Our household is a meat-eating one.
I spent over a decade of my life as an anemic vegetarian (who by benefit of science and persistent testing finally learned my body does not readily absorb non-heme iron). In other words, I reject plant-based iron sources, like dark greens and legumes. I was saved, literally, by animal protein. I still have my blood tested regularly and don’t ever receive my “perfectly average” iron levels without a silent thanks and cheer to the doctor who figured out my omnivorous destiny.
Animal protein always will be an important part of my diet to stave off anemia, and I consume at least a little bit each day.
But sometimes our former vegetarians surface (my husband, too, was a vegetarian for a sizeable part of his 20s) and we enjoy meals built around plant-based protein. We’ve had two vegetarian dishes recently that were so excellent I’m compelled to share: a cassoulet and citrus-radicchio farro salad that were fortifying weekday meals for mid-winter’s chill.
This fresher take on heady cassoulet (one of my favourite southern French dishes), inspired by this recipe, is a perfect winter meal, replete with sturdy vegetables, dark greens, mushrooms and navy beans. We served it topped with crisp fingerling potatoes in place of the traditional breadcrumb topping. We go the extra mile to soak and cook beans from scratch, because while canned is great in a pinch, you can’t beat the texture of a fresh bean when it’s the star of the show!
Feeds two for dinner, with leftovers for lunch
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 2 celery ribs, diced
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 8 ounces assorted mushrooms, quartered (we like cremini and shitake)
- 1 head curly or lacinato kale, shredded
- 1/2 c dry red wine (something mid-body like pinot noir or gamay)
- 3 c navy (or other white) beans
- 1.5 c vegetable broth
- 1 large sprig rosemary, or several sprigs thyme
- sea salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/2c toasted walnuts (optional, to serve)
In a large, shallow dutch oven, heat oil over medium. Add onion, celery, carrot and rosemary/thyme and cook about 10 minutes until vegetables are soft and translucent. Taste and season.
Add the garlic and mushrooms and cover about five minutes until mushrooms have shrunk and released their moisture. Taste and season.
Place kale over mixture and cover again for about five minutes to wilt the greens. Taste and season.
To the mixture, add wine, beans and broth. Cook uncovered for about 10 minutes, until the beans are creamy and liquid has started to absorb.
Using a potato masher, mash a quarter of the beans to thicken the sauce, if desired.
Serve sprinkled with toasted walnuts, if desired. We topped ours with roasted fingerling potatoes for more heft.
Citrus-Radicchio Farro Salad
Farro (spelt) is one of my favourite grains. I love its toothsome quality, deep nuttiness and ability to make a vegetarian meal feel substantial. Paired up with two winter stars: beloved blood oranges and the bitter foil of radicchio, this salad keeps getting better as it sits in Tupperware waiting for weekday lunches.
Makes 4 generous lunch portions
For the dressing:
- juice of 1 medium blood orange
- 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 Tbsp dijon mustard
- 1 Tbsp maple syrup
- generous salt and pepper, to taste
- 5 Tbsp olive oil
For the salad:
- 1 medium blood orange, peeled and segmented
- 2 medium tangerines, peeled and sliced thinly crosswise
- 1 small head radicchio, shaved
- 2 c cooked farro
- 1/4 c dates, pitted and chopped
- 1/2 c parsley, finely chopped
- 1/4 c sliced almonds, toasted
To make the dressing, whisk together all ingredients except oil. Slowly add oil in a stream to emulsify.
To make the salad, toss in a large bowl all ingredients with dressing, reserving some orange slices and almonds for garnish. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.