Vegan "Beef" and Barley Lobscouse Stew
As you might have already guessed, I’m from Liverpool. For everyone outside the UK, people from Liverpool are known as “Scousers”, named after a Norwegian stew which has been eaten in the city for hundreds of years. Liverpool was historically a super, SUPER important port in the UK which meant the population was inevitably multi-cultural before “multi-cultural” was even a word. The inner city, unfortunately, was also a place of extreme poverty for a very long time and up until recent years (my Mum grew up in the slums of central Liverpool and can even remember sleeping under newspapers to keep warm as a kid). The combination of thrifty home-cooks and a high number of Scandinavian sailers meant that Lobscouse (or lapskaus in Norwegian) became a super popular and cheap dish.
It mostly consists of stewed vegetables in a rich sauce and traditionally involves either lamb or beef, although I was always served “Blind Scouse”, a variation which replaces the meat for lentils or beans. Blind scouse, so I’m told, was much more common than Lobscouse since it was much cheaper to make! We ate some variation of scouse pretty much every week throughout my childhood, so it really has a nostalgic vibe for me.
Anyway, history lessen over - I want to pay homage to my hometown today by sharing my (rather modernised) “Beef” Scouse recipe. It’s perfectly warming for a cold rainy day and should be served with a “cob” of bread and a generous topping of sauerkraut.
50g pearl barley
1 tsp vegan bouillon powder
75g dehydrated vegan “beef” strips (you can find these in asian supermarkets, amazon, or you can use the hydrated version which comes in a can. This recipe also works great with my favourite meat substitute “Oumph!” which is sold by Tesco in the UK)
5 pearl shallots (peeled and halved)
1/2 yellow onion
2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 celery sticks (sliced into 1/2 cm crescents)
2 large carrots (halved and sliced into 1/2 cm crescents)
10 new potatoes (halved)
50 ml vegan white wine or light ale
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp brown rice miso paste
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 bay leaves
1 litre vegetable stock
1.5 tbsp corn flour
2 stems of either thyme, oregano, winter savoury or summer savoury (any is fine!)
Start by cooking your pearl barley. Place the barley in a small saucepan with the bouillon powder and cover with boiling water. Place over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer until barley is swollen and tender (around 10 minutes). While the barley is cooking, rehydrate the beef strips.
Place the beef strips in a large mug or a bowl. Cover with boiling water, top with a lid or small plate and leave to hydrate for 10 minutes. Once hydrated, pour through a sieve, discard the soaking water and, with a spoon, squeeze out most of the excess water in the beef. Set aside.
In a large saucepan or cast-iron dutch oven over medium heat, place the oil, followed by the onion and the shallots. Sautee for a few minutes before adding the garlic. Continue to cook for a further minute or so, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the rehydrated beef strips followed immediately by the soy sauce and fry for another few minutes, stirring constantly.
Add the celery, carrots and potatoes and stir well to combine. Follow with the red wine then stir and allow some of the liquid to cook off. Follow with all the remaining ingredients apart from the corn flour and the fresh herb sprigs. Bring everything to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cover with a lid. Allow the stew to simmer for approximately 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 15 minutes, test a potato by pricking with a fork. If it slides in easily then everything’s cooked, if not, give it another 5 minutes with the lid on.
Once all the vegetables are cooked, place the cornflour in a small bowl and whisk in 3 tbsp cool water until you have a smooth white liquid. Pour the liquid into the stew and stir well. The sauce will thicken very quickly so just keep stirring until it’s almost perfect then turn off the heat. The sauce should be glossy and coat all of the vegetables nicely. Once the pearl barley is cooked, drain it, rinse it and add it to the stew. Give everything a good stir to combine then top with a few sprigs of fresh herbs. I serve mine with some red cabbage sauerkraut.