What about those French, huh?
Cheese and wine do not make them fat. They give us French fries and crème brûlée and while the rest of us morph into couch potatoes, they stroll down their classy arondissements with the Eiffel Tower for a backdrop, looking chic and magnifique as can be. They can even sit down in a restaurant, order the Cassoulet, a dish layered with four or five different kinds of meat, and glide out with not a single ounce of animal fat clinging to their flawless waistlines. Jamais!
So there I am in Paris with Desi, and it was a few years ago so things could have undergone a sea change, but at the time I am vegetarian leaning to vegan and looking for some of that wonderful French food to come my way. I want to sit at an outdoor table at a bistro with my one true love, the wind from the Seine blowing through my hair, eating something very hip and incredibly tasty — not stuff served to me sans fromage or sans oeufs or sans flavor. Come on, French people, didn’t you give us ratatouille?
Mais non. I was out of luck and pretty much out of food in the world’s most gastronomically famed country. And because I still hold a grudge against the French for starving me, I’ve taken their very meaty Cassoulet and turned it completely vegan. Yes, sir, I have.
Yeah, yeah, I know. They will look down their élégant noses and say it’s not really Cassoulet. So they won’t stick three Michelin stars on it, but you know what? We loved it and if they eat it, I will guarantee they’ll love it too.
This Cassoulet, which translates into a warm, cushy, comforting stew, is full of nutty white beans, vegetables including mushrooms and carrots and celery, and it is fragrant with herbs including parsley, bay, thyme and sage. You have my full permission to change up the vegetables. In fact, experiment to your heart’s content. Just make sure that stay consistent with cooking times. The herbs are indispensable– they add that rich smokiness that makes this vegan Cassoulet so, so good — so don’t leave them out. I added some tempeh cubes to the mix, for the protein, and they tasted wonderful– firm enough to add texture while still remaining soft and creamy inside.
Here’s the recipe. Adieu for now, mes amis. And (putting on my best Julia Child voice), bon appétit!
- 1 cup dry white beans, or 3 cups canned, drained and washed. If using dry beans, soak overnight and cook until tender. (cannelini or great northern or navy beans will do)
- 18 oz package of tempeh, cubed into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 medium carrots, sliced
- 2 stalks of celery, diced
- 5 cloves garlic, finely minced, or crushed into a paste
- 15 mushrooms sliced (use any kind-- wild mushrooms would be great here. I used crimini because I always have them on hand)
- 2 tomatoes diced
- 1 tbsp chopped sage
- 1 tbsp chopped thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tbsp parsley, chopped
- 1/2 cup red wine, optional
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- Heat oil in a large saucepan.
- Add the tempeh cubes and saute, stirring frequently, until the tempeh is golden-brown.
- Add the onions, garlic, celery and carrots. Add a pinch of salt and some ground black pepper and saute the vegetables about five minutes until the onions are translucent.
- Add the mushrooms and the wine. Cook until the moisture from the vegetables and all of the water has evaporated.
- Add the tomatoes and beans along with the bay, sage, parsley and thyme.
- Bring to a boil -- add more water if the stew is too thick - and turn the heat to a level where it boils gently.
- Check salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and serve hot with some crusty French bread.