Monday, February 1, 2010

My First Try at Vegan Cooking: African Sweet Potato Stew with Red Beans

The new, young pastor at our church just had her first baby. A sweet little boy. It was a joy to watch her grow rounder before our very eyes Sunday after Sunday. A few weeks ago, the congregation celebrated with the announcement of her baby's safe and healthy arrival. The following week, when the email came to volunteer to make a meal for Pastor Abby's family, I was happy to sign up. I've prepared a few other meals for families who have just had a baby or recently come home from the hospital with health issues. It always makes me feel good to be able to lend a hand and fill their tummies. Just 2 years ago, after I delivered our youngest daughter, the women of my Sunday School class organized meal delivery for this new mommy. Night after night hot meals showed up at our door. Spaghetti Pie, Chicken and Dumplings, salads, desserts… This food was especially welcome because we were living in Atlanta at the time and our family was a good 10 hours away back in Indiana. The fact that these women, some of them whom I barely knew, would take the time to make and deliver food to us was not only humbling, but it made us feel...loved.

While I was excited to cook for Pastor Abby and pay forward the kindness that had been shown to us, I was a little nervous too. When I received the information to prepare meals for her family, I found a challenge. She follows a vegan diet. The email suggested that anyone not comfortable with or knowledgeable about vegan cooking might like to send a grocery or restaurant gift card instead. Well, I’m sure not comfortable with vegan cooking. This "carnivore"…this once upon a time farm girl…this former county pork queen (you can read about that HERE) has never tried her hand at vegan cuisine. However, I didn't let my inexperience deter me. I remembered how wonderful it was to have a ready-made meal show up at my door. Nothing for me to worry about beyond feeding my baby and making sure that the rest of the family sat down to eat what had been delivered. I was grateful. I wanted for Pastor Abby to have that luxury as well. I decided that I was equal to the task. After all, in college I had shared an apartment with a couple of vegetarian friends. That period of co-habitation had given me a crash course in meatless cooking. Would it be so different to cook vegan-style? Well, yes and no. Vegans follow the diet of a vegetarian, but the biggest difference is that they do not consume any animal product such as dairy or eggs. Some vegans will also not eat honey.

I began surfing vegan sites and blogs. I developed a whole new respect for the vegan. Not that I want to become a vegan, but for a girl who cooks with meat, eggs, and dairy (WHAT?! No cheese? Well, not the kind made from cow, goat, or sheep's milk anyway) I am impressed by the commitment of those who find healthy and tasty ways to prepare food without many of the ingredients that I am accustomed to using. After looking at a number of recipes, I hadn't found "the one" yet. I was worried that I would choose something that wouldn't taste good. I needed advice. I needed an informed suggestion. I decided to try another approach. I turned to facebook and posted on my wall: "Do any of you have a good vegan recipe?"

Of course I got some less than serious responses:

From a former neighbor: Carrots, straight out of the bag. God cooks for you.

From my dad (who raised not one, but two former county pork queens): why would I?

From my brother-in-law (clearly concerned that my husband was about to be subjected to my vegan cooking): Trying to cut Mike's weight?

From a friend's husband: Beer.

Gee guys, thanks for your help. I did get some really helpful responses with vegan recipes as well. In the end I choose this African Stew Recipe suggested by one of my former students.

I received this message from her in my inbox:

Hi! So, I think I have a really good suggestion for you! This is a slow-cooker dish that is really hearty and warm for winter, has a lot of protein, and is what I think of as "incidentally vegan" -- no replacement dairy products or fake meat or anything. And I promise it is DELICIOUS -- the list of ingredients might not automatically sound like things that belong together, but the end result is amazing, or at least I think so. If you like the peanut sauce you get with Thai food, you'll like this. The recipe is from a Cooking Light slow cooker book, but I don't know the exact title. I hope you can use it! Caitlin

Her description of the "hearty and warm" stew and and it's flavors totally sold me. The fact that I could throw it in the crock pot was an added bonus. Plus, I completely trust Caitlin's taste in recipes. As a matter of fact, she has her very own cooking/knitting/crafting/home improvement blog. Check out Neat Little Domestic Life if you get a chance. Caitlin is such a talented young woman. I'm so proud of her. Of course, with my birthday coming up tomorrow, it also makes me feel kind of old to see this fun, creative high schooler (whom I taught to sew pajama pants in beginning Fashion and Textiles years ago) now all grown up.

So, thank you to Caitlin for this recipe. I loved it! Delicious and good for you and it comes together really easily.

Here's what you need to make this stew: onion, garlic, sweet potatoes, a red bell pepper, vegetable broth, red beans, diced tomatoes, green chilies, ginger, cumin, salt, pepper, peanut butter, dry roasted peanuts, and lime wedges.

To begin, saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until tender, then add them to a slow cooker with the sweet potatoes and red pepper.

Add in the red beans, diced tomatoes, green chilies, ginger, cumin, salt, and pepper. Stir it all together, then put on the lid and let it cook on LOW for 8 hours.

Mine looked like this 8 hours later.

Take about a cup of the cooking liquid from the slow cooker.

Stir in 3 tablespoons of peanut butter.

Add the peanut butter-ized broth back to the stew and stir. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Before packing this up to take to the new mommy, I had to dish up a bowl for myself. If I've learned nothing else from watching Top Chef, I know that food should be tasted before leaving the kitchen to be served. Plus, I just really wanted a to eat a bowl of this after I took a little taste to see if it needed more salt or pepper. I found some Portuguese long rolls at our corner store that qualified as vegan. The ingredients listed flour, water, yeast, and salt. That's all. They were perfect for sopping up this stew. I loved every bite! The flavors were subtle, yet complex. The whole effect made me happy. Healthy comfort food. I'll definitely make this one again!

African Sweet Potato Stew with Red Beans from Cooking Light 2004 and the Cooking Light Slow Cooker Cookbook

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
4 cups (1/2 inch) cubed peeled sweet potato (about 1 1/2 lbs)
1 1/2 cups cooked (or canned) small red beans
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 (4.5 oz) can chopped green chilies, drained
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons chopped dry-roasted peanuts
6 lime wedges

Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cover and cook 5 minutes or until tender. Place onion mixture in a 5-quart electric slow cooker. Add sweet potato and next 10 ingredients. Cover and cook on LOW 8 hours or until vegetables are tender. Spoon 1 cup cooking liquid into a small bowl. Add peanut butter; stir well with a whisk. Stir peanut butter mixture into stew. To serve, ladle stew into individual bowls. Top with peanuts; serve with lime wedges. Yield: 6 servings

Nutritional Information
Calories:308 (26% from fat)
Fat:8.8g (sat 1.5g,mono 4.2g,poly 2.3g)


Kim said...

It was so sweet of you to take the time to research a recipe. I like the idea of this one because it is just straight forward good food! I'm sure your friend will really enjoy it. I also remember those hot meals about 3 years ago, after having my son. It is a truly good feeling when someone takes the time to think of you.

Katy ~ said...

What a good friend you are to put out so much effort into researching a suitable recipe and then making it. I'm sure your pastor is deeplyh appreciative of your kindness and respect for her lifestyle choices.

I've made a similar stew and you're right, it is soooo good. The vegan life is not for me (love my dairy products, though meat would not be a hardship to give up).

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