Here in the south of France cassoulet is a regional favorite. I imagine grandmas on lazy sunday afternoons filling their provencal farmhouses with the smell of duck confit, sausages and beans as the younger generation start filing in for a weekly family get-together.
Chez nous, we are a much smaller family of four – half British, half American – first generation expats with newly planted roots in our French territory. We are not surrounded by family but we are surrounded by friends. So, last winter – only one week into my “clean cuisine” challenge I found myself spontaneously inviting friends over for Sunday lunch while entirely forgetting that I had made a public vow (via my old blog) to eat mostly a vegetarian and non-processed food diet for 8 weeks. The problem was that I had just invited two die-hard carnivores over for lunch. A meal for them without meat is not a meal. They both come from countries where even breakfast mid-week involves the slaying of a cow. A vegetarian lunch was going to be a tough sell.
So, I dug out the cookbooks and surfed the web and finally decided on a vegetarian version of Cassoulet. I think most carnivores biggest complaint about a vegetarian meal would be not feeling full and satisfied at the end. They need food that sticks to their bones as it goes down – not rabbit food. This meal ticks the box. It is so filling and hearty that my baking dish, which I thought would be empty by the end of lunch, was only half gone. Everyone was slouching back in their chairs, rubbing their bellies with satisfaction as they sipped their red wine and commented on how strangely satisfied they were after eating not only a vegetarian meal but a VEGAN (What???) one. (I didn’t even mention that until after we finished -I didn’t want to send them running for the hills!)
So, if you are looking for a super healthy vegetarian dinner that is hearty enough to fill a winter belly (I’m convinced our stomachs expand in the colder months!) then look no further. And like I said – don’t even say the word vegan until they are blissfully in a food coma and too content to turn up their nose.
Why is this meal so good for you? A few reasons…
- Beans – Great source of Protein, Lowers Cholesterol, Reduces risks of many Cancer
- Butternut Squash – Vatamin A, Vitamin C and Potassium
- Celeriac – High in Antioxidants, Fiber and Anti-Cancer agents
- Carrots – Beta-Carotene which becomes Vitamin A and Antioxidants
So here’s how you do it…..
WARNING – This is a time consuming dish to make – it’s better done on a Sunday afternoon than a Tuesday night. But you will have a ton of leftovers that will carry you through to a week night meal too so it’s well worth it!
- 350 g/ 12 oz dried haricots blancs/ white beans
- 1 fresh bouquet garni (bunch of fresh thyme, bay leaf and parsley)
- 3 onions, 1 quartered and 2 chopped
- 450 g/ 1 lb carrots, 2 quartered and the rest chopped in chunks
- 11 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 400 g / 14 oz can of chopped tomatoes
- 1 tsp sugar
- 4 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
- 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into chunks
- 1 medium celariac, peeled and chopped into chunks
- 1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
- 4 Tablesoons chopped parsley
- Put the dried beans in a large pot and cover with plenty of water. Bring water to a boil, lower heat and simmer 5 minutes and then remove from the heat and let sit for two hours, covered.
- Drain beans and cover again with fresh water. Add the bouquet garni and quartered onion and carrots. Bring the water to a boil and then simmer the beans for about one hour, until tender. Drain the beans, reserving 1 liter of the cooking liquid, and discard the vegetables.
- Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.
- In a large sauté pan heat 3 tablespoons of oil and add the chopped onions and celery. Sauté a few minutes before adding the garlic. Sauté three minutes until soft and fragrant. Add the tomatoes, sugar, half the tarragon and season with salt and pepper. Add 1 pint (2 cups) of the bean cooking liquid and bring mixture to a simmer.
- Partially cover the pan with a lid and let simmer thirty minutes.
- Toss the chopped carrots, butternut squash and celeriac with 5 tablespoons of olive oil and spread on a large baking sheet. Roast about 30 minutes.
- Lower oven heat to 180C/360F.
- Remove roasted vegetables from oven and mix together with beans. Add the tomato mixture, dijon mustard and half of the parsley and mix to combine. You want the mixture to be nice and moist. If it seems dry add a bit more of the bean cooking liquid. Season with salt and pepper if needed.
- Pour it all into a large baking dish. Combine the remaining parsley, tarragon and breadcrumbs (if using) and scatter over top. Drizzle with remaining oil. Place in the oven and bake for about 45-50 minutes.
- Serve it with a simple tossed salad and some nice bread.
- Notes - You can prepare this a day ahead of baking. Just keep it refrigerated and moisten it a bit with the cooking liquid if it seems dry the next day before baking it.
- Fun Fact - When looking into the nutritional value of carrots I learned that if you buy fresh carrots from the market with their beautiful stalks still attached you should cut them off as soon as you get home -not only so they fit in the fridge but because the stalks will soak up and steal all the nutrients from the carrots.
- Naughty Stalks!