Time: 45 minutes
I’ve been on a mission to build a better vegan beef stew. Anyone can throw some wine and tomatoes into a pot but even with all the right ingredients, it’s all too easy to make a flat stew. I wanted deep complex flavors, a thick and silky base, chunky carrots and potatoes cooked just right. And of course, beefiness. And I wanted it to all happen in one pot. A simple filling stew shouldn’t destroy the entire kitchen.
Put plainly, I wanted the “DAAAAYAMN!” factor. Nothing too fussy, but a bowl that not only comforts you on a cold winter’s night, it straight-up makes you look forward to the snowiest, windiest, all-the-roads-shut-downiest night possible, just so you can make stew.
So I pulled a Cook’s Illustrated and made vegan beef stews all week. Chipping away at the recipe, then building it back up. I tried several different “beefs”; tofu, tempeh, and seitan, finally settling on a mix of homemade vegan sausage and dried porcini mushrooms. Tofu was a little too mushy, or took too much work to make it not mushy. Tempeh just crumbled too much, despite my best efforts. The seitan sausage provides flavor and hearty texture without needing to be sauteed, while the porcinis create a sultry broth and a falling-off-the-bone meatiness (that phrase isn’t gross when you consider that there aren’t any actual bones here, right?) that just sings “Beef Stew.”
For the base I knew I didn’t want a limp tomato sauce. In fact, I wanted to steer away from tomato as much as possible. I tried lentils as a backdrop but it was too…lentil-y. I also tried starting with a roux, and it was yummy but too thick…more like a sauce than a stew, plus it made the veggies cook unevenly. Finally, I settled on a slurry — a mix of water and flour that can be added after the veggies have cooked. When slowly heated it becomes thick (but not too thick) and velvetty, and holds in all the great flavor from the wine, mushrooms and spices. Just a touch of tomato paste provided even more body and a hint of tang.
The other challenge was getting the veggies to cook perfectly. Potatoes overcook easily and I didn’t want potato soup. Adding the potatoes after the initial ingredients come to a boil and then simmering them until tender is a fool proof method. Then the slurry is added and cooked just long enough to marry the flavors and create TSH (Total Stew Harmony.)
So yeah, long-story-that-I-just-made-you-read-short: I love this stew! The one thing that maybe isn’t ideal is that you need to have the sausages on hand, but they are so very easy to whip up. Make a batch the night before and you’ll have more than you need for this recipe so it’s totally worth it. But there are some alternatives, see below.
Can you make this gluten free?
Yes! Sub the flour for 2 tablespoons organic cornstarch or 1/4 of your favorite gluten free flour mix. Sub the sausages for thawed extra firm frozen tofu with the water pressed out (this was my second favorite “meat” while experimenting.) Slice tofu into 1/2 inch thick triangles. Add an extra 1/2 teaspoon crushed fennel seed to the stew for sausage-y flavor.
Can you use a different dried mushroom?
Yes! Shiitake or portobello will work. But chop them up a little finer before adding.
Can you use seitan instead of sausages?
Yes! Use 2 cups of sliced seitan but saute it first, then remove it from the pot and add later, otherwise it will be rubbery.
Can you make this in a slow cooker?
I haven’t tried it. Why don’t you give it a shot and let us know?
Ok, now let’s stew!
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, quartered and thickly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 medium carrot, peeled, sliced on a bias, 1/2 inch thick
1 cup red wine
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel or crushed fennel seeds
Fresh black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
3 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 pounds potatoes (any type), lazily peeled, cut in 1 1/2 inch chunks
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 vegan sausages, sliced into chunky half mooons
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish (optional)
Preheat a 4 quart pot over medium high heat.
Saute onions and a pinch of salt in oil until until translucent, 4 to 7 minutes. Add garlic, for about a minute, until fragrant.
Add carrots, wine, rosemary (crushed in your fingers), thyme (crushed in your fingers), paprika, fennel, fresh black pepper and salt and bring to a boil. The liquid should reduce in about 3 minutes.
Add porcinis and vegetable broth, cover and bring to a full boil for 5 minutes or so, to quickly cook the procinis. Now add the potatoes, lower heat and bring to a simmer (not a full boil). Let the potatoes cook just until fork tender, about 15 minutes.
In a measuring cup, mix the flour into the water with a fork until no lumps are left. Slowly add the broth/flour to the pot, mixing well. Mix in the tomato paste. Let thicken for 5 minutes or so. Add the sausages and continue to cook. In about 5 more minutes it should be perfectly thick but still smooth. Taste for salt and seasonings, and serve! Sprinkle individual servings with fresh parsley if you want to be 70s food chic.