Can you legislate a meatless life? The folks in Ghent are trying. According to a United Nations report, livestock is to blame for nearly a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions. The mayor of Ghent has taken this to heart and has launched Veggietag, in which civil servants and school children will be provided meatless meals one day a week.
The mayor feels it's a win-win. Ciizens will reduce their risk of obesity and reduce their carbon footprint. A self-described flexitarian, he's hoping others will join in as an act of solidarity. While meat will not be banned outright, Thursdays may be looking grim for beef-loving bureaucrats.
I'm on board, even if Belgian bureaucrats are not, and wanted to create a dish in honor of Veggietag. But what? The Belgians are known for waffles, beer and chocolate. Technically vegetarian, not to mention delicious, they don't comprise the most nourishing diet. I'd rather have a Veggietag meal with, you know, vegetables.
When it comes to local produce, the Belgians boast two -- Brussels sprouts, your classic Belgian crucifer, and Belgian endive, or chicory. But the Brussels sprouts in my market are not grown in Belgium, they are from Mexico, and the endive looked world-weary and downtrodden. And since the posterboy for Veggietag is seen zipping about the canals via eggplant, I went with eggplant, now in South Florida, in all its glossy purple glory.
Behold, here is a re-envisioned Belgian classic, carbonnade a la Flammande, an ale-rich beef stew gone beefless. Your traditional dish basically consists of beef, beer and onions. This strikes me as lonely. Here, eggplant is abetted and enriched by carrots, celery and mushrooms. It lightens up the classic, yet honors the beery tradition. And it's pretty luscious. Because while you can try to enforce people to go vegetarian, I prefer to entice them.
Aubergine a la Flammande
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium eggplant
4 cloves garlic
2 celery ribs
8 ounces mushrooms
1 tablespoon flour
12 ounces dark ale, preferably a Belgian beer like Chimay
4 to 6 sage leaves (about a tablespoon)
small handful of celery leaves (about a tablespoon)
grated rind of 1 orange
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Add oil to large soup pot. Heat to medium-high heat. Add onions, stirring to coat, then cover pot and reduce heat to medium-low to sweat the onions for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the eggplant and mince the garlic, then add to onions. Place lid on pot. Increase heat to medium. Cook for a few minutes, until the eggplant softens. Chop the other vegetables and add. When the carrots, celery and mushrooms just soften, about 3 minutes, add the tablespoon of flour. Stir well and make sure the vegetables are coated. Pour in the ale.
Mix well then add the sage and celery leaves. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for an hour and a half, coming back and give the whole thing a stir now and again when you've a mind to.
After 90 minutes, remove the pot lid, bring heat back to high. The eggplant will be meltingly soft. Bring to a boil and boil for about 3 minutes to reduce sauce and concentrate the flavor. Stir in nutmeg, grated orange rind and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve over rice (and since it's me talking here, I'd recommend whole grain brown rice over traditional white). Nice with a green salad. Stew flavor improves over time. It'll taste better tomorrow, if you have any left.
Serves 4 to 6.
Next time -- I confess my weakness for a bad boyfriend .