Spring is a bit off-season to be cooking a cassoulet. Traditionally this preparation used the cured, smoked and otherwise preserved meats in the winter along with the root vegetables and dried beans that a century ago kept French peasants alive until spring. This version usesmuch of the same ingredients without the curing, fat content and (almost) no animal products. If you are looking to cook an authentic cassoulet read this article on the Serious Eats website that tells a good story about the origins and cassoulet-wars.
Warning, this dish is not absolutely, 100% vegan. The website and the 101meals lifestyle allows for “meat as a condiment” and in this case I do use a small amount of smoked sausage but it doesn’t contain meat. The sausage is removed, like you would a bay leaf, before serving. However, this recipe IS whole-grain, low-fat and plant-based and you can certainly omit the sausage for taste or ethical reasons. Instead of meat, king trumpet mushrooms are included for texture.
Enough background and caveats and on to the somewhat complex preparation. Do not worry, this recipe is still light years easier than the traditional versions. Like most of the recipes on this site, the ingredients and preparation are a bit loose. Even an inexperienced cook can vary the ingredients and quantities without messing up the end result.
STEPS 1 & 2
3 cans beans, white ones like Great Northern and cannellini look nice
6 cloves garlic
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced onion
4 ribs diced celery
1 can diced tomato
1 tsp each, dry herbs in the “Herbs de Provence” category (any combination of rosemary, sage, thyme, marjoram, savory, oregano, parsley, etc.)
3 bay leaves
2-3 cups water (or broth of choice)
2 tsp each of fresh herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme, etc.)
2 slices whole grain bread, parsley
1 tsp nutritional yeast
4 ounces smoked sausage
3 medium-sized (6 inches) king trumpet mushrooms, cut into bite-sized chunks
STEP 1: Preheat oven to 325 F. Either prepare and cook your dry beans to al dente or use drained canned white navy or other beans, about 3 cans worth. If including mushrooms, brown those first, otherwise begin by sautéing the celery and onion in a large oven-friendly pot with olive oil. Add the garlic and dry spices and sautée a minute more. Add beans, tomatoes, (opt.) mushrooms, bay leaves, salt and enough water/broth to just cover everything. If you dare, add the sausage in large pieces, big enough to retrieve later. Bring everything up to a good boil on the stovetop with the ingredients evenly distributed and the bay leaf and (optional) sausage submerged in the liquid.
STEP 2: Place the whole combo, uncovered in the oven and let it simmer away for at least 40 minutes. Peek at it after 20 minutes and add water/broth, as necessary, to keep things juicy and bubbly but not dry. Test the carrots and beans and adjust the baking time until they are at a texture you like, adding liquid as necessary. Adjust the salt at this point.
When the majority of cooking is done and liquid is close to evaporated and absorbed, you can either store in the refrigerator overnight and let the flavors blend, which I recommend, or go right to the final baking. This is a good time to pull out the bay leaves and the sausage.
STEP 3: The finishing step involves adding the fresh herbs and gets the nice crust on the top and gives the dish that Cassoulet look and texture but be ready to serve right away. I split this dish into two meals, cooking 1/2 at a time in a small version of one of those expensive French-made dutch ovens that give your creation the right presentation.
Mix in your choice of “Herbs de Provence.” I particularly like rosemary and sage but they tend to dominate over the other herbs. If you did the overnight in the refrigerator then heat on the stovetop until just boiling. To make the bread crumb topping, blenderize or process either frozen fresh or very dry whole grain bread (1-2 slices) along with fresh parsley, nutritional yeast and a teaspoon of olive oil and pinch of salt. Spread the bread crumb mixture evenly on top. It doesn’t have to cover completely. Bake uncovered at 425 F until topping is toasted nicely.
Serve this carefully on to warmed deep plates with the crust exposed. See if your carnivore friends miss the meat and maybe offer them the discarded sausages. Enjoy for good health.