Autumn tempeh and winter vegetable stew

October 3, 2009 at 3:22 pm (C (1 star, edible), Peter Berley, Root vegetables, Starches, Tempeh)


I felt a little guilty that I criticized this recipe when I deviated so much from the instructions, so I added it to my list of “to try again” recipe. But I wasn’t in a particular rush to make it again until friends of mine (who bought the cookbook on my recommendation) started raving about it. They don’t read this blog, and so their attempt and opinion were both entirely independent of my own. When they started gushing about how good the recipe was, I decided I had to try it again. Derek tried to discourage me from making it when we had company over, but I could not be dissuaded.

This time I made every effort to follow the recipe exactly. I used my heavy, cast iron, 6-quart dutch oven. I used all the butter and oil and soy sauce, and I added the kombu and scallions this time. I used just rosemary, but put in more than last time (I’m still not sure exactly what a “sprig” is.) I used butternut squash instead of Kuri since we disliked the Kuri squash so much the last time. I again forgot to make the pilaf, however.

I was cooking with my friend Alex, and we made sure to bring the mixture to a boil before putting it in the oven. Yet when we pulled it out of the oven the vegetables were still undercooked, and even raw in places. My only possible explanation is that we didn’t actually bring it to a full boil. So I put it back on the stove, added another 1/2 cup of water, and this time left it until steam was pouring out underneath the lid. I put it back in the oven for another 20 minutes. At this point everything was cooked, but there was surprisingly little liquid (even after adding the final cup of water + soy sauce at the end). It certainly didn’t seem to be a stew, and it didn’t taste like it had been “simmering on the stovetop all day”, as Berley claimed. The overall flavor was much better than my previous attempt, however. I attribute this mostly to the extra fat and salt and rosemary. It tasted a little like gravy/Thanksgiving, but the ginger and soy sauce and kombu gave it a slightly Asian attitude.

Still, however, I was disappointed in the vegetables. The butternut squash (despite being cut in 2-inch pieces), was almost falling apart. I thought the thick, wormy onion rings were kind of disgustingly slimy. The carrots and parsnips held their shape, but they weren’t nearly as tasty as roasted carrots and parsnips. Again, they almost tasted boiled/steamed. I really prefer them caramelized and roasted. I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to eat the Kombu or not. Derek tried a piece and said it didn’t taste like much–a mild seaweed flavor.

Even after all my corrections, Derek wasn’t too excited about the dish, but then he said “well I must like it more than I thought because I want seconds”. He gave it a B rating, but he wasn’t too interested in the leftovers. I’d give it a B-. It tasted okay, but I’m pretty sure I won’t make this recipe again.  I’d just rather have all those yummy winter veggies roasted, or use them to make a nice, country Thai stew.  In fact, I couldn’t eat the leftovers at all–I ended up tossing them.  Something about the dish gives me the heebie jeebies.   I might, however, try just cooking the tempeh on the stove top with ginger and garlic and rosemary and soy sauce, and then serving it with roasted veggies.

Original post: Oct 3, 2009

Fall is here, and parsnips and winter squash are finally in the stores again!  I decided to celebrate by trying this recipe from the fall section of Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast.

In a medium dutch oven you melt together butter and oil, then add kombu, garlic, ginger, and rosemary or sage.  On top of this seasoning layer you place 1 pound of tempeh cubes.  The tempeh is then covered with a mixture of water, soy sauce, and maple syrup.  Then come the remaining layers:  onions, winter squash, parsnip, and carrots, all cut into thick slices or chunks.  The casserole is covered, and the stew is brought to a boil, then transferred to a 400 degree oven where it bakes for 25 minutes.  Once everything is cooked, the vegetables and tempeh are transferred to a serving bowl, and a mixture of arrowroot and water and soy sauce is mixed in with the juices remaining in the pan, to make a sort of gravy.  The vegetables are topped with the sauce and some scallions, and served over a bulgur and buckwheat pilaf.

