If anyone had told my younger self that I would go through menopause in my late thirties, I probably would have shrugged and went on with my life. Back then, I thought menopause would merely be a ceasing of menstruation and maybe a year of hot flashes. However, I’m learning that the experience of menopause is a heck of a lot more than that, and it’s a really difficult transition. Just the other day I was so frustrated and disheartened that I thought to myself, Why aren’t there menopause support groups the way that there are AA meetings? The thought kind of made me laugh, but then I soberly wondered if any actually exist.
It wasn’t until recently that I came to the conclusion that all of my ailments were due to my hormones being out of whack due to menopause. It’s pretty amazing how much control our hormones have over how our body functions; they control everything! They’re like the lobbyists of the U.S. political system. (Ok, I won’t get political…but isn’t that a good analogy?!)
I am trying to remain patient and maintain some sense of normalcy with this transitional phase of my life, but it has been a struggle the last few months as my symptoms become more acute. Yoga definitely helps. And I’ve started training for the half-marathon that I will be running in April. Every little thing helps. I just hope that I am one of the more fortunate women for whom menopause lasts two years instead of ten. Gulp.
This was my first time making a cassoulet. I came across this recipe in Food & Wine, where a Minneapolis chef was sharing riffs-on-casserole recipes. If you haven’t ever made one, they are as easy as a casserole, and even more delicious. And this particular cassoulet is perfect for hunkering down on a cold winter’s night. It’s almost March, people!
Adapted from Food & Wine
Yield: 10-12 servings
1/2 pound thick-cut bacon, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely diced
1 celery rib, finely diced
2 medium carrots, finely diced, plus 2 large carrots, cut into 2 1/2-inch lengths
14 oz. can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Four 6-ounce chicken sausages, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
3 turnips, peeled and cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 ounces rustic peasant bread, crusts removed, bread cut into 1/4-inch dice (2 cups)
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, cook the bacon over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered. Add the onion, celery and diced carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften, about 8 minutes. Add the beans and set aside.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°. In a small skillet, toast the cumin, coriander and mustard seeds over moderate heat, shaking the pan, until fragrant and the mustard seeds begin to pop, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder and let cool. Add the smoked paprika and crushed red pepper and grind the harissa blend into a powder.
- Wipe out the casserole and heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in it. Add the sausages and cook over moderate heat, until lightly browned all over, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Do not wipe out the casserole.
- Add the sweet potatoes, turnips and large carrots to the casserole. Season with salt and black pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, 5 minutes. Add the harissa spice blend and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Stir in the bean mixture and the chicken broth and bring just to a simmer. Cover and bake the cassoulet for about 1 hour, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from the oven and uncover the cassoulet. Mix in the sausages.
- Preheat the broiler. In a bowl, toss the bread, parsley, lemon zest and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil; season with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle the bread over the cassoulet and broil until golden and crisp. Let the cassoulet stand for 10 minutes before serving.