vegetarian french cassoulet

Vegetarian French Cassoulet à la Julia Child

It’s been a year. One year since I started writing this blog. A year full of growth, surprises and amazing adventures.

white beans and mushroom cassoulet

whitebeansandmushroomcassoulet

A year ago, when I started sweet almond, the first recipe I published was French Cassoulet following the lead of Mrs. Julia Child and her masterful book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” The first time I opened the book , years ago, it scared me. I thought, I could never successfully make a recipe from it, let alone the cassoulet. That recipe evoked my food life, the uphill hike to learn everything from a Reuben sandwich to a tiramisu at the tender age of 25.

Growing up in Colombia meant that I knew Colombian food and not much more, especially growing up in a family with deep cultural food roots. The move to the States to work at a mountain resort proved enlightening with questions like “what is a French onion soup? and what about a crème brûlée?

It didn’t come as an obvious choice to go into culinary arts, it was more of a passion for gaining food knowledge than actually knowing about food that took me there.

ingredients for vegetarian french cassoulet

So when the time came to write my first recipe for this blog I chose the four-page-long, multiple step, no pictures or illustrations, from the one lady who could understand what it was to move to a different country and get an inside scoop of its culture by learning about the food that influenced its people. Granted, she learned French cooking in France, and I learned the importance of cooking, and food, as a cultural background for a widely diverse country.

In this past year many things have happened. I graduated {finally} with a bachelors of arts in journalism for food and wine. I turned the age page to the big 4-0, and found myself jobless, confused and with a job identity crises. I figured I’d try to make it into PR or some sort of communications job that offered me passionless security. Learning a whole new arsenal of skills, interning for free to gain any kind of experience, and honestly desire, to find the next step in my new search away from the kitchen.

cooking with french thyme

Meanwhile, I kept writing on this blog. The blog felt like the only secure outlet around. The more I tried to improve the blog by learning more about photography, writing and social media, the more I found myself wanting to get back to the one thing I knew, and loved, food. I tried to fall out of love with the idea of food as my life, and stopped being creative, which filled my empty room of hopes with even more doubt.

One Tuesday afternoon, after a year of planting seeds of hope, I received a phone call: “I’m calling to offer you the affiliate faculty position to become part of our culinary arts team.” It felt like the first time I successfully finished the French Cassoulet recipe from Mrs. Child. The confusion, the hard work, the complicated steps, the uncertainty, all changed to excitement and gratitude. All made the cassoulet, and my new job, all the more delicious.

So, here we are, a year later.
I start a new year as a professor of culinary arts, writing a research paper in food studies to apply to graduate school, and wanting to celebrate all: my good luck, my new job, the uncertain future, and the first anniversary of sweet almond, with a vegetarian version of Mrs. Child’s French cassoulet; as a metaphor for growth and change.
From the terrified first memory of reading the recipe to gaining the knowledge and confidence to change it.

To the eternal learning curve of food.

Thank you for coming along with me in this journey, and hope to hear more from you as we start a new blog year. Cheers!

~ Paula


Vegetarian French Cassoulet
Inspired by Julia Child’s recipe for French Cassoulet in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”

french cassoulet vegetarian

The unmistakable flavors of a traditional cassoulet, or baked beans as Mrs. Child calls it in her book, come from white beans, french thyme and the cooking liquid of the pork and lamb. For a vegetarian version, I used the beans, thyme and the same technique and idea for braising lamb but substituting it for meaty mushrooms. Meat, especially lamb, duck and goose widely used in cassoulet, give it a light ‘gamey’ flavor, mushrooms with their earthy, funky aromas and taste, and their sponge ability to absorb other flavors act as a mock version of the meat.

portabello mushroom for vegetarian cassoulet

This version is quicker to cook, yet it carries the luxurious aromas of white wine, tomato paste, and herbs.

dried french thyme

I love eating it as dinner by itself, or serving it as an appetizer at a party alongside crusty bread. It’s heavenly satisfying.

