CASSEROLES FOR THE WINTER TAKEOVER: TRANSITION FOODS #2

Casseroles for the Winter Takeover

Casseroles and soups (to be looked at in my next post) have a common, distinctive feature: they can be cooked very slowly. And …

THE SLOWER THE BETTER
Because this is your basic principle for cold weather cooking

Baking is terrific. Anyone who has tried this to-die-for whole baked cauliflower (yes, I said cauliflower) can tell you that. My previous post on foods for the Autumn – Winter transition has a number of excellent ideas for baking vegetables.

As Winter really sets in, however, slow-cooked “one pot meal” types of dishes are better still. They are so incredibly warming on cold nights and you’ll find they are pretty fabulous for lunch as well. This is the wonderful world of casseroles and soups.

CASSEROLES: THE COLD WEATHER WINTER WONDERS

Wet casseroles (see below*) and soups (a little patience please) don’t just taste great, they also offer remarkable bang for your energetic, gastronomic and time management buck.

  • All the heat that has gone into that food during the slow cooking enhances the energy value of the dish.
  • Because all the ingredients have been cooking together (slowly) in the pot there has been a certain amount of breaking down, mixing and pre-digesting. This means that you get to save digestive energy processing your meal.
  • The mouth-watering smell permeates the whole house for hours.
  • You get a remarkable and often surprising range of hybridized flavors.
    It is to be remembered, in this context, that many ingredients of whatever casserole-thing you are cooking are very common. They are rarely surprising (although sometimes amazingly tasty) when eaten on their own.
  • Finally, you can usually do these recipes in bulk and have some the next day OR freeze it for future use. The flavours only improve with time.

*CASSEROLES OF TWO TYPES

The way I see it, there are two different conceptions of a “casserole”: oven baked or cooktop / slow cooker simmered.

The first, although moist, is of a fairly solid consistency. It often involves reasonable quantities of eggs, cheese, pasta &/or grains as well as vegetables and possibly meat. When it has no meat, it might be referred to as a “vegetable bake”. They are very good cold weather foods.

*The second (AKA a stew) is a wetter dish cooked in a heavyweight lidded saucepan, Dutch oven, casserole or slow cooker. The beauty of this type is that you can cook it very slowly on a super low heat.

NOTE: some are hybrids, cooked on top to start and then oven baked – often with the lid on. These are also excellent …. however …

While the bake is great, what I am talking about here is the simmer.

Having got that clear, there is no end to the variety of ingredients.

You might want to experiment with this exotic, multi-ingredient Hawaij (Yemeni) Root Vegetable Stew with Whipped Fenugreek! This is another remarkable Ottolenghi dish and it is truly marvelous. The recipe is, however, best taken as a guideline rather than a prescription. “Experiment” is your key word.

Otherwise, try these simpler but also delicious possibilities …

CREAMY CHICKPEA, MISO & VEGETABLE CASSEROLE
Serves 6-8

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large yellow / white onion, chopped
  • 3 large celery  sticks (or 6 small) chopped
    [OPTIONAL, I always leave it out, coriander also works well]
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 0.5 K chickpeas, cooked (2 cans, drained and rinsed)
  • 1.5 litres vegetable broth (or stock)
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 75 g white miso
    [substitute red or brown miso if that’s what you have; use chickpea miso or barley miso if you need the soup to be soy-free]
  • 4 carrots, peeled & halved lengthwise then sliced into half-moons, (about 300g)
  • cauliflower cut into bite-sized pieces, (about ½ K, or 3-4 cups)
  • 1 rutabaga OR 1 medium sized turnip / potato OR 3-4 parsnips, peeled and diced
  • 1 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • Salt, pepper, lemon juice

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Add the oil to a stockpot over medium heat.
  2. When the oil is shimmering, add the onion and celery.
    Cook for 5-7 minutes, or until the onion is clear and tender.
  3. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, stirring constantly.
  4. Add the chickpeas, broth, and paprika to the pot.
  5. Bring the broth to a boil, then reduce heat to low.
  6. Simmer for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat.
  7. Place the miso in a small bowl. Use a ladle to transfer a small amount (about ¾ cup) of broth to the bowl.
    Whisk the miso with the broth to create smooth slurry.
  8. Transfer the slurry back to the soup pot and stir it in.
  9. Place a third to a half of the stockpot contents into a blender and blend till it’s totally smooth, then return it to the pot.
  10. Stir again.
  11. Add the carrots, cauliflower, rutabaga, and kale to the pot.
  12. Bring the soup back to a low simmer.
  13. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until all of the vegetables are tender.
  14. Taste the soup and add salt, pepper, and lemon juice as needed.

SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT: LENTIL AND EGGPLANT CASSEROLE
S
erves 2 as a main

This excellent recipe was given to me by an eggplant enthusiast friend and it has been a big hit with my eggplant enthusiast family. I confess that I am not an eggplant enthusiast. However, in the world of casseroles I would still rate this one very highly.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 – 3 small eggplants cut into medium sized (2 mouthfuls) rectangular chunks
  • 200 g cherry tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 (or more) minced cloves of garlic
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • Generous bunch of thyme – preferably freshly picked – with leaves stripped off
  • Small lentils – beluga or puy are the best choices
  • 0.5 litres vegetable stock
  • 50 ml dry white wine
    [OPTIONAL – you can make up the liquid with more stock]
  • 100 g yoghurt, sour cream or crème fraiche
  • ½ tsp chilli flakes [OPTIONAL]
  • Generous bunch of oregano – preferably freshly picked – with leaves stripped off Salt, pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Place eggplant & tomato in a bowl and season generously with salt & pepper
    Put aside
  2. Add some of the oil to a stockpot over medium/high heat.
  3. When the oil is shimmering, add the garlic, onion, thyme and ¼ tsp of salt.
  4. Cook for 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until everything is soft and golden.
  5. Tip the solids out of the pot and into a bowl (leaving the oil behind)
  6. Add the remaining oil to the pot and re-heat so that it is very hot
  7. Add the eggplant / tomato mix & turn the heat down a little
  8. Fry the vegetables of around 10 minutes, with lots of turning, until the eggplant is soft & golden brown and the tomatoes are starting to burn
  9. Return the garlic / onion mix to the pot
  10. Add the lentils, stock, wine, about 0.5 L of water & a generous ½ teaspoon of salt
  11. Bring to the boil then reduce to a low simmer and leave it for about 40 minutes OR until the lentils are soft but not mooshy
    The timing will vary depending on what lentils you are using
  12. Serve hot with a dollop of your preferred white stuff, oregano garnish and, if you wish a drizzle of oil & some chili flakes.

THE ESSENTIAL WINTER CASSEROLE: ADZUKI BEAN & PUMPKIN

Your cold weather cooking repertoire is not complete with the old favourite: Adzuki Bean & Pumpkin Casserole. It represents a truly wonderful combination of ingredients:

  • beans & seaweed for your Winter meridians
  • kuzu for intestinal health and function
  • whole grains and pumpkin for long lasting stable energy

There is no end to the casseroles that you can create – with whatever you have at hand – once you get the basic principles of the one-pot (wet but solid – as opposed to soup) slow simmered meal.

Next up, continuing with this theme of slow-cooked winter warmers:
SOUP, SOUP & more SOUP

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