This hearty vegan stew is easy and delicious - make it in a slow cooker or on the stovetop. Chestnut mushrooms, vegetables and pearl barley in a thick, beery gravy.
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Thick, brown, beery stew. It isn't pretty, it isn't glamorous, but there are many days (and today has been one of them), that it is exactly what you need for a hearty comfort food dinner. A big thick winter scarf kind of stew. A culinary hot water bottle.
This vegan stew is both very easy, and very cheap which makes it great for midweek meals, and perfect for batch cooking and stocking up the freezer.
I've included instructions for both cooking it on the hob or making it in a slow-cooker - use whichever suits you best on any particular day.
You can serve this with green vegetables, crusty bread to mop up the juices, or if you're feeling really decadent it is delicious with vegan garlic bread!
⏱ Make it a Slow Cooker Stew
This stew is perfect for making in the slow-cooker, and there are instructions in the recipe for how to do this. Depending on the timings of your day, you can cook it for either 3-4 hours on high or 5-6 hours on low.
I do find that it can be tricky to get a really good thick, glossy stew if cooked from scratch in the slow cooker, so I like to start mine on the hob as per the instructions below. Let the onions soften and start to brown, the mushrooms let out some of their moisture, and get the flour cooked into the sauce a little before tipping everything into the slow cooker.
You might feel that defeats the object slightly, and slow cookers are for 'tip it all in and forget about it' kind of meals, but I would rather make that extra 5-7 minutes effort to get a really sensational stew.
However, if you are really short of time and do just want to tip it all in, just one minor change will make a difference. Swap the flour for cornflour, and mix it to a thick paste with a little of the vegetable stock. This will prevent a lumpy, floury gravy disaster.
📝 What you need
Mushrooms These are the 'meaty' bits of the stew so keeping them in large chunks is important - halve or quarter them rather then slicing too finely. I like to use a mixture of chestnut mushrooms which keep their firm texture when cooked, and flat mushrooms as they are just so big and juicy. I sometimes use whole button mushrooms instead which are also really lovely as they keep their bite.
Ale gives the gravy its deep, beery flavour - whether you use a dark, hoppy ale or a lighter pale ale is entirely up to you. Check it is vegan - the Barnivore app is helpful for this, though more and more are being properly labelled these days.
If you prefer not to use ale, just increase the quantity of vegetable stock instead.
Vegetable stock A good quality vegetable stock makes a difference to the flavour of the gravy. I've recently discovered OXO's new beef-flavoured vegan stock cubes which are really lovely in stews like this.
Cider vinegar adds a lovely sour edge to the gravy. A white wine vinegar will also work well, or balsamic (which will turn it a darker colour), but malt may be a little too astringent. If you don't have any to hand just leave it out, it will still be delicious!
Thyme Fresh thyme is really lovely in this stew - its aromatic flavour infuses through all the ingredients as they cook. Try to find the sprigs to remove the stalks at the end of cooking time, or as you serve the portions. If you don't have fresh thyme to hand, ½ tsp of dried thyme is fine instead.
Pearl barley This bulks out the stew to become a meal in itself, and has such a lovely slightly chewy texture. As it cooks it soaks up all the flavours of the gravy, so you have delicious little pillows dotted through the stew.
Baby potatoes Try to find small, waxy potatoes as they will keep their texture when cooked - baby potatoes, Charlotte, Anya or even Jersey Royals are ideal. More floury potatoes will collapse when cooked and aren't really suitable.
It is your choice whether to make this stew on the hob / stove or in a slow cooker.
If you're making it on the hob, a good, sturdy casserole dish with a lid is ideal. My trusty Le Creuset casserole gets used almost every day in our house, and twelve years later (it was a wedding present!), it looks just the same as it did the day we got it. (Can't say the same about me or Mr F, sadly!!).
If you're thinking of making this in a slow cooker instead, my favourite is this Crockpot with a hinged lid and digital timer. You can pick up a basic slow-cooker very cheaply these days, or look out on second hand sites as they are often being given away hardly used.
There are a number of changes you can make to this vegan stew to keep it interesting if you make it reguarly, (you will once you've tried it!):
- Make it with red wine Swap the ale for the same quantity of a gutsy red wine, to turn this into more of a bourguignon, (you might like to see my Chestnut Mushroom Bourguignon too).
- Give it a protein boost by swapping the pearl barley for dried puy lentils, (or if you want to speed up the cooking time, use tinned green lentils instead).
- Make it with vegan 'meat' Use your favourite vegan chicken or beef replacements instead of (or as well as) the mushrooms.
❄️ Can I freeze my stew?
This stew freezes well, so you can make up a batch at once and freeze it in individual portions.
If you've used meat replacements as per the variations above, please do follow the instructions on the packet as to whether these can be re-frozen once cooked.
🤔 What else can I make in my slow cooker?
Slow cookers have got even more popular recently with so many people working and schooling at home - they are such a good way to get the meal prep out of the way at a convenient time of day, then just switch on and forget about dinner until it is time to serve.
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Vegan Stew with ale & pearl barley
- 2 tbsp rapeseed or sunflower oil
- 1 large onion
- 2 cloves garlic or 1 tsp ready-chopped garlic from a jar or tube
- 250 g mushrooms I like a mixture of chestnut and flat mushrooms
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 150 ml ale (check it is vegan)
- 400 ml vegetable stock or beef-flavoured vegan stock
- 2 tbsp tomato purée
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp cider vinegar or wine vinegar
- 2 sprigs thyme or ½ tsp dried thyme
- 60 g pearl barley
- 3 carrots
- 250 g baby potatoes
- Heat the oil in a large casserole or deep frying pan.
- Peel the onion and slice into thick rings. Fry gently for a few minutes until softened.
- Cut the mushrooms into large chunks, and add them to the pan, followed by the peeled and crushed garlic cloves.
- Add the flour to the pan, stir to coat everything so no lumps remain.
- Add the ale, vegetable stock, tomato purée, brown sugar, cider vinegar and thyme. Bring to the boil then reduce to a gentle simmer. Wash the pearl barley well, drain and add to the pan.
- Peel the carrots, slice vertically then into large chunks. Cut the potatoes into quarters or thick slices. Add them to the pan, bring it back to the boil and then reduce again to a simmer.
To finish on the hob / stove:
- Simmer the stew for 30-35 minutes until the pearl barley is tender, and the carrots and potatoes are just cooked through. If the gravy becomes too thick, add a splash or water, or put a lid on for the remaining cooking time. If the gravy is too thin at the end of cooking time, turn up the heat and cook for a few extra minutes until it has reduced and thickened.
To finish in a slow cooker:
- Tip the stew into a slow cooker, and cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 5-6 hours, until the pearl barley, carrots and potatoes are tender.
I'm linking this recipe with the CookBlogShare challenge, hosted this week by Louise at A Strong Coffee.