Food column: Vegan cassoulet is the essence of spring
This time of year is simply glorious. The world is greener, and flowers are blooming everywhere. As we pack away our sweaters, and dust off our summer clothes, many of us may feel sluggish and slightly out of shape from a long winter of inactivity. I certainly do, at least.
If you missed out on your New Year’s resolution of living healthier, it’s not too late to start. Indeed, we are entering into a new era of warm sunshine and outdoor living. Plenty of exercise and healthy eating are the foundations of living well.
The obstacle to a healthy lifestyle is time. There never seems to be enough of it. As adults, unfortunately, we do not get summer off to exercise and prepare nutritious food. Sometimes we have to choose one or the other.
While I urge all of you to find time to exercise, I would like to offer a healthy and easy recipe that can help fuel your summer. Vegan cassoulet has it all: vitamins, minerals, protein, and it is easy to make. It may sound fancy, but it is essentially a hearty vegetable and bean soup.
Cassoulet (pronounced ka-sue-lay) is French in origin and not normally vegan. The original dish is a casserole that contains sausage made from pork, goose, duck and sometimes mutton. It also includes pork skin and white beans.
Like I said, it is not the most vegan friendly meal. You can find cassoulet everywhere in France. It is often sold in jars at grocery stores and charcuteries. There are also many variations that include, of course, different kinds of meat. The key ingredient in cassoulet is the white beans, so that gives me somewhere to start to make it vegan.
Actually, I believe that any dish can be vegan, if you are creative enough. Cassoulet isn’t particularly difficult to transform into a vegan approved recipe either. My recipe simply omits the meat, but it is certainly possible to replace meat with meatless crumbles or other meat substitutes.
You can’t really go wrong. Not only is cassoulet easy to make and healthy, it is also very delicious. It has a light, sweet delicate flavor but is also very filling. You can use fresh vegetables that take more time to prepare, but if you are truly crunched for time, then frozen vegetables can be used instead.
My recipe for cassoulet includes beans, carrots, leeks, celery, garlic, olive oil, thyme and bay leaves. Each one of these ingredients packs a powerful punch of nutrition, which fuels our bodies and mind. The beans provide protein, fiber and healthy calories with lower carbohydrates.
These things are all essential for our bodies and brains. If you are vegan, then it is important to find such sources of protein. Even if you aren’t vegan, these nutrients are essential to human health. With exercise, they also can help you look and feel great. Who doesn’t want that in the summertime?
Carrots are high in antioxidants that fight free radicals which can damage your cells. They contain beta-carotene and vitamin A, which can fight disease and help vision. Celery is rich in vitamin K and high in folate, vitamin A, potassium and vitamin C. Leeks and garlic are highly nutritious and low in calories. They contain manganese, vitamin B6, vitamin C, selenium and of course, fiber. Olive oil is famously associated with “the Mediterranean diet” that some proponents claim can increase the duration and quality of life. All together, these nutrients are potent and necessary for well-being.
It does not matter if you are vegan or just wanting to be healthy, it is always best to eat a plant-based diet. In my opinion, meat can be optional, too. If there is a particular recipe you love, then get creative with it, and surely you can make it healthier and appropriate for your dietary preferences or requirements. If you need inspiration, use the internet to see what others have done. There are also plenty of tricks for making preparation faster too. Use frozen instead of fresh, or cook enough to make leftovers. Find something that works best for you and roll with it.
My vegan cassoulet took me less than an hour to make. I was feeling a little decadent, so I also added some browned breadcrumbs when it was finished cooking. I know, I’m a glutton. I was able to get all of my ingredients at our local City Market.
I look forward to making this again after I harvest vegetables from my garden, but for now, I had to settle with store bought produce. You can certainly add or substitute different vegetables and spices. Just stick with white beans — northern or cannellini — to keep the French happy.
I made enough to have several days worth of leftovers, and I feel healthy and satisfied after eating it. Now I’m ready for summer.
Jordan Callier is an avid foodie and business owner in Glenwood Springs.
(Serves five to seven people)
2 cans white northern beans, undrained
6 celery ribs
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
6 sprigs thyme, fresh
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon curry
6 cups water
2 tablespoons vegetable bullion
pinch of pepper and turmeric
1 cup bread crumbs (optional)
1. Wash and dry the vegetables and herbs well.
2. Combine vegetables and herbs in large soup pot over medium heat. Drizzle olive oil and stir well until mixture is coated. Cover mixture, occasionally stir, and cook for about ten minutes.
3. When time has elapsed, and vegetables are soft, add beans and liquid from can to the pot. Add water, bullion and stir well. Then add spices and pepper to taste.
4. Cook covered on low heat for about 30 minutes.
5. Optional: While soup is cooking, you can make your own breadcrumbs by using a food processor to process the bread of your choice into crumbs. Add the crumbs to baking pan, and drizzle with the rest of the olive oil. Bake for about 15 minutes until crumbs are browned. Store brought breadcrumbs are fine too.
6. Ladle soup into bowls, top with breadcrumbs, garnish with thyme, and serve warm. Enjoy, and go do something outside.
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