Due to the lack of submissions for the November recipe challenge I posted, I decided to challenge myself to convert one of my favorite meat dishes to something vegetarian. I chose the famous Alsatian slow food peasant dish, Chaucroute Garni, sans meat! Hold on now, we aren’t just going meatless, we are going full flavor vegetarian! Crazy for sure.
The full charcuterie dish with the variety of slow cooked smoked meats and sausages are a favorite flavorful tender way of eating meat. I use to make this once per year for the family. Now the family prefers vegetarian, so I puzzled over how I could experience the wonderful sweet and sour of apples and sauerkraut with other flavors that would satisfy in a way that it was not just a vegetarian dish with the meat missing. Here is what worked best in my opinion.
The base flavor: onions, leeks, sauerkraut, apples and apple juice, cabbage, bay leaf, juniper berries, celery leaves or flat leafed Italian parsley, with some butter added to blend the flavors and mellow the acidity.
The meat: croutons of toasted crusty French baguette slices with stone ground mustard and a flavorful. Swiss/French mountain cheese. I used Raclette and know that Grueyere would also be wonderful. One could stop here for simplicity, and I would, but I didn't this time. I then added smoked potatoes and tea smoked eggs to parallel the smoky variety in the meat dish. Use pheasant eggs if you have access to them, otherwise, chicken eggs. The next round, I'd like to try the addition of cloves of roasted elephant garlic as one of the "meats". I avoided the imitation meats because I don’t really like the texture or taste, but one could try varieties of tofu sausages and slices of field roast or smoked tempeh bacon if they like that sort of thing. You might need to add additional sauerkraut, cabbage and apples to cover the additions.
Prep: slice the onions like apple slices, core and slice the apples like apple slices, thinly slice the cabbage the circle way, (the opposite way than apple slices). Wash the leek well behind the ears, looking for mud in the folds. Slice the white and lighter green parts of the leeks to look like coins. Peel and boil small round potatoes until just cooked, still firm and holding their shape. Use any variety. Organic potatoes tend to be more flavorful. Purple or blue ones would be good for this dish. I used yellow potatoes.
1. Stove top: sauté one large onion and one large leek, in butter and salt and pepper. Add about 2 cups of cabbage and 2 cups of sauerkraut rinsed, 3 or 4 apples sliced (I used a mixed variety), apple juice depending upon how juicy the apples are, I'd say about 1/2 cup, a few of the celery leaf tops, 1 bay leaf, a few juniper berries, a few shakes of course pepper and sea salt. Add a couple tablespoons of butter, then sauté until everything is wilted and somewhat tender. Check the balance of flavors. If it's not sour enough, add a little apple cider vinegar or more kraut. If it's not sweet enough, add more apple juice. Some recipies add wine – a Riesling, I did not think it was necessary without the meat. If you use this, ajust the balance of sweet and sour flavors accordingly. Celery salt or caraway seed would work well in this dish.
2. Drain the boiled potatoes and sauté for a few minutes in a hot pan with a drizzle of smoked oil (I happen to have a smoked grape seed oil from a vineyard in Washington) add several shakes of smoked paprika just before finishing. One could smoke the potatoes in a smoker but roll in a little oil and smoked spanish paprika first.
3. Brew black tea in a small sauce pan. Add a drizzle, maybe a tablespoonx or two of maple syrup and several shakes of the bottle of some smoked oil. (Next time I am going to buy some Lapsang Souchong smoky tea and do it the Chinese way and you don't need smoked oil, although it the tea flavor could be too earthy and assertive for this dish). Boil the eggs whole. Cool and crack the eggshells a little all over, but don't peel. Return the eggs to the liquid and I added a small amount of soy sauce to make the color darker.
4. Toast slices of chewy French baguette. Cover each side with whole grain mustard, and place sliced cheese between the layers to make a sandwich.
Assembly: If you have individual casseroles, put one egg, one mustard-cheese crouton sandwich, one or two potatoes and cover with the saurkraut vegetable mixture. Cook at medium oven temp of 350 for a minimum of 15 minutes, at least until the cheese is melted. Otherwise, follow the steps to placing ingredients into a larger casserole dish. I want to say this serves 4, but I need to make it again to confirm proportions.
To be extra fancy, serve with a garnish of cornichons or baby dill pickle slices, a dab of whole grain mustard, and a few toasted walnut halves.