Mushrooms à la Flamande – Mushroom Stew

IMG_2947Even though I’d be lying if I said that we’re having a particularly hard winter over here, this is still the time of year that makes you long for a good old-fashioned stew. And although I’m completely used to not eating meat by now (I’m actually more at the ‘what the hell was I thinking’ stage), I’ve always struggled a bit when it comes to stews.

For me, vegetarian stews roughly fall into three categories: bean, vegetable and mushroom, and combinations of those three. Of course you could add tofu, tempeh or seitan to a stew, but it wouldn’t usually be the main ingredient.

Now I love bean-based stews. Although I’m not a fan of all beans, any chilli-like stew, preferably made with black beans or chickpeas certainly hits the spot. But do they give me the same feeling of preparing and eating a special, indulgent dish that I used to get when I made, say, beef stew back in the day? No, or not really.IMG_2940

Speaking of the proverbial spot, all-vegetable stews generally don’t hit mine, and I’ve tried quite a few of them. As much as I love vegetables, stewing doesn’t generally improve them (root vegetables excepted), and as for the luxurious feeling I used to get while cooking a meat stew? No. And in this case a definite no.

But after all those negatives, a positive, because I have found my vegetarian/vegan answer to those beef stews I used to love. I can’t really explain why, although the ‘meaty’ texture of mushrooms probably has something to do with it. And the fact that I love (LOVE) mushrooms, of course.IMG_2929

This mushroom stew is loosely based on Nigella Lawson’s Boeuf à la Flamande recipe from her Kitchen book, which I’ve made several times and (if I remember correctly) was actually the last meat dish I ate. What I think is brilliant is that she leaves out the ginger bread that is often used in this type of stew, and replaces it with spices, creating the same flavours without any of the heaviness.IMG_2931

To me, these Mushrooms à la Flamande are what stews should be about: comfort, indulgence, heartiness; weekend winter food. I hope you think so too.

– generous splash of olive oil
– 1 large onion, chopped finely
– 2 large cloves garlic, chopped finely (not grated or pressed, it might burn)
– 1 kg mixed mushroom, chopped roughly (think bite-size once cooked, so not too small)
– 4 tbsp/30 g plain flour
– 1 tsp allspice
– 1 tsp thyme
– 250 ml dark beer (I used Leffe Dubbel)
– 250 ml mushroom stock, made with one whole stock cube
– 2 tsp grainy mustard
– 1 tbsp brown sugar
– 2 tbsp tamari/soy sauce
– 2 bay leaves
– salt and pepper to taste.

– Heat the oil in a deep, heavy casserole.
– Add the onion and fry till translucent
– Add the garlic and all the mushrooms. Mix well, clamp on the lid, turn down the heat and let simmer for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice.
– Meanwhile, mix flour, allspice, and thyme in a bowl and mix beer, mustard, stock, sugar and tamari/soy sauce in a jug.
– Once the mushrooms have had their 15 minutes, take off the lid and stir in the flour mixture.
– Add the beer/stock mixture and bay leaves.
– Let simmer, lid askew, for 10 more minutes.
– Check flavours and add salt, pepper or tamari as needed.
– Serve with noodles, crusty bread, mashed potato, rice, whatever you fancy.


Why I Became a Seitanist (or Thai Nasi with Home-Made Seitan)

IMG_2838Seitan. If you don’t know what it is, the word might conjure up images of Beelzebub, The Father of Lies, etc. If you do know what it means, there’s a good chance it will give you visions of, well… hippies. I bought a jar of the stuff at the local health shop when I had just ditched meat and threw it out two years later because it scared me too much. Shop-bought seitan looks like something that should be floating in formaldehyde. I’m not particularly wimpy when it comes to strange-looking foods but this was one bridge too far even for me.

One of the reasons why it repulsed me (aside from its appearance) was that I didn’t really know what it was or how it was made. The only solution? To cook it myself

IMG_2803IMG_2810IMG_2811So, what is seitan and how do you make it? Well, essentially it is nothing more than a dough made with water and wheat gluten/gluten flour, which is boiled in water or a broth and then left to cool. Once cooled, you can dice it and use it in stir-fries, salads, basically in everything where you would otherwise use tofu, tempeh (or other sources of protein). I don’t know about you, but that took the scary out of seitan for me.

