veganstew-ccflcr-GregGallinger

Ready to rock winter with the perfect vegan stew? You don’t have to be a master chef, or even a master vegan, to get the stew down to perfection. Here’s all you need to know about crafting the heartiest, tastiest vegan stew you’ll eat this season—from learning what essential ingredients you can play with to cheating with our sample recipe.

The basic formula for cooking a proper vegan stew is as follows: sauté onions and/or dried spices in a bit of olive oil; add vegetable broth, canned tomatoes, coconut milk, or other liquid of choice; add vegetables, beans, and grains; cook until you can’t take the delicious smells anymore and you’ve just got to have a bowl (not-so-scientifically tested to be anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour). Start by learning the essential ingredients for the stew, then play around at home to make your personalized vegan winter stew.

Spices, herbs, and liquids.
These really make up the base and the backbone of your stew. What consistency do you want it to be—soupy or thick? Add more vegetable broth and/or canned tomatoes for more liquid as desired. Do you want it to be spicy, sweet, or savory? Use spice combinations like winter spices (cinnamon, cloves, and allspice), French spices (Bay leaves, thyme, basil, garlic), Americana spices (basil, paprika, parsley, garlic), or Mexican spices (cumin, chili powder, oregano, cayenne)—experiment with your fave spices and mix it up. Add your spices in the first stage of sautéing to really bring out their full flavor and aroma.

Beans or legumes.
These are the heart of your vegan stew—the fiber, the protein, the “meat,” if you will. They’re what make your stew hearty, wholesome, and dinner-worthy. Plus, there are a bazillion beans to choose from at the store, so you can really get creative with your stews. Whether you choose dried beans and cook them first, or opt for the convenient canned, cooked beans, try anything from the familiar black beans and kidney beans to the lesser-known adzuki beans or black-eyed peas. Lentils are also a great choice for stew, because they’ll fall apart the longer they cook—helping to make your stew naturally thickened and hearty.

Root vegetables and/or squash.
Contrary to popular belief, root vegetables and squash are not the same thing. Root vegetables grow underground (hence the name root), whereas squash grow on vines aboveground. Root veggies include sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, and white potatoes, and any of these are going to thicken and sweeten the stew, imparting a bit of yummy starchiness as they cook. Squash, such as pumpkins, butternut squash, or zucchini, are also fantastic necessities of a winter stew, as they add texture, color, and a seasonal feeling of harvest to the dish. All these ingredients, whichever you choose to use, can be peeled and chopped in large pieces or small, depending on how chunky you want the stew to be.

Grains.
While not a necessary component to the vegan winter stew, grains are a very welcome addition. They can thicken a stew and complete the meal if you don’t want to have a side of cornbread or cooked rice, Great grains to use include rice (which will take at least 30 minutes to cook), quinoa (for a gluten-free fix), or barley (for that robust Eastern European flare).

Still stumped? Cheat a bit with our sample recipe:

Vegan Butternut Squash and White Bean Stew
Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 cups peeled, diced butternut squash
2 cups vegetable broth
1 (15-ounce) can white beans
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, in juice
½ cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Directions:
1)    Heat oil in a large pot over medium. Add onion and cook until softened, about 4 minutes, stirring. Add garlic, paprika, basil, oregano, and salt; cook until fragrant, stirring, about 1 minute.
2)    Add squash, broth, beans, and tomatoes; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook 20 minutes. Serve warm with fresh parsley.

Image: Greg Gallinger