At a very young age, I was lucky to be exposed to a variety of music. The songs of Indian movies– some of them excellent– were all around us and it was what my peers were mostly into. But my father had a deep and eclectic love for the music of other lands which ranged from Western classical to the soundtracks of old movies. Among his most favorites were the haunting, evocative tunes of old Westerns like For A Few Dollars More and The Good and the Bad and the Ugly, and the lilting, romantic strains of Dr. Zhivago. He had a huge collection of records and each evening, after dinner, he would light up a cigarette, put a record on, relax–eyes closed–in his favorite chair, and listen.
My brother was more adventurous about everything, including music. His taste ranged from youthfully bizarre to stunningly mature. He couldn’t stop listening to the Hindustani classical music of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan one day, the pop songs of some obscure Pakistani singer the next, and then he’d be deeply in love for yet another day with the BeeGees.
Me, I was a reader first and foremost and I spent almost every waking moment I could spare with a book. I loved music, but in those days I was happy enough to listen to anything that was on.
It was my brother who first introduced me to the Fab Four. He brought home a tape he’d borrowed from a friend and a poster of four young men with oddly similar haircuts that he put up on the wall. The music and the crystal lyrics were strange in the beginning, but impossible not to love or tap a foot to. Soon enough, like most of the world, I was a Beatles fan.
Over the years, I have found more reasons to admire the members of this amazing group who are often credited with changing the world. John Lennon, for his commitment to peace and a world without borders and for the simplest, most straightforward and yet most evocative song ever written: Imagine. Paul McCartney, for his commitment to animal rights and vegetarianism.
In Desi, I found another Beatles fan– he was reading a book on the Beatles when I first met him :). We have different favorite Beatles though: he loves Paul McCartney (especially Yesterday) while Lennon’s definitely my favorite.
I looked at a lot of Scouse recipes before making this stew, and the most original ones are very basic, which maybe is what makes it so special: just meat, potatoes, Worcestershire sauce, perhaps, and some salt and pepper. But since my version is vegan, I needed to add more flavor. The meat substitute I used, textured vegetable protein or TVP, does a great job emulating the texture of the meat but is, of course, flavorless.
I coat the TVP with flour and herbs and saute it beforehand just as one would the meat, because although there are no juices to be sealed in the TVP, this extra step gives the nuggets a nice crust and the flour creates a roux which helps thicken the stew. I’ve tried using TVP directly in the past and trust me, this is much better.
1 1/2 cups TVP chunks
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tsp mixed, dried herbs (I used basil, rosemary and oregano. Thyme and sage would also be great in here)
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Heat 1 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil in a skillet. Brown the TVP chunks in batches until they develop a nice brown crust.
Remove the TVP chunks to a plate. In the same skillet, adding more oil if necessary, saute:
1 medium onion, chopped
3 carrots, cut into rings
2 potatoes, diced
2 celery sticks, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
Saute until the vegetables soften a little and the onions are translucent.
Return the TVP chunks to the pan along with 2 tsp more of the mixed dried herbs.
Season with some salt and pepper.
Add to the pan:
1 can beer (thank goodness alcohol is vegan!) This really helps build the flavor
2 tbsp tomato paste (use ketchup in a pinch)
2 cups water
Bring the stew to a boil, lower the heat, then simmer for 45 minutes so the flavors meld together. Add more salt, pepper or herbs if needed.
Immediately after turning off heat, add 1-2 tbsp vegan butter which helps round out the flavors and adds a great smoothness to the stew.
Garnish, if desired, with some parsley or sage.
Serve hot. I like this with plain boiled white rice or a crusty bread.
Any stew, including this one, always tastes better the next day when the ingredients have had time to sit together, so make this a day ahead if you can– and keep your hands off it!