I didn’t have any kombu, so I just left it out.  I cut the olive oil by half, the butter by 25%, and used less soy sauce.  I didn’t make the pilaf since I felt like the dish had plenty of starchy vegetables already.  I used rosemary for the herb, and Hokkaido (red kuri) for the winter squash. I forgot the scallions.  Otherwise I followed the recipe’s ingredients exactly.

The first mistake I made was using a 3 quart casserole pan.  I only have a 6 quart dutch oven, and that seemed too large.  But the 3 quart pan was not large enough.  Once all the veggies were layered in the lid couldn’t quite close.  I tried cooking it anyway, with the lid mostly closed, but after 25 minute the parsnips were still hard in spots, so I left it in the oven for a while longer, maybe another 15 minutes.

In the end the vegetables were definitely cooked, but they tasted more like boiled vegetables than roasted ones.  The onions were particularly slimy and unappealing.  The starchy vegetables weren’t overly soft, just bland and not very flavorful.  The Hokkaido was particularly unpleasant–overly dry and starchy tasting.  Maybe I should have added more salt, but I don’t think that alone would have been transformed the vegetables from unappetizing to delicious.   I can’t imagine that Berley intended the vegetables to come out as they did.  They were just too gross.  Could I have really screwed up the recipe somehow?

Despite the dish’s name, the final product was not anything like a stew.  There were only about 1.5 cups of sauce for almost 3 quarts of vegetables–not even close to a stew in my book.

The tempeh wasn’t bad. It had absorbed all the fat (the vegetables didn’t get any), and was sweet (from the maple syrup and veggie juices) and salty (from the soy sauce).  Plus the garlic and ginger added lots of flavor.  However, I couldn’t taste the rosemary.

Derek and I ended up eating all the tempeh out of the “stew”, and then I pureed the vegetables together to make a creamy soup.  I added some spices and the soup tasted okay, but not great.

Stew: D

Tempeh: B-

3 Comments

  1. peter berley said,

    Hello Fellow cook,

    as the author of this recipe I can only say that FAT MATTERS and is healthful. The dish sufferered for 2 reasons: 1. the amount of fat in the recipe is important, but so is the proper pan.

    The dish will be transformed if the recipe is followed.

    Cheers,

    PB

    • captious said,

      Thanks for your comment PB! Yes, I screwed up by using too small of a pan. I just couldn’t see my huge 6-quart dutch oven being considered a “medium” dutch oven. When I saw that my pan was too small, I did think about moving everything to a large pan. Normally I would have, but in this case just dumping the veggies into a large pot would destroy all the beautiful layers. I was simply too lazy to painstakingly deconstruct and reconstruct all the layers in a new pan. I thought that the vegetables would cook down and after 5 or 10 minutes the lid would close, and it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. After all, the pot wasn’t going to be on the stovetop, but in the oven, which is kind of like a closed pot :). Okay, no excuses. My error clearly screwed up the recipe. But it also would be great if cookbook authors would specify pan sizes in quarts as well as the more general small/medium/large, for error-prone cooks like me!

      I agree that fat is healthful, but it is also extremely calorie-dense, and I am small and just don’t get that many calories per day! I find that I almost always like your recipes with about half as much fat and salt as called for, but clearly this is an unusual recipe where you simply cannot cut back on the fat. I don’t really understand, however, how another 1.5 Tbs. of fat would transform the dish. Especially since the vegetables won’t touch the extra oil, and so they’ll still just be steaming. I guess it would make the “gravy” richer.

      I’ll have to try this recipe again, following the instructions more carefully. I will also hunt for kombu here in Germany. I haven’t seen it yet, but I haven’t searched carefully either. I’ll also use butternut instead of Hokkaido. Hokkaido (also called Red Kuri I believe) is extremely popular here in Germany and across the border in France. It’s actually the only winter squash I can get outside of Sept/October. I just don’t understand why it’s so popular. Every time I’ve tried it the texture comes out extremely dry and starchy. What am I doing wrong?

  2. Hanaleah said,

    I thought the recipe wasn’t bad, but it needed more spices.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: