It’s hard to read all the reports about greenhouse gases and the cow industry and not feel a pang of guilt every time you sit down to eat a burger. Beef stew had been in regular rotation in our house because it was so easy and cheap. Usually I would use a tough cut, like a shin, and stick that in the slow cooker all day, or put it on at midday on high when I was working from home. I would cook it until the meat would fall apart and the disc of bone would be left nestling somewhere in the centre of the stew, bare and pale.
It was the perfect thing to eat on those long dark evenings in midwinter, when night closes in at 4 or 5, and all you can think about is whether it’s too early to put on pyjamas and curl up on the couch. The loss of it from our regular menu therefore seemed to entail the loss of something significant from our winters, some connection to our past, a memory of how to enjoy winter properly, the coming out from the cold, the steam in the kitchen, the smell of something that has been cooking for so long, the air has become thick with the fragrance.
Downsizing to a smaller kitchen meant that we ditched the slow cooker. We didn’t have enough space to justify it, and we really only used it for stew or sometimes curry. So, between the loss of the slow cooker and the beef guilt, I was left wondering what I could make instead. The answer: some kind of bean stew.
The best part of a beef stew is its savoury, aromatic richness: the gravy, and the flavours of wine, garlic, and rosemary. And then, the accompanying carbs: mashed potatoes or dumplings, or potatoes cooked in the stew until they are soft. I had read something about just replacing all the beef in your diet with black beans, but I didn’t like the thought of those in this kind of stew – they’re too small! You want a big chunk of something here.
I’ll admit this isn’t the simplest or the fastest recipe, but it makes a ton and it is really well-suited to batch cooking. Okay, and yes, gravy granules are kind of weird, but they’re also kind of umami and they lend a pleasant mouthfeel. In an actual beef stew, you’d achieve that sort of texture with rendered fat and maybe a bit of flour, so let’s not over-analyse what I’ve done here. If you’re in a rush and want to make a quick version, this stew can be ready to eat as soon as the vegetables are cooked – you can leave it on the hob. But it’s even nicer to let this stew cook slowly in the oven, about an hour at least if you have the time.
Is this the best recipe for a beef stew that does not contain beef? I don’t know. Is this the best vegan stew recipe? Possibly not. But I have yet to find a better one!
Towards a Beef-less Stew
(With or Without Dumplings)
Note: This is a good one for clearing out the crisper drawer, so don’t feel restricted by the veg I’ve listed here. Courgette, celery, tomatoes, etc. can all go in!
Time: 1 hour minimum, chopping inclusive, but up to 1 hour 45 min.
Beans, your choice – 3 tins. (I recommend butter, kidney, and borlotti.)
2 onions (or leeks), chopped
Meaty veg (one aubergine or one small punnet of mushrooms or a bit of each), chopped
3 carrots, chopped
3 tsp garlic
2-3 tsp vegan Worcester sauce (or regular if that’s what you’ve got)
2 tbsp tomato paste
125 ml red wine
300 ml stock, or equivalent made with stock cube
2 tbsp gravy granules (Bisto is vegan! As are many others.)
3 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped. (I would actually just add like half of one of those packets of fresh rosemary you get at the shop, or several sprigs from the garden if you’ve got it.)
2 bay leaves
For the dumplings:
250 g self-raising flour
100g vegetarian suet
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp dried sage
- Heat about 2 tbsp oil in a casserole or pot. Sauté your veg (onions/leeks, carrots, aubergine, garlic) in over a medium-high heat, until they begin to brown.
- Hopefully you’ve got some crispy brown stuff happening at the bottom of the pan. Deglaze this with the wine, and simmer aggressively until the wine cooks down by about half.
- Add all wet ingredients: Worcester sauce, tomato paste, stock. Mix in the gravy granules and stir until incorporated.
- Now add the beans. If your stew is not soupy enough, add some extra water. Season to taste.
- Clamp the lid on the pot and stick it in the oven at 200c if you’re in a rush, or 160c if you have more time. If you have no time, you can also just finish it on the hob and call it a day.
To make the dumplings:
You could follow the directions on your packet of suet. Or mix the suet and self-raising flour together with the dried sage and the salt. Gently stir in enough water to bring it together into a dough – about ten tablespoons or a bit more. Shape into balls and place on the top of your stew 20-30 minutes before you’d like to eat it. Cover and steam until done.