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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Chickenless stew with dumplings

In my childhood home, each of us got to pick our special birthday meal. My brother and sister would waver year to year: pizza, lasagne, no this year I want hoagies. For me, though, I knew exactly what I wanted. Every year, it was the same thing, my favorite meal, unfailingly, I insisted be on the menu every June 10th. My favorite meal was my mom's chicken and dumpling stew. Of course, this thrilled my mother to no end, because there is nothing she enjoyed so much as filling the kitchen with the hot air of cooking stew in the middle of June. Boy did she hate it. She would suggest other things, but I wouldn't budge. She didn't make stew often and it was what I wanted.

Of course, since I turned veggie, she has never had to make me that sauna-like birthday meal. And when she has made stew while I'm at my parent's house (always in the winter), I admit to looking at their bowls with envy as I eat my salad greens. Because I remember loving chicken and dumpling stew. I remember how I used to wait for it, watch my mother chop the vegetables, and just when I thought it was finally done, I would realize that no, it was merely time to add the dumplings.

I have to envy no more, for I have found a way to enjoy my childhood favorite without the chicken. The solution: chickpeas.

Chickpea and Dumpling Stew
What you need:
4 T olive oil
2-3 c. chopped onion and celery
1 large carrot, chopped
1 1/2 c. + 2 T flour
1 large potato, peeled and diced
2 15.5 oz cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
half a small bag frozen veggies
3 c. veggie stock
1 T. soy sauce
1/2 t thyme
1/2 t rosemary or savory
salt and pepper
3 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 c milk

1. Heat 1 T oil in a large pot over med heat. Add onion/celery and carrot, cover, and cook to soft, 5 min. Stir in 2 T flour. Add potatoes, chickpeas, and frozen veggies. Stir in veggie stock, soy sauce, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Cover and cook on low for an hour, checking to make sure it stays moist. Add water as needed.

2. Now, it's take for dumplings! Make sure, again, that there is some extra water in the stew before continuing. Also, make sure the carrots and potatoes are cooked through. Then, in a bowl, combine the 1 1/2 c. flour, baking powder, and baking soda, plus 1 t. salt. Quickly stir in the milk and remaining 3 T oil to just blended.

3. Spoon dumpling mix over the surface of the veggies. It should look a bit like gathered clouds in a pot.

4. Put the whole pot into an oven set on 350 degrees. Bake until dumplings are cooked through, probably 25-30 minutes.

5. Take the pot out of the oven. Don't forget your oven mitts. Make sure to serve plenty of stew with each spoonful of dumpling. And if there's a lot of dumpling in your bowl untouched by stew, go ahead and squeeze some honey on it and eat it separately, as though it were a biscuit.

At the end of it all, the stew ended up a little dry. Keep in mind that all the things that comprise this stew like to soak up water, unlike chicken, which adds water. Keep adding that water, folks. I might even try own a reprised version of this that includes a can of cream of celery, just to give it more liquid and more softness.

As for the taste, it was delicious. Chickpeas, honestly, have always creeped me out a bit because they taste and smell so much like poultry. And that only benefits the stew. I could hardly tell it wasn't the stew I always insisted upon in the heat of mid-June.

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