I Am Thankful For. . . Unconventional Vegan Cassoulet

For someone who considers her typical days to be fairly mundane, it does seem I’ve got quite a soft spot for all things unconventional.

I’d trace this penchant for the eccentric back to my grade six art class with Miss Tarnofsky.  Miss T (we all thought it should stand for “Terror”) was the strictest, most demanding and discerning teacher in our grade school, and we learned to tread carefully in her presence. With her short black bob (the bangs so severe they looked as if they’d been drawn with a ruler) and her terse directives in the classroom, all she had to do was raise an eyebrow in disapproval and even the most chatty of students would immediately be silenced. Her classes were always impeccably organized and presented; she was both an imposing disciplinarian and an admirable role model.

One day, Miss T asked us to produce a painting on a subject of our own choosing. I was determined to prove my artisitic prowess and gain her approval.  I labored for the entire hour over my still life of a vase and flowers.

Meandering among the desks to assess our ouevres in silence, Miss T paused at the desk of SS, who was, even at the tender age of twelve, already christened the group’s science nerd (if only The Big Bang Theory had been broadcast back in those days, SS’s fate may have turned out very differently).  Miss T grabbed the watercolor canvas and  held it aloft as if she’d just rescued a kitty from a treetop. The rest of us stared incredulously at a large rectangle filled with muddy splotches, swirls and ragged brush strokes in various shades of grey.  It looked like an oil slick floating atop a mud puddle.

“This is the best piece of artwork in the class,” she pronounced.  “Unlike all the others, this one  has feeling.  It has a voice.  It has personality.”  She lifted it a little higher, as if to impress upon us the importance of her final proclamation: “This painting, boys and girls, exhibits a soul.”

Well, that was all I needed to hear.  From that point onward, I felt totally validated searching for that kernel of soul within every nerd, misfit, outcast or rebel or iconoclast I encountered,  seeking the unspoken connections between us.

Or maybe it was just written in my genes.   As I grew older, I began to recognize my mom’s quiet idiosyncrasies, too. Almost daily, my mom would lament how,  if only she were thinner (she was obese most of her life), she’d don the most colorful, ostentatious, tacky outfits she could find. Instead, she channeled her outlandish desires into her earring collection.  On her way out the door on Saturday evenings, she’d hold up a pair of tomato-red-and-sunset-orange dangles,  or fuscia and green dotted hoops, or sparkly faux-jeweled floral studs and ask my sisters and me, “Are these too young for me?” To which we’d readily respond with an energetic, “No, of course not!”. In the last photo I have of her, a month before she died, my mom is sitting in an armchair in The CFO’s apartment wearing a rainbow-striped tunic and massive, glittery silver hoops dangling from her earlobes.

At Canadian Thanksgiving a few weekends ago when we visited with my long-lost cousins, I discovered just how unconventional are the foods I regularly eat.  What I (and, to some extent, the HH) now consider “normal” food, as I was reminded with a start that weekend, is still pretty bizarre to most “regular” eaters.

Nevertheless, I love my unconventional meals!  When we celebrated on our own, the HH and I enjoyed a sumptuous feast, entirely comprised of healthy, whole-food offerings.  I decided to re-create a traditional cassoulet, something my older sister and her husband have enjoyed as their Easter dinner for years. The traditional French stew is redolent with charcuterie, flageolet beans and  a rich, savory broth.  It’s also slow-cooked until the entire thing is saturated with fat from the flesh and bones of the meat–not exactly something that called out to me for reproduction.  But when I considered the concept of a long-simmered, toothsome stew, that appealed mightily.  So I went searching for vegan cassoulet recipes, and found one in Crescent Dragonwagon’s Passionate Vegetarian.

Although Dragonwagon’s original didn’t much appeal to me (it was replete with with several types of processed faux meat), I loved her idea of adding a full bulb of roasted garlic to render the sauce more robust and to add a touch of umami.  Apart from that one addition, this recipe is entirely my own.

This stew is thick, filling, the sauce warm and comforting as a beckoning fireplace in winter.  With just the right balance between hearty, meaty and saucy, this unusual rendition of the classic makes good use of my veg-based meat crumbles instead of all the processed stuff, and adds its own kick of umami from an unexpected source.  I’ve decreased the baking time, too, as traditional cassoulet is an all-day affair (and I wanted you to have plenty of time to enjoy a big plateful of this delightful stew).

This cassoulet may just be the perfect dish to transform an otherwise mundane day into something exceptional.  Enough to make you appreciate “unconventional” all the more.

And a Few Newsy Tidbits:

  • I’m delighted to be a guest poster on the xgfx blog this week!  If you’re looking for a healthy (and perhaps unconventional?) dessert, check out my Marbled Halvah! 
  • The ebook version of my cookbook, Sweet Freedom, is being offered at the incredible price of 50% OFF over at Vegan Cuts for the next 3 days!  The sales have been brisk–they’ve already sold over 70% of the limited number of ebooks–so head over to get your copy pronto!
  • The voting for the SHAPE Best Blogger Awards continues until October 28th.  I’d love your support to help bring a vegan, gluten-free blog to the top of their list! You can vote here.

