Thursday, January 19, 2012

Parsnip, black-eyed pea, kale, and barley stew

So this blog is "mostly about fiction and writing," but it is sometimes about food and cooking. Especially vegan food and cooking. And cooking is like writing, right? It definitely is the way I go about it: 1) Open vegetable drawer (analogous to brain and/or journal). 2) Say: Jeez, I gotta use up these things before they rot (analogous to ideas/fading youth/ambition). 3) Wonder/worry/chew nails/pace. 4) Put stuff together and see what happens.

The best guidebook ever for the above approach to cooking is Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I recommend ordering yourself a copy and then spending an afternoon just paging through it. The only downside to this otherwise delightful and enlightening experience is that the book weighs about 50 pounds, which precludes my favorite reading style of lying on my back and resting the book on my stomach. It will crush you. Anyway, for those not familiar with Bittman's deal, this is less a cookbook in the ordinary sense (although there are recipes), and more a giant permission slip to try new ingredients, or use common ingredients in new ways. He's not big on precision; instructions tend toward "throw in some more x if it looks like there isn't enough," and the repeated injunction "don't worry."

My own recent stroll through the book brought two neglected items to my attention, barley and parsnips. The former is a great way to add starch/bulk to soup or stew, without it getting all huge and slimy, as pasta does. The latter add a rather exotic, sweet taste to the proceedings--a nice alternative to carrots.

With those ingredients, a bunch of rapidly expiring dino kale, and a bag of black-eyed peas on hand, I concocted the following, and it is really damn good. Especially on a cold evening...

Parsnip, black-eyed pea, kale, and barley stew

A couple tbsp of olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
4 medium parsnips, peeled and diced (remove woody core if necessary)
1 cup dried black-eyed peas or 1 can cooked
1 bunch dino kale or other green, chopped and tough ribs removed
1/3 cup pearled barley
1 28-oz can crushed or diced tomatoes
4 cups water or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute chopped onion in olive oil till transparent. Add parsnips, and cook until both onion and parsnips begin to brown. Add everything else (note: if you are using canned black-eyed peas, don't add until about 15 minutes before the stew is done). Bring to boil, reduce heat, and partially cover. Simmer for about an hour, till beans and barley are soft.

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