After Thanksgiving dinner last year, I declared, “Next year there will be no turkey!” I was rather exhausted after a day of cooking and cleaning up. I was surprised to hear my husband say that he didn’t care! He told me that he has never really cared all that much for turkey and especially not leftover turkey. Ha! That was a surprise after ten years of marriage. This year I haven’t quite decided what will replace turkey, but I’m pretty sure this vegetarian cassoulet is in the running.
We love cassoulet a lot, but as we’ve begun eating less and less meat (we are almost vegetarian) we have been making it without the sausage and duck confit and adding vegetables in their place. This particular vegetarian cassoulet has butternut squash and leeks in addition to the mire poix of onions, celery and carrots. It can be made with water or broth, and some of the water can be substituted with white wine. (My kids don’t always love the wine flavor so sometimes I leave it out.) It’s a naturally vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free healthy alternative to turkey that is equally filling and will leave you feeling less guilty when you have that second slice of pumpkin pie.
My recipe can be made in a slow cooker, making it even easier to serve for Thanksgiving dinner. You can simply put everything into the slow cooker, set a timer and focus on yummy side dishes and dessert. Also, numerous variations can be made, including adding 8 ounces of sliced mushrooms to the slow cooker, or using different vegetables. I think it would be delicious with the addition of diced celeriac, fennel or golden beets. Just be sure to add quicker cooking vegetables, like diced squash, when there is about 45-60 minutes of cooking time left so they don’t soften too much and disintegrate.
1 pound navy beans
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 large carrots, diced
3 celery ribs, diced
2-3 leeks, sliced into 1/2″ rings, washed well to remove any sand and drained in a colander
4 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
10 cups water or sodium-free vegetable broth (can use 2 cups white wine)
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1 Tablespoon salt
4 cups diced butternut squash
fresh ground black pepper
more thyme sprigs, as a garnish
1. Pick over the navy beans and remove any stones or broken beans. Wash well in cool water and drain.
2. Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and let heat for 30 seconds. Add the onion, celery, and carrots. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables start to soften and brown. Add the garlic and leeks. Continue cooking for a few more minutes, then remove from heat. (If you have a slow cooker insert that can be used on the stove top, use the insert in place of the skillet.)
3. Place the beans and sauteed vegetables into a slow cooker. Add the tomato paste and stir well. Add the water (or broth and wine, if using) and the thyme sprigs. Place lid on slow cooker and turn on high for 3 and 1/2 hours. About 45 minutes before the cooking time ends, add the diced butternut squash and the salt. Stir well, replace lid and continue cooking. If the butternut and beans are not soft, cook for an additional 30-45 minutes.
4. To serve: Taste and add more salt, if needed, and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and more thyme. Serve with crusty bread on the side.
Yields about 10 large servings.