I'm always happy to support the authors of a good cookbook--and Almost Meatless by Joy Manning and Tara Desmond is one of the best new ones around. So when Joy and Tara asked me to participate in a "virtual potluck" and cook a recipe from their new cookbook with a group of other food bloggers, I was more than happy to say yes.
In fact, I already knew what recipe I wanted to cook--and readers who remember my rabidly positive review of this cookbook can probably guess which one: African Peanut Stew (on page 35, an already well-stained and splattered page!).
In short, this is the kind of recipe that I love. With lots of fresh, healthy ingredients, a fairly simple cooking procedure and a low cost per serving, this stew literally jumps off the page. But the most unexpected selling point of this recipe (and a feature I didn't fully appreciate until I'd actually made the dish) was how flexible and substitution-friendly it is.
As you'll see shortly, this dish calls for okra, a vegetable our grocery store rarely carries. Instead, I substituted fresh green beans. And it worked perfectly.
I had a ton of chicken in the freezer that I got on sale the other week, so I took the liberty of substituting it for the turkey meat specified by the recipe. It also worked perfectly.
And when I saw red bell peppers in our grocery store at $5.99 a pound, an absolute joke of a price in the middle of our summer growing season, I muttered to myself, "screw it, I'm going with green peppers at a fraction of the cost. Nobody's gonna miss a little extra color." That worked too.
It turns out that this dish is so flexible that it allows you to consider all kinds of adaptations and substitutions. You can make this dish with meat or without (try substituting very firm tofu, chickpeas or pink beans in place of turkey or chicken). You can make it spicier by adding extra cayenne pepper (which we did). You can even consider other leafy greens in place of Swiss chard (collards or kale would be excellent, and equally healthy, substitutes).
This kind of flexibility is rare in a recipe, and it provides enormous benefits to the cook. You can choose to follow the recipe as written (after all, the first time you make any new recipe, it's always a good idea to do it by the book), but you can also choose to tailor the dish to the best and most reasonably-priced veggies available to you.
If you can build a collection of recipes that are as flexible and adaptable as this one, you'll find cooking at home much more fun--and much less expensive.
African Peanut Stew
With permission from Ten Speed Press, from Almost Meatless by Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond
2 Tablespoons oil, divided
1 (12-oz) boneless, skinless turkey thigh, cut into strips
1/4 cup water
4 ounces okra, sliced thinly
1 onion, sliced into strips (see below)
4 cups stock
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 cup canned or fresh diced tomatoes
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
4 cups thinly-sliced swiss chard or red chard
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup roasted salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
6 scallions, thinly sliced
1) Heat 1 Tablespoon oil in a large pot or dutch oven on medium high heat. Add the meat and cook for five minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer meat and juices onto a plate.
2) Add the 1/4 cup water and deglaze the pot (see below), scraping up the bits from the bottom. Pour the liquid and bits over the reserved turkey and set aside.
3) Add the other Tablespoon oil to the pot, add the okra (or green beans, in my case) and saute on medium heat for about five minutes. Add the onion and saute for another 5 minutes. Pour in 1/2 cup of the stock and deglaze the bottom of the pot.
4) Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, just until fragrant. Stir in the cayenne, garam masala, tomatoes, peanut butter, reserved meat and juices, remaining stock, and Swiss chard. Simmer over medium-low heat for 45 minutes. Serve over rice and garnish with red (or green, in my case) bell pepper, chopped peanuts and scallions.
A few recipe notes:
1) For those of you who want a quick clinic on how to reduce an onion to a pile of thin strips in just seconds: cut the onion in half from top to bottom, lay each onion half flat side down, and starting along the side of the onion, systematically make cuts through its length, working all the way around the onion. See below:
2) A quick definition of the phrase deglaze the pot: deglazing simply means to add a little liquid to a pot (it can be stock, water or even wine), and then scraping up any bits of browned and caramelized food stuck to the bottom of the pot. The bits of browned food dissolve into the liquid, creating a rich and tasty sauce base, as you can see in the photo below:
3) Because Swiss chard typically comes in enormous bunches at the grocery store, you will have quite a bit left over after making this dish. It's quite delicious chopped up (stems and all) and steamed in a saucepan, and it's one of the most eye-healthy veggies out there.
4) A few words on cost: With the substitutions that I made above, my cost to make this dish came to $9.07, or a laughably cheap per-serving cost of $1.51. Your mileage may vary, but if you were to follow this recipe to the letter, the total cost will be perhaps an extra $3-$5 overall--still quite a reasonable bargain.
5) Finally, let me once again recommend this excellent cookbook to you. If you are looking for healthy, creative and inexpensive meals to cook in your home, consider adding Almost Meatless to your kitchen bookshelf.
How to Tell if a Recipe is Worth Cooking With Five Easy Questions
How to Modify a Recipe: The Six Rules
Antioxidant Alert! Portuguese Kale and Potato Soup
Three Easy, Delicious and Inexpensive Homemade Salad Dressing Recipes
How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from Amazon.com via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!