Thick gravy, rich flavor, you don't even notice there's no meat.
2 cups carrots, scraped and chopped
3 cups potatoes, chopped (do not peel)
1 cup celery, washed and chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 package frozen peas
4 or 5 mushrooms, chopped
3/4 cups dry "soup mix" OR a tablespoon each of dry split green peas, split yellow peas, pearled barley, lentils, brown rice, and rice-sized pasta. (Any or all is fine!)
2 big, generous tablespoons of Better than Bouillon and 5 cups water OR 5 cups veggie broth or just use water.
2-3 tablespoons onion powder
2-3 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
1 tablespoon cumin
Or Seasonings YOU choose!
Salt and Pepper if you want.
The Better than Bouