I wonder how many people who read this are like me when it comes to making dinner plans. Sometimes I've made a menu plan for a week and I've shopped accordingly and stuck to the plan. And sometimes it's a matter of using what's available in the fridge and pantry, or of using fresh ingredients before they spoil.
Yesterday I thought about the sweet potatoes I'd planned to use a week ago and didn't. Sweet potatoes aren't like white potatoes in terms of storage: they're more delicate than they look. Rough treatment or prolonged storage take a toll on them.
I waste more food than I like to admit to, and one of my New Year's resolutions is to be better about that, particularly when it comes to fresh vegetables (which I'm trying not to buy in the first place, for the most part, due to my commitment to eating locally). So I wanted to use those sweet potatoes.
In a vegetarian crockpot cookbook I found a recipe for a stew incorporating sweet potatoes. Alas, I was missing some ingredients, like canned cannelini beans. But I did have dried lima beans on hand. I had no collard greens, but I did have spinach--I'd bought a big container of it, thinking of both salad and sauteed spinach. I had no canned tomatoes, but this is never a problem as I have pounds and pounds of tomatoes in my freezer. I didn't even have the amount of sweet potatoes called for, but I did have white potatoes to make up the difference.
I had to cook the lima beans first, so I got out my smaller pressure cooker. I was in the kitchen intermittently anyway, having decided to bake bread. The pressure cooker did its thing while I ran the stand mixer to knead the bread dough (basic whole wheat). I rinsed and drained the beans after the pressure came down, then refrigerated them.
The spouse wanted to go out to lunch, so I decided to put everything in the slow cooker before we left. I chopped and sauteed onion, pepper, and garlic, defrosted tomatoes and chopped them, and added all the ingredients to the slow cooker. I refrigerated the bread dough after its first rising. Off we went.
To my dismay, upon my return (after running errands and such following lunch), I found that I'd forgotten to plug in the slow cooker! Not the first time that's happened, alas. I had to transfer everything to a pot on the stove after all. I got the bread dough out to let it come to room temperature. It had risen quite a bit even though refrigerated. I chopped the spinach and added it to the stew. Hubby went off to a township meeting. It was going to be one of those nights when dinner was fashionably late.
I proofed the bread in the loaf pan and preheated the oven. The dough rose nicely and achieved some spring when I put it into the hot oven.
We took our bowls of stew and slices of freshly baked bread downstairs to watch the New Hampshire primary returns. Everything tasted wonderful despite the stops and starts of its making. Sometimes you just have to make do--with ingredients and with timing. Sometimes "making do" results in serendipitously good food.
Here's the recipe for the stew as I adapted it from the original recipe.
White Bean and Sweet Potato Stew with Spinach
1 T. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped coarsely
1 small green pepper (or half of a large one),
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium potato, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 tsp. peeled minced fresh ginger
1 lb. tomatoes, peeled and chopped, OR
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes, with juice
3 cups cooked dried lima beans, or other white bean,
OR 2 cans (15.5 oz.) white beans, rinsed and drained
pinch of cinnamon
1/2 tsp. (or more to taste) ground cumin
2 bay leaves
3 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups chopped spinach
Heat the oil in a large skillet; saute the onion, pepper, and garlic until softened. Transfer to a slow cooker. Add all other ingredients except the spinach. Cover and cook on low for 4 to 6 hours.
About fifteen minutes before serving time, stir in the chopped spinach. Cook until the spinach is somewhat wilted but still bright green. Adjust seasonings and serve.
If you want to do it on the stove instead of in a slow cooker, simply saute the onions, pepper, and garlic in a soup pot and add the other ingredients. Cook for about 45 minutes, or until the veggies are tender. Add the spinach as above and serve.