Mushroom lentil bourguignon [vegan, tasty]

Boeuf bourguignon - or its chickenly near-equivalent coq au vin - is one of those rub-your-tummy satisfying dishes that offers a lovely combination of heartiness and deep, rich flavors.  We decided to host a real dinner party the other day for the first time since turning our lives a little upside down by having a child, and this seemed like a good way to go.  Except, well, for that beef/chicken thing.  Which brought me to the question:  Is it possible to create a vegan version of the dish that's the equal of the original?

Nearly.  It lacks just a little of the mouthfeel imparted by the gelatin in an amazing beef stock, but the rest of the flavors are there.  This is one of my favorite dishes I've made recently, and I love the way it came out.  This isn't my usual type of content for this blog, but I was happy enough with it that I wanted to write down the recipe somewhere.

I started from a recipe I found on Treehugger recently;  but, after trying it earlier in the week, decided that it had sacrificed too much of what makes the original so delicious.  A quick diff vs. the recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking revealed a few changes:
  1. No bay leaf [easily fixed]
  2. No cognac [easily fixed, $$]
  3. A lower ratio of wine to broth [easily fixed]
  4. Everything was cooked all together instead of separately [easily fixed but adds pain]
So, here we go:  A vegan bourguignon that even Julia might deem acceptable.  And it's probably nearly as unhealthy as hers was - I didn't go shy on the fats.

Big container of olive oil
Decent amount of butter-flavored shortening (or butter)
1 small onion, chopped finely
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
2-3 tsp fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 large portobello mushrooms:  cut in half and sliced thickly
3 cups cremini mushrooms:  quartered
1/2 to 1 cup mixed mushrooms:  cremini, shiitake, and whatever else you can find:  sliced
2/3rd cup cooked brown lentils (cook with a bay leaf in the water)
1/3 cup cognac
2 cups decent, drinking-worthy red wine (I used a tasty GSM)
1 tbsp flour
2 cups vegetable stock
2 cups pearl onions, peeled (ahem - i could only find frozen, sigh)

Pain in the butt version:

Prepare all ingredients first.  Seriously.  You know it's the right thing to do, so just do it.

Using the largest saute pan you have, cook the mushrooms in enough oil + melted butter-flavored shortening to generously coat the pan.  Throw in a bay leaf as you cook them and keep the bay leaf between batches.  Medium high, get them nicely reduced and a bit browned but absolutely not crispy.  Season them very lightly with a bit of salt as you cook them, but use a very light hand.  Save the pan juices when you set them all aside in a big bowl.  Save the bay leaf too.  Remember:  Don't overcrowd them or you'll steam them more than saute them.  One layer is a good guideline.

Brown the pearl onions in the same manner, but get them nicely browned and rich on the outside, and cooked through on the inside.  Same deal with a bit of salt but not much.  Set aside.

[geek note] This part is really important, and I restored it for a reason:  Because this dish doesn't have any browned meat in it, you're getting most of that awesome Maillard reaction flavor and complexity from the sauteed onions and mushrooms.  Don't skimp here!

If it's not a nonstick pan, deglaze it using a little splash of the wine, and save the liquid.  You'll be dumping it into the big pot in a few minutes.

In a heavy-bottomed dish big enough to hold however much you're cooking in total, saute the onion in another generous helping of oil+shortening.  Don't take it to brown, just get it soft and fragrant.  2-5 minutes depending on heat.  Add a few tablespoons more oil and shortening.  Add the thyme, both bay leaves (the one you cooked earlier and another one), and garlic.  Cook for a few minutes until the garlic starts to get cooked.

Add the mushrooms, stir and let them get re-warmed.  Add the lentils.  Cook for a few minutes.  You want the heat hot enough that you're getting some browning but no burning.  Scrape the pan decently well.

Measure the 1/3rd cup cognac into a cup.  Pour it into the stew and then light it on fire using a long match, and keep your silly face away from the flames as it burns.  It shouldn't go "woosh", so don't freak out, but do flambe it:  it helps with the flavor.

Pour in the wine.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer until the wine has reduced to about 1/3 or 1/2 of its original volume.  Sprinkle in the flour.  Stir until the flour has cooked a bit - about 2 minutes.  Add the tomato paste and vegetable stock.

A warning:  If you tasted your concoction previously to adding the flour, paste, and stock, you probably liked it.  Don't taste it at this point - it'll be crappy and you'll be a sad puppy.  Just trust that once the flavors incorporate, it'll reach awesomeness.

Cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes or until it's reduced enough that it has a nice stew-like consistency and the flavors are getting better.  (See picture).

Add in the pearl onions.  Cook for another minute or two, then kill the heat and cover.

LET IT SIT FOR AT LEAST 30 MINUTES.  Preferably an hour.  Then re-warm it.  This stew really needs to hang out for a while to let the flavors incorporate.

Serve over mashed potatoes or semi-wide noodles.  The non-vegan version of this would say to do egg noodles.  I used taters and it was great.  I liked the Treehugger serving idea of roasted carrots and asparagus on the side.

For next time, I might increase further the wine to stock ratio, back to Julia's ratio (about 2:1 wine to stock, instead of the 1:1 I used here and the 1:2 in the Treehugger version).

Many thanks to Jaymi Heimbuch and Kelly Rossiter @ treehugger for the lentils idea, and Julia Child for the reminder that sometimes, her way really is right despite all the work.


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