 

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Comments

  1. Sounds perfectly normal and excellent to me!

  2. You fantastic, creative, inspiring woman-of-awesomeness you! You put my “I like recipes that only dirty one bowl so I don’t have to wash much up” modus operandi to shame :P

    • I love one-bowl wonders, too. That’s why I made the cassoulet for Thanksgiving–once a year (now that I’ve tasted it, I *may* have to revamp that rule, though. . . .) ;)

  3. great meal for a festive occasion! Your Mrs T reminded me of a high school teacher who terrified us but was a great teacher too! Though I don’t think she ever pointed out the soul in a geek! Would love to see your cousins’ meal compared to yours and I am sure I know which one I would prefer!

    • Thanks, Johanna! To begin with, my cousins’ meal was full of meat, cream and sugar, but even discounting for those, I think I liked mine better. ;)

  4. That looks GOOD! We just had a mild cold snap (Texas anything lower than 70*F qualifies as cold) making that kind of meal so tempting. It’s been salad weather for too long.

  5. Like I said on Facebook, I love anything that has cassoulet in the name. Yum on yours! Cranberry juice is a surprise ingredient. :-)

    Shirley

  6. I, too, sometimes forget how “odd” my diet is compared to the SAD of most people I know in real life. Sometimes I get so caught up in my vegan blog filled world that I forget I’m the “odd” one – at least compared to my friends. Luckily, I rarely eat at other people’s home’s, and we rarely eat out, so I’m content to make and consume my own, completely normal, food. Even with American Thanksgiving coming up, we won’t be visiting/dining with anyone, so the hubby and I are free to cook and eat whatever we’d like. For him, that means making his favorite parts of a “traditional” American Turkey Day feast, and for me, well, who knows! Last year was a surprise, and I’m sure this year will be too ;-)

    • Your Thanksgiving sounds just like the one the HH and I recently celebrated here in Canada (with the cassoulet). In general, he makes his own thing and I make mine. . . and the twain does meet! I’m lucky to have some incredibly accommodating friends, but it still feels weird when they have to go out of their way and I hate making other people change what they eat for me.

  7. This looks delicious!!
    I have saved the link and I will be making it shortly :)

    I never realised how unconventionally we eat until people started pointing it out to me. I am just a lover of food… I don’t discriminate, as long as it is made with gorgeous ingredients.

  8. Every time I eat away from home I am reminded how unconventional my “normal” meals are. It is hard sometimes! Your cassoulet sounds fabulous to me, and I can’t wait to try it. Unconventional? I think not :-)

    Courtney

  9. And I am thankful for Ricki’s brilliant creations! You can recreate ANY dish to make it tummy-friendly. I love that. I can’t WAIT to make this one day soon. Yum, so comforting! PS We’re so unconventional too, and I LOVE it :) xo

  10. Yum! This looks delish!

  11. I LOVE cassoulets!! And I seriously would have Never thought about cranberry juice but I think that is a brilliant idea!!
    xo
    k

  12. This recipe looks awesome. Only because I already have these items but don’t have cauliflower, I was thinking I’d try tempeh as the meat (seasoned with bragg’s and maybe some other stuff) or crumbled extra firm tofu (seasoned with sesame oil and bragg’s, maybe a little garlic). Can’t wait to try it!

    • Thanks, Andrea! I would think that tempeh might be a bit overpowering in this recipe, but it *could* work. . . not sure. Let me know how it turns out if you try it!

  13. On second thought, sesame oil is probably not a good idea. :O) I’m going to use the seasonings in your veg meat recipe. I love smoked paprika!

  14. Luv this recipe – I tried it and had it for lunch today. I used wine instead of cran and the fabulous smell reminded me of my other fave recipe you gave us – Tempeh Bourg. Heaven. I ended up going to the store and grabbed a cauliflower but forgot to check the walnut inventory – darn! So used the tempeh. I like the combo but definitely the walnuts would be better. Thanks so much for another keeper!

  15. This is a brilliant recipe, Ricki! So absolutely scrumptious and hearty. Can’t wait to try.

    • Aw, thanks, Gena! “Hearty” is a great word. It was really warming, filing, comforting, and yet slightly rich-tasting all at the same time. I loved it. :)

  16. Do you think you could do this in a slow cooker/crock pot? I am so looking forward to trying this!

    • Hi Michelle,

      I have to admit that I know NOTHING about slow cookers/crockpots, so I can’t say for sure. There are layers here, though, so if they will be disturbed during cooking, I’d say it’s not an appropriate recipe for that method. You want your “meat” to remain fairly separate from the bean layers above and below. I’ve found that when I cook the “meat” right into a sauce, it basically melts into it and you don’t distinguish separate “meaty” textures. But do let me know if you give it a try! :)

  17. This sounds delicious and hearty! I really want to try those meat crumbles. I find it hard to think of things to cook for other people or bring to potlucks because a lot of what I cook for us would be considered weird to others.

Trackbacks

  1. […] first time I made some was in Ricki Heller’s Vegan Cassoulet. Before I even began the recipe I had my doubts about how ‘meat-like’ it was going to […]

  2. […] Unconventional vegan cassoulet: Though Ricki Heller warns that this hearty dish can take a while, she promises the final product will be worth the effort. (GF; vegan) […]

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