Creamy Cabbage Stew

This one is for my Mother.  She’s seventy and in pretty strict self-isolation.  That means that in the fresh produce department she’s got what she lovingly calls “COVID cabbage” or “Quarantine Cabbage”.  It also means she’s run through her usual roster of recipes for that particular vegetable and appealed to me for a bit of culinary inspiration.  After supplying a list of her larder, this is what I came up with; and it’s pure comfort food.  It’s also addictive with the creamy herb sauce lacing every last nook and crany.  (And me licking the plate.  No joke.  It ain’t pretty or dignified, but it is that good.)

Yield: 8 servings

What you need:

  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked 6-8 hours and drained
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 heaping tablespoon starch (corn, potato, tapioca or rice starch all work fine)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt + more for the vegetables
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed (optional but recommended)
  • olive oil, about a tablespoon – more if you live dangerously
  • 2 big onions, each one cut into 6 wedges lengthwise through the middle
  • 3 average potatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
  • 1 small cabbage, halved and each half cut into 4 wedges through the core
  • 1-1/2 cups frozen or canned corn
  • 3/4 cup pot barley (pearl barley or rice will work too)
  • 3 cups cooked lima beans, Gigantes (the really friggin’ big ones) preferred
  • 6 sprigs each rosemary & thyme + 6 large fresh sage leaves (or the dry versions, crumbled small, quantity to desired level of spicing)
  • white miso (optional)
  • freshly ground black pepper

What you do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Place the cashews, water, nutritional yeast, starch, 1-1/2 teaspoons salt and celery seed in a blender.  Blend until smooth and creamy with no grit at all remaining.  If you don’t have a high-speed blender, this may take several minutes.  Be patient: you will prevail.  Set aside.
  3. Heat a Dutch oven or oven-safe pot over medium heat.  When hot, add the oil and onion wedges.  Toss to coat in the oil and cook, lowering the heat a bit, until beginning to go golden on some sides.
  4. Add the potato hunks and toss to coat in the oil.  Keep cooking, stirring now and again, until beginning to go golden on some sides.
  5. Add the cabbage and mix it in with the rest of the vegetables.  Keep cooking, stirring now and again, until a shade or two brighter, about 10 minutes.
  6. Add the barley and the corn and toss to mix into everything else.  If you’re using dry spices rather than fresh ones, then add them here, before the liquid goes in.  Cook everything another 3 to 5 minutes.
  7. Add the cashew milk mixture from the blender.  Begin by adding only half and then scrape the bottom of the pot to lift any caramelization from the bottom.  Add the other half of the cashew milk and the cooked lima beans to the bot and stir to mix.
  8. The milk is salted, but there isn’t enough there for the vegetables, barley and beans in the pot.  Add salt so that the liquid tastes somewhat saltier than you want the finished stew to be like.  (Keep in mind, if you don’t add enough, you can work some white miso into the sauce once the stew is cooked, so feel free to err a bit on the side of not salty enough!)
  9. Add the fresh herbs and mix to distribute them throughout the pot.
  10. Cover and bake 2 to 3 hours, until all the vegetables are meltingly soft, the barley is cooked (it’ll be hiding around the bottom edges of the pot) and the sauce is thick and bubbly.  If you check on it and find things a bit too dry to your taste while cooking, add a bit of water, mix thoroughly and put it back in the oven (covered).
  11. Before serving, check the salt level of the sauce.  If you want it saltier, then remove some of the liquid and blend it with white miso until smooth before mixing it back into the pot of stew.  Make sure that each plate is topped with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper – and perhaps some fresh parsley for a nice green accent – should you have some.

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