New England Boiled Dinner is a classic winter dish, although the protein used is a point of disagreement among many. This version avoids the argument completely.
Ask a New Englander what is in a New England boiled dinner, and you will get a wide range of replies, and every one is considered to the THE authentic version. Some use corned beef brisket, some a Boston butt, others ham bones, and even lamb shanks, but they all include as a base some flavorful meat that was inexpensive but required a long, slow cook to tenderize .
Another thing they all have in common is the addition of cabbage, a good winter keeper, in harmony with those wonderful root vegetables we store all winter long: potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, onions, and beets, in any variety and proportion the cook declares readily available and appropriate.
One cook, several presentations
You’d make a big pot of this, let it cook slowly, and enjoy for a couple of days in various forms. The first night’s serving was all about the presentation: the meat would be removed from the pot and arranged nicely on a platter surrounded by all the vegetables. Everything was composed. The broth was on the side, or saved for the next meal.
Traditionally, no matter the protein, the remains were made into “Red Flannel Hash” a mixture of all those veggies and whatever remnants of the meat remain. The “red” in the hash is obviously from the beets, which color everything in their path, including the cook.
Since not everyone in my family eats meat, I wanted to make a healthier, vegetarian version, cooked quickly. I knew the flavor would be different from the original version, but I wanted a hearty, brothy stew that would satisfy everyone and tickle that place in my memory that recalls a childhood kitchen in a single whiff.
A seasonal composition
This version contains potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, and cabbage, what my mother used in mid-winter, and leeks, which I love. I used both beet greens and Swiss chard for the wilted green element, and at the last added green beans because my mother often made a quick all-vegetable dish from garden “thinnings” in early summer when there was a sudden avalanche of green beans. Her dish was a simple medley of new potatoes, Swiss chard, baby onions, and green beans, and remains one of my summer garden favorites.
Of course, in February, I have to settle for green beans from elsewhere, but we are lucky enough to have local Swiss chard from the farm a couple of miles from my home. You can substitute kale or spinach. I’ve added the smoked paprika to mimic the smoky flavor of the smoked ham shoulder or bacon, because when I’m reworking a dish, I still want it to tickle those little “no place like home” memory cells.
Use the vegetables you love
Lots of other vegetables work in this: turnips, parsnips, winter squash, sweet potatoes, or rutabagas. Use what you like, and what you have available, that is what the intent of the original dish was all about!
You can buy vegetable stock, but you can also make a quick one to use here by prepping all your vegetables and putting the leek, onion, garlic, green bean, mushroom, and carrot scraps in a pot with water and boiling for a half hour or so while you finish cutting up the vegetables. This adds some flavor and makes use of the whole vegetables, but you can also use plain old water to save time if you like.
Plenty of protein here
As for the protein debate, I’ve turned to the protein-rich legumes, using French lentils, which keep their shape in the cooking and add a nice texture to the dish. Lentils are a nutritional powerhouse, a good source of protein, fiber, folate, potassium, iron, and magnesium.
The amounts of the veggies I used here are how I made it one day and recorded the ingredients. It doesn’t matter at all, if you like more potatoes, use those, and if you don’t like beets, you can leave them out!
Of course, you won’t be able to make Red Flannel Hash if you do that…
A “New” New England Boiled Dinner
2 leeks, white and light green, chopped
1 large onion, cut into wedges
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. smoked paprika
10 oz. or so baby portabella mushrooms, sliced
1 cup French lentils
1 lb. small potatoes, or larger ones cut up roughly
1/2 to 1 lb. baby carrots, or large carrots cut into coins
3 or 4 beets cut in half, greens as well if available
1 small head or half a large head cabbage, cut into wedges
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 quarts vegetable stock or water
1 bunch Swiss chard, or greens from the beets
Lemon juice or cider vinegar
First, prep all your vegetables. For the Swiss chard, remove the leaves from the stems and set aside until the end of the process, but chop up the stems to use as well.
In a large pot (I use my enameled cast-iron Le Creuset Dutch oven but any heavy stock pot will do) sauté the leeks and onion in olive oil and butter until translucent. Add garlic cloves, tomato paste, smoked paprika, and sauté for another minute, until fragrant. Add the mushrooms, and let these cook until they have softened and have given up some of their liquid.
Add the lentils, stir around, the add potatoes, carrots, beets, cabbage, and chard stems, and mix things around. Add the bay and vegetable stock, and stir well.
Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for a half hour, or until the potatoes and beets are fork tender.
Add the green beans and cook for 10 minutes or so. This is not a dish where you are necessarily looking for “crisp/tender” beans, but you don’t want to overcook them either, so keep an eye on them. As they approach being done, add the chard leaves so they can wilt.
In keeping with the spirit of the original dish, you can arrange the vegetables on the platter, spooning a little of the broth over all. I think the broth is the best part, so I serve this up in shallow soup bowls and eat it like a stew, with little toasted baguette slices on the side.
Its second or third life can be a transformation into Red Flannel Hash (if there are any leftovers at this point), below.
Electric Pressure Cooker Method: I don’t know if you will save much time using an electric pressure cooker in this recipe, but the advantage is that you could program to have it start a little later in the day.
In your electric pressure cooker, sauté the leeks and onion in olive oil and butter until translucent. Add the lentils, garlic, tomato paste, and paprika and stir until everything is coated, and garlic fragrant. Add everything else to the pot except the green beans and chard, and secure the lid. Process on medium for 5 to 6 minutes, depending on how large you cut your vegetables. Let pressure reduce naturally, then add the chard and green beans and switch to sauté and continue cooking for another five to 10 minutes, or until everything is where you want it.
Red Flannel Hash: The next day, dice up leftover vegetables and sauté in olive oil over medium high until you have some crispy edges. Serve with an egg on top!
© Copyright 2019 – or current year, Dorothy Grover-Read, The New Vintage Kitchen