The reason why I wanted to know more about seitan is because I discovered a wonderful Dutch cookbook called ‘Oosters vegetarisch’ by Jolande Burg and Erik Spaans. It’s full of gorgeous Asian, vegetarian recipes, including a brilliant Thai nasi with seitan (nasi literally translates as ‘fried rice’ but it can be so much more than that).


So, knowing what seitan was, and because I really wanted to make that nasi, I went ahead and made my own. And, as you’ve probably gathered from the title of this post, I’m a convert. Okay, seitan doesn’t look all that pretty as it cooks (think Roswell incident), but keep an open mind, because it has a brilliant meaty texture and absorbs flavour very well, both good things in my book. Now that I’ve tried it, I won’t look back. Satan, sorry, seitan will loom large in my kitchen from now on.IMG_2821

And the great news is, I can share the recipe for the seitan and the nasi with you, because Erik and Jolande have very generously given me permission to blog about both!

Now, I’ve adapted the recipe a bit to serve two (with leftovers) and the amount of rice I usually boil to fridge or freeze and fry later. The seitan makes a double portion, so you could make this nasi with it and freeze the other half. It will be like having money in the bank, trust me.IMG_2824IMG_2867


A note on fried rice. You need boiled and chilled rice here, or you’ll end up with mush and a wok that needs a long soak and a lot of scrubbing.
In order to prevent nasty bacteria developing, it’s important to cool your rice asap and sling it in your fridge as soon as it has. In winter, I put my cooked rice on the balcony to cool as soon as it’s boiled, in summer I spread out the boiled grains on a lined baking tray. When it has cooled enough, which for me is when there’s no more steam coming off it, I put it in the fridge and chill until stone cold. I tend to cook three portions (3 x 150 g of raw rice ) to divide up and freeze, so I can turn any leftover vegetable, tofu, tempeh, etc, into a delicious meal at the drop of a hat.


Enough chat, let’s get cooking!


Seitan, Chinese-styleIMG_2857


For the seitan
140 g vital wheat gluten/gluten flour
200 ml water

For the broth
1 1/2 l water
2 shallots, peeled and halved
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly flattened
piece of ginger, sliced in about 4 thickish slices
1 tsp ground white pepper
5 tbsp/75 ml light soy sauce
2 star anise


– Mix gluten flour and water in a food processor for about two minutes. A warning: I used my Magimix, which is pretty powerful (I’ve driven cars with less horse power) and it almost jumped off the work top. Hold on to it as it mixes the dough, 1 1/2 minutes would also have done the job, I think.
– Rest the very elastic dough for 20 minutes. No need to oil the bowl but I did cover with cling film.
– Meanwhile, put all the ingredients for the broth in a pan and bring to the boil.
– Divide the dough into two balls, stretch out one of the balls, twisting it as you do so, fold back on itself, repeat this five times. Do the same with the other ball of dough.
– Put both pieces of seitan in the boiling stock and let simmer for an hour, lid slightly askew. I left the lid on initially, causing the seitan to swell up and try to escape from the pan, which was a bit unnerving, given its alien appearance.
– Turn halfway through (see, this side looks prettier. Well, slightly.)
– Let cool in the broth, then use straight away or freeze.

Thai Nasi with Seitan

– vegetable oil (anything except olive oil, really)
– 2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
– 2 tbsp fresh ginger, chopped finely
– 300 g (1 home-made piece) seitan.
– 200 g French beans/string beans, sliced finely, sideways. (I buy this ready-chopped.)
– 2 tbsp light soy sauce (I use a bit less than the original recipe says, because the seitan is already flavoured)
– 2 tbsp tomato ketchup
– 1 chilli of your choice (I used a bird’s eye chilli, seeds in), finely chopped
– 300 g cooked, cold rice (150 g when raw)
– lime juice, to taste
– 3 tomatoes, seeds removed, diced finely
– 4 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
– 6 tbsp coconut flour, lightly toasted. (I forgot to add this, but I think it would be very nice in it. Shop-bought fried onions would work well here, too.)

2 fried eggs, fried in oil, to serve on top of each portion.

– Heat the oil in a wok and fry garlic, ginger, and seitan.
– Then add the green beans, soy sauce, ketchup and chilli. Let this boil down and thicken slightly.
– Add the rice and stir-fry on a high heat.
– At the last minute, add lime juice to taste and stir in half of the tomato cubes.
– Warm through and serve topped with the coriander, the rest of the tomato cubes, the coconut flour and the eggs, if using.