First stew

The cool, grey, showery promises of the weather forecast finally delivered, a few scorching days late, but here we are - on the cusp. Autumn is coming. 

The light has been changing even when the weather has stayed obstinately summery. The nights have been drawing in; and now we have the coolness to match. It's time to nest. It's time for the first stew of autumn.

This is the 'stew' of my childhood, a fixture of cold, rainy nights. Salty and sweet all at once, barely spiced with a pinch of warming black pepper and the mustard heat of the swede. Pot barley, veg and broth and dumplings. There's no rubber chicken carcass these days or 'healing' bone broth, just lots of virtuous veg and peaceful peas. And dumplings! As many as you want! You're an adult now.

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Vegan barley stew and dumplings

(Serves 4-6)

1/2 cup yellow or green split peas, presoaked for several hours*
1/3 cup pearl barley
1 large onion, medium diced
1 stick celery, sliced into 1/2cm lengths
2 medium carrots, sliced into 1/2 cm rounds
1 medium swede, medium diced 
2 medium potatoes, cut into eighths.
1 litre vegetable stock
1 Tbsp oil
1 rounded tsp dark brown sugar (optional)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 heaped tsp dried parsley
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
1/2 cup vegetable suet
Salt and pepper to taste 

*Presoaking is not entirely necessary for split peas, however it reduces the cooking time, especially for older peas. Add a sprinkle of bicarbonate of soda to the water of any pulse reduces the soaking time required. If short of time, add boiling water and soak for just one hour, or increase the cooking time until the peas are thoroughly cooked.

Over a medium heat, heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the sugar, onion and celery and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until golden and beginning to caramelise.

Add the drained peas and barley to the pan, along with the black pepper and vegetable stock and replace the lid. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the remaining vegetables to the pan, along with the dried parsley, replace lid and continue to simmer.

Mix together the suet and flour until well combined, and stir in the water a little at a time until a  sticky but malleable dough is formed. Split the dough into 6-8 portions, and place on top of the stew.

Cook for a further 20 minutes, turning the dumplings halfway through cooking, adding more water or stock if required. 

Adjust seasoning as required and serve. 

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