This evening I was invited to prepare some kind of vegetarian stew for our towns Main St. Christmas event. The dish needed to be kept warm in a crock pot so I could easily ladle it into cups for customers browsing for Christmas gifts and weekend groceries. As the front door of Natures Harvest swung open it ushered in families of 4 and 5, couples out on the town and a frigid 15 degree wind blowing in behind them. No one refused a cup of piping hot vegetable stew with a dollop of yogurt and before long I was scraping the last of the juice off the bottom of the pot.

This recipe is enough to fill a 3.5 quart crock pot. I first prepared the recipe in a large enamel coated Dutch oven, while the crock pot was warming up, and then transferred the mixture to the crock pot. At that point I walked away and let the pot do the cooking, there was nothing more for me to do. Gotta love it.

You can substitute some chicken sausage for the vegetarian version if that is more to your liking, and make sure to cut the vegetables in bite size pieces, not to big or to small. I did use some red wine I had sitting around, really just to get rid of it, and it balanced the sweetness of the vegetables very nicely. The store was running a special on a new product, canned peeled baby tomatoes, so I threw those into the mix and the combination of flavors worked really well together. The cumin and fennel seeds are my present obsession, so naturally they started the whole ball rolling. To make it more belly filling serve the stew over some cooked brown rice and top it with a teaspoon of plain yogurt. Then sit down to a big bowl of steaming delight and let your senses do the rest.

VEGETARIAN SWEET POTATO STEW
 Serves 6-8
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 cups leeks, chopped, white only
1 red pepper, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 cup sweet potato, peeled and chopped
2 cup butternut squash, peeled,chopped
1 cup red wine or vegetable stock
28.2 ounce can cherry tomatoes plus juice or diced tomatoes
2 cups water
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 vegetarian sausage, casing removed, sliced half lengthwise, then sliced into pieces.
1. Turn a 3.5 quart crock pot to HIGH and cover.
2. In a large dutch oven heat the oil over medium high and sauté the cumin and fennel seeds until browned.
3. Add the leeks, stir well, cover, reduce heat and cook until tender, about 2 minutes.
4. Add the red pepper, stir and cook another minute.
5. Add the carrot, sweet potato and squash one at time stirring to combine and waiting 2 minutes before adding the next vegetable.
6. Pour in the wine or stock and stir well. Bring to a low simmer and pour in the cherry tomatoes with juice. Stir to combine.
7. Add the water and sea salt and bring all to a low simmer.
8. Stir the sausage into the stew, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
9. Remove the lid from the crockpot and ladle the vegetable stew into the crockpot. Cover and cook on HIGH for 1 hour. Reduce heat to LOW and cook until ready to serve at least another hour.