mushrooms, parsnips with dried sage and thyme as seasonings. The "cheesy" dumplings are made with almond milk and all-purpose flour.  

The website Budget Bites has a vegan take on lentil stew. Starting with a vegetable broth, the stew features brown lentils, with chunks of carrots, celery, onion and garlic cloves to round out the ingredients.  Seasonings include dried rosemary and thyme and soy sauce. Cooking time is only 50 minutes, so you can whip this up pretty quickly. 

One thing you can do to enhance the flavor of your vegetables is to roast them first. This will add another dimension to your dish and deepen the flavor.

The Greener Ideal website has a great idea. It's a barley stew with root vegetables.

Roasting red peppers, potatoes, carrots and celery makes a nice contrast to the tender but chewy cooked barley. 

For a meatless winter dish, Healthy-Delicious.com suggests making quinoa bowls with brown butter. This recipe gets a little creative, calling for Brussels sprouts, hard-boiled eggs and chopped walnuts among more conventional ingredients.  

Al's Hearty Vegetable Barley Stew

Ingredients

1 cup pearled barley

4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into small cubes

2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into small cubes

1 red bell pepper, trimmed, de-seeded and cut into small pieces

1/2 medium cauliflower, broken into florets

3 medium shallots, trimmed, peeled and cut into quarters

olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 tbs herbes de Provence

1 tbs Worchestshire sauce

1 tbs white balsamic vinegar

Process

1.  Cook the barley in 3 1/2 cups vegetable broth over high heat until it boils.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to cook, covered.  At 25 minutes check to see if it needs more liquid as it simmers.  After about 40 minutes, when the liquid has been absorbed and the barley has swollen, remove it from the heat and leave it covered.

2.  Toss the vegetables in a bowl with the olive oil, then place on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place in a pre-heated 400° oven.  Roast the vegetables for about 20 minutes until they start to turn brown at the edges.

3.  Remove the vegetables, and season with the herbes de Provence.  Add them to the pot of barley and stir well.  Add the remaining broth and the Worchestershire sauce and stir well.  Cook over low heat for another 10 minutes.  Add the white balsamic vinegar to adjust the flavor to your taste.

Serves six

-Al Spoler 

As General Partner of Clipper City Brewing Company, L.P., Hugh J. Sisson is among Baltimore's premier authorities on craft brewing and a former manager of the state's first pub brewery, Sissons, located in Federal Hill. A fifth generation Baltimorean, Hugh has been involved in all aspects of craft brewing.