Beans
1 cup great northern beans (big white beans)
4 cups of water
1 small hunk of parmesan cheese rind – {it adds creaminess and depth of flavor, a trick I picked up from Giada De Laurentiis back in the day when the food network was new and inspiring to me}
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon french thyme

  • Bring the water to a boil in a medium-size pan, drop the beans and boil rapidly for 2 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and let the beans rest for 1 hour
  • Turn the heat back on and add the rest of the ingredients. Cook for 1 1/2 hours or until the beans are tender.
  • Strain the beans and reserve the cooking liquid {if any left}

Mushrooms
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 large portabello mushroom, cleaned, cut in half and sliced
1 cup oyster mushrooms, sliced – {you can substitute for any mushroom you like, including but not limited to cremini or white button}
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup vegetable stock
1/4 teaspoon French thyme

  • Sauté the onions in 2 tablespoon of oil at medium heat for a couple of minutes.
  • Add the mushrooms, coat with the oil and onions and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Mushrooms release water when salted earlier in the cooking process and I take advantage of that to stew them in their own liquid for a few minutes (4-5 minutes) or until the liquid evaporates and they are sautéing again
  • Add tomato paste and garlic and distribute them through out the mushrooms.
  • Pour in the wine and deglaze the pan, let it boil for a minute to evaporate the alcohol.
  • Add the stock, bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

The final dish
1 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped parsley, fresh

  • Heat the oven to 350 F
  • Add the beans to the mushrooms and simmer for 10 minutes to allow the beans to absorb the flavor of the stock
  • Pour the beans and mushroom into a baking dish big enough to hold the cassoulet, making sure to have liquid over them – it should look ‘soupy’ at this point
  • Mix the bread crumbs and parsley and cover the entire dish generously
  • Bake in the middle rack for 30 minutes. Break the crust on top and mix it in with the beans
  • Bake 10 more minutes
  • Serve immediately, the cassoulet gets thicker as it cools.

A nice red Burgundy goes well with this meal, especially with the cold weather.

6 thoughts on “Vegetarian French Cassoulet à la Julia Child”

  1. Well, this was a timely recipe. My hubby had a “heart scare” on New Year’s Eve and, Gracias a Dios, he avoided a heart attack and spent that holiday in the hospital. He will be fine now.
    Cassoulet is one of our favorite dishes to make but now, because of health concerns, we will
    not be eating duck confit or sausage or bacon or ….oh dear, nothing delicious like Cassoulet.
    I will definitely show this recipe to him. We are trying very hard to have at least two meatless meals a week. We both could stand lose some pounds so eating meatless should help.
    Would you tell me what “mountain resort” you worked at?
    I assume you still live in Denver? We are in the mountains near the Flattops Wilderness Area and live on a little farm where we raise pigs, chickens, vege, and fruit trees.
    I enjoy your blog, thanks.

    1. Caterina,
      I’m glad to hear your husband is doing better, what a scare! I love cassoulet and many of the French classics, which i cook from time to time, but always try to find alternative recipes to avoid overindulging.
      I bet you live in a beautiful area, I have only seen pictures of the Flattops wilderness area but haven’t had the chance to visit. Someday I’d like to have a few animals, like a goat and a few chickens, maybe a pig but i’m a wimp and could never kill them for meat, so they’ll just be pets. What fruit trees do you have? Peach, apples? I have a good friend who has a farm in Paonia, which is not close to you, but closer than we are. I love that area!
      Yes, I’m in Denver and will be here for a while, unless someone is kind to offer me a job in France 🙂
      I worked in winter park for 2 years before moving to the city, as much as i love the mountains, I’m a city girl at heart.

      Let me know if you and your husband approve of the vegetarian cassoulet, you can add some roasted chicken before it goes in the oven. Or try the first version I published a year ago, it had stewed lamb, roasted chicken thighs and a little indulgence from sausage.
      Take care
      Paula

  2. Last year i had the chance to taste this cassoulet From Paula. It was absolutly amazing.
    I am glad I have the recipe now. Thank you for sharing.
    You are more than generous.
    France

    1. France, last year we had the non-vegetarian version with chicken and lamb, it still a lot less fat then the original recipe by Julia, but just as delicious.
      Hope you enjoy this vegetarian version.
      Bisous
      Paula

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