East Meets West: Three Risotto Dishes Redone and Dark Vegetable Stock

Good morning everyone,
Risottos are a fun thing around our home and one of the first more complex dishes that my fun and adventurous room mate, E.K. learned to cook.  She is now an expert risotto maker and so confident in fact, that she experiments with the basic recipe, creating new and awesome variations every time.Risotto is one of those things I was always afraid of as a cook.  Almost like those horrible childbirth stories that mothers like to tell pregnant women, everyone has a “why risotto is so hard” story… but just like childbirth, most of the time it’s a lot easier than those stories make it sound.  If you are attentive and follow the directions carefully, most of the time you’re going to end up with a fabulous dish, relatively easy to make, and super impressive.  Over time, like E.K. you’ll gain confidence and just start whipping that risotto out like it’s not even a thing.

The risotto recipes that we’ll tackle today from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins are Risotto Milanese (containing beef products, cheese with rennet and alcohol), Risotto Primavera (containing poultry products), and Spring Green Risotto (containing poultry products and cheese with rennet).  So there are a few challenged here but none that can’t be overcome within the bounds of our project.

Our versions are Mushroom Medley Risotto, Awesome Veg Risotto, and Saag Paneer Risotto (yeah, we went there!  That’s where we went and we don’t regret it for a minute!).  We’ll also introduce our Dark Vegetable Stock which replaces Beef Stock in most recipes.

So far, about six weeks in, this project has been a lot of fun.  After today, we will have made over 55 of the 875 recipes contained in the New Basics Cookbook.  That’s a little more than 6%.  At this rate, it will take us a little less than 2 years to get all these recipes made over.  I really shouldn’t have done that calculation.  A little overwhelmed but challenge accepted… let’s continue on.

Let’s start with the darker vegetable stock, a hearty replacement for beef stock found in many recipes.

Himmat’s Dark Vegetable Stock

As I’ve said before, I use a variety of vegetables for vegetable stock, which I prefer to make myself rather than have all the sodium that comes from packaged varieties.  I simply use whatever might be available in the fridge and in the local supermarket.  However, I find that the one below makes a very tasty, light on the sodium, heavier stock that is a great substitute for beef stock in most dishes.  It makes about 6 litres of stock, less if you want to condense it to a more intense flavour and more if you want an even lighter flavour.


1 tbls olive oil
4 Yukon Gold potatoes (or other variety suitable for boiling), roughly chopped
4 carrots, peeled, ends removed and roughly chopped
2 large leeks, cleaned and lightly chopped, including the greens
3 or 4 stalks of celery, trimmed and roughly chopped
4 Roma tomatoes, stem removed with slits cut into the sides (do not deseed or chop the tomato)
1 small eggplant, roughly chopped
12 crimini mushrooms, halved
1 head of garlic, peels removed and cloves lightly smashed
1 thumb of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tsp salt
1 green bell pepper, stem removed, seeds removed, roughly chopped
1 or 2 sage leaves
1 sprig of thyme
1 tsp cumin seed
2 bay leaves
1 tbls brown sugar
Ground black pepper, to taste


In a large stock pot, heat the oil over a medium high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the carrots, leeks and celery and sear for a few minutes until the vegetables begin to brown, being careful to stir so that they don’t burn.  Add the brown sugar and stir well until the vegetables are coated.  Add the mushrooms and reduce the heat to medium.  Cook for about 5 minutes more.  Add the potatoes, tomato, eggplant, garlic, ginger, salt and bell pepper along with about 10 litres of water (this is 2 1/2 gallons).  Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat to simmer.  Add the bay leaves.  Put the lid on the pot and allow the mixture to simmer for approximately 1 1/2 hours.  Add the thyme, cumin seed and black pepper and allow to simmer another 1/2 hour, uncovered.  Remove from heat and allow to cool for 20 minutes or so.  Gently remove the vegetables to a strainer, pushing lightly on them to extract the last bits of veggie goodness back to the pot.


I’ve also used them in the past to feed our dog a nice treat.  You can also add the vegetables (and their peels) to the compost pile.

The stock holds up well in the refrigerator in airtight containers for about 3 days but we normally use what we need for whatever we are cooking and freeze the remainder in one or two cup size plastic containers.  It freezes extremely well and will last in the freezer for several months.

The stock should be fairly clear.  If it’s cloudy, it’s likely that your choice of potato (or some other vegetable you’ve added) is too starchy and not a variety that holds up to long periods of boiling/simmering.  Try a different potato or try soaking the chopped potatoes in room temperature water for an hour before you boil them to remove much of the starch.  Or you may have chopped the tomato.  Did you do that?  Did you chop up the tomato?  Why did you do that?  Or did you try to push all the veggies through that strainer like an Olympian?  Don’t worry about it.  I’ve done all these things and a cloudy stock is just as tasty as a clear one.  I just use it to make things where the cloudy stock doesn’t matter (like the risotto recipe below) and not other things where you want a clear stock like minestrone or veggie wonton soup.

Feel free to experiment, keeping in mind that root vegetables like carrot, potato, turnip and sweet potato make good options for a nice clear stock.  Also vegetables that hold up well to boiling like eggplant, zucchini and fruits like pumpkin and squash are also good options.  French beans, green beans and wax beans are also nice.  I find cauliflower and broccoli can’t hold up to the simmering and make the stock a little cloudy.  So do some legumes like navy beans, lima beans and chickpeas.

This is a beef stock replacement, in that it makes a heavier stock that can be used in place of beef stock.  It is not going to taste like beef stock but you’re not going to notice that in most your recipes.

You don’t need to add more salt to the stock pot.  The place to adjust the salt is once you’ve used the stock in whatever recipe you are making.  Seriously.  Be nice to your heart and leave the salt alone.  Come on, put that shaker down.  Good job.  So proud!

