Monday, April 03, 2006

Spicy Carribean Ginger Stew

One of my favorite restaurant dishes is served at the Delta of Venus in Davis, California. Davis is a small university town outside Sacramento. The area is agriculture-heavy and, combined with the naturally liberal atmosphere of college towns, there are a lot of good food options there.
Delta of Venus is a restaurant/café just a few blocks away from campus. The best descriptor of the place would be “free spirited.” The employees are super nice, the baked goods are made by, I believe, the owner’s mother, the have live music on the weekends and the food is amazing. While they serve breakfast and lunch everyday, in addition to a lot of coffee options, it is their weeknight Caribbean dinners that keep me coming back whenever I'm in town.
All the Caribbean options are delicious, but one intriguing aspect of the Delta of Venus is that they have a lot of vegetarian and vegan options – including on their Caribbean menu. My favorite dish there is the ginger seitan. Seitan is a vegetarian faux-meat product made out of wheat and it has a very meaty texture. It also absorbs flavor easily, so it is great in flavorful soups. If you don’t want to use seitan (I found it in a natural foods store), brown some chopped beef in a skillet and add it to the vegetables before simmering the stew. My version here isn't the same as the Delta of Venus version, not by a long shot. Not only did I not bother with the sides of fried plantains, collard greens and red beans and rice, but theirs uses different vegetables, including cauliflower and peppers, but the basic idea is very similar. I used a tiny pinch of powdered habanero peppers – it only takes a tiny pinch, since the powder is so hot – but if you cannot get it, use more cayenne to increase the heat. I like it spicy. In the same sort of way that Venus inspired Botticelli, I guess you could say that the Delta of Venus inspired me. Overdramatic? A bit. But the food really is great.

Spicy Caribbean Ginger Stew
1 medium sized onion, diced 4
cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp grated, fresh ginger
3/4 cup diced carrot (1-2 large)
2 tsp cumin
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/8 tsp dried powdered habanero peppers (trust me)
10-ounces seitan (1 package)
1 can (15-oz) drained crushed tomatoes, chopped
4 cups vegetable stock
2 cups peeled sweet potatoes, in 1-inch pieces
salt and pepper

In a large dutch oven, heat a little bit of olive oil over medium heat. Sautee the onion until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes, until fragrant. Add all the rest of the ingredients, salt and pepper to taste, and cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cook for 1 hour, or until carrots and sweet potatoes are tender.Serve hot, with crusty bread, fried plantains or red beans and rice.
Serves 4.

*Note: see text, above, for instructions on non-vegetarian version