I don’t feel my life has any ballast unless I’m consuming vegetables.
This is not a health thing, I promise you, but for some reason whenever I feel an absence of vegetables in my life, I am suddenly struck with an inconsolable guilt. I need an equilibrium, especially when it comes to food. If I’m not eating vegetables, then I cannot possibly justify all the other wonderfully indulgent and gluttonous things I’m putting in my body.
It’s the equivalent of that one slice of watermelon I have at breakfast in the hotel buffet to justify the bacon sandwich, six pieces of buttery toast, and full-fat sugary latte.
Luckily, this stew is not only perfect to save me from shame but happens to be so deliciously moreish that I want to eat it regardless of the guilt I’m trying to dodge and the balance I’m trying to achieve.
Now I would be a liar if I said that I didn’t have a pot of spices subtly titled ‘Cajun Spices’ in my pantry that I used for this recipe, and it therefore saved me from having to harvest and combine my own spices. You may not be so lucky to have such a pot, but a Cajun spice blend is fairly easy to find in a supermarket these days, and reasonable to rustle together at home. To do so, you will need:
2 tbs smoked paprika
2 tbs garlic powder
1 tbs onion powder
1 tbs oregano
1 tbs dried thyme
1 tbs cayenne
1 tbs salt
1 tbs ground black pepper
This will make you more than you need for this recipe, so don’t feel confined to this stew with this spice blend. You can use it as a marinade for some roast chicken, it is wonderful sprinkled on top of some hummus, brings a real smoky depth to some roast potatoes, and my favourite, rubbed into some bacon slices before sliding them in the oven so that they crisp and char into shards of Cajun bacon strips. Perfect in a sandwich or shattered on top of a soup.
You can also vary up the bean. One of my heroes, Nigel Slater, once called a bean a ‘flavour sponge’ and that this was ‘the whole point’ of a bean stew. So I went for cannellini because it’s what I had in the cupboard and it tasted fantastic, but there’s no reason why a white bean, a butter bean, or even a chickpea wouldn’t do the same job.
Serves 4 – 6
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion – peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic
A thumb sized piece of ginger
1 tbs Cajun spice (see intro)
2 – 3 sweet potatoes – peeled and cut into bite size chunks
1 x 425g can cannellini beans – drained
1 x 425g can chopped tomatoes
700ml vegetable stock
Handfuls of spinach (it wilts so much that it’s really hard to say how much you want)
Chopped fresh coriander – to serve
- In a large deep pot, warm the olive oil on a medium heat.
- Add the onion with a little salt and cook for about 10 – 15 minutes, just until it’s turning slightly golden, but not browning.
- Using a fine grater, grate in the garlic and ginger, before adding the Cajun spice. Stir into the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, just to warm the spices.
- Add the sweet potato and drained beans and stir the pot, so that they can get coated in the spices. Add a little more salt but be sparing as don’t forget, the Cajun spice has salt in it, and leave the pot on a medium heat, stirring for just a further 5 minutes or so.
- Add the tomatoes and stock to the pot, stir, and bring to a bubble. Reduce the heat to a simmer and allow to sit on the heat for about 30 – 35 minutes until the sweet potato is tender. Uncovered is fine.
- Add the spinach (like I said… as much as you need…) and stir through. Cook the spinach for roughly 2 – 3 minutes, just until it softens and wilts down into the pan. Taste for seasoning, you may want to add some pepper at this stage too, but I usually like a pinch extra of salt.
- Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool ever so slightly before spooning into bowls and scattering with fresh coriander to serve.