If you’re looking for a replacement for fish or lamb or chicken stock, stay tuned.  You can find my replacement for chicken stock here:

Mushroom Medley Risotto

The original recipe (on page 151 of The New Basics Cookbook) calls for dry white wine, beef stock, beef bone marrow and parmesan cheese.  Parmesan cheese must be made in the classic way, with rennet (a curdled milk product culled from the stomachs of calves that have not been weened) in order to be called Parmesan.  It’s not permitted to an Amritdhari Sikh.  I think we’ve found a suitable adaptation of this recipe with our mushrooms, dark vegetable stock and toasted sesame seeds.

1 cup unsweetened white grape juice
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 kg crimini or wild mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced thinly
2 tbls olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped white onions
2 cups arborio rice (a starchy rice available in almost all Canadian grocery stores)
6 to 7 cups Dark Vegetable Stock (recipe above)
1/4 tsp saffron
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbls sesame seeds, dry toasted (see notes in Tips section below)

Bring the grape juice to a boil in a small saucepan with about 1/2 cup water.  Add the dried porcini mushrooms, then remove the pan from the heat and set aside.  In a large, heavy saute pan, heat the oil.  Add the onions and saute over low heat until soft, five minutes.  Add the rice and cook, stirring, another 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, bring the stock to a boil in another pot.  Reduce the heat and keep at a simmer.  Slowly add 1 cup of the hot stock to the rice.  Stir, and allow it to simmer.  When the stock has been absorbed, add another cup, stir, and simmer.  When half the stock has been added, add the grape juice, porcini, sliced mushrooms and saffron.  Continue adding the remaining stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly, until the rice is slightly creamy and just tender.  Altogether the rice should cook for 25 to 30 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, mixing gently, and garnish with toasted sesame seeds.  Serve immediately.

Tips To toast sesame seeds, put a small frying pan on medium heat and allow it to heat dry.  When the pan is hot, add the sesame seeds and cook, shaking the pan frequently to prevent the sesame seeds from burning, until they are fragrant and just beginning to develop a brown flavour.

Do not rinse the rice before cooking it and don’t substitute another rice for arborrio.  Both are important to making a good, creamy risotto.

Awesome Veg Risotto

Vegetables are awesome.  Risotto is also awesome.  This marriage of the two?  Loving it!!  The original recipe (on page 152 of The New Basics Cookbook) called for chicken stock, which we’ve replaced with our Light Vegetable Stock.  It also called for yellow summer squash which is rarely if ever available where we live in north of Canada.  We’ve substituted pumpkin but feel free to experiment and come up with your own dish.

1/2 a small pumpkin
2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped white onions
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
2 cups arborio rice
6 to 7 cups Light Vegetable Stock (Recipe here)
12 oz fresh spinach, rinsed, dried, stems removed and chopped
2 oz snow peas, trimmed
1/2 kg asparagus tips (you can use the stems for vegetable broth)
2 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 fresh red chili, chopped
1 pinch saffron (optional)
2 tbls chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Cut the pumpkin in half, remove the rind and cut into 1/2″ cubes.  Heat the oil in a dutch oven or large saute pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and salt and pepper, and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the rice and cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring the stock to a boil in another pot.  Reduce the heat and keep it at a summer.  Slowly add 1 cup of the hot stock to the rice.  Stir, and allow it to simmer.  When the liquid has been absorbed, add 1/2 cup stock.  Continue to add stock to the rice, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until almost all the stock has been added, about 15 minutes.  Add the spinach and stir.  When it has wilted, add the snow peas, pumpkin, asparagus tips, chili, saffron and tomatoes.  Continue cooking, adding the remaining stock in 1/4 cup amounts, until the rice is slightly creamy and just tender, 3 to 5 minutes.  Serve immediately, garnished with the chopped cilantro.

Saag (Palak) Paneer Risotto

I’m a spinach lover.  It hasn’t always been that way.  As a kid, I hated vegetables but this was primarily because my mother didn’t really know what to do with vegetables like brussel sprouts, spinach, kale, or collard greens so she boiled them … to death.  My first experience with spinach was creamed spinach from a can and that turned me off until I was in my twenties, when my mother in law made a beautiful tomato and spinach soup for dinner.  I was hooked on spinach in an instant.  A particular favourite dish is saag (spinach, also called palak) paneer (cottage cheese), an Indian dish filled with good flavours and spice.  I was thrilled to come across the original recipe in The New Basics Cookbook, so that I could test out whether those flavours would translate.  They do.  It’s awesome.

1 tbls olive oil
1 cup red (Spanish) onion, chopped
1 tbls minced garlic
1 tsp cumin seeds, lightly ground
4 cups Light Vegetable Stock (Recipe here)
2 cups fresh spinach
1/4 tsp turmeric
3 tbls fresh chives, chopped finely
Small pinch saffron
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup finely grated paneer
2 tbls sesame seeds, toasted

Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan.  Add the onion, garlic and cumin seeds.  Cover and cook over low heat until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the rice, stir and cook another 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring the stock to a boil in another pot.  Reduce the heat and keep it at a simmer.  Slowly add 1 cup of the hot stock to the rice, stirring constantly.  Continue to stir, allowing the rice to simmer.  When the stock has been absorbed, add 1/2 cup and allow it to simmer, stirring well until it has been absorbed.

Add the spinach, turmeric, chives and saffron.  Continue cooking, adding stock, 1/2 cup at a time stirring constantly until the rice is slightly creamy and just tender.  Altogether the rice should cook for 25 to 30 minutes.  Stir in a little salt and pepper and the paneer.  Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and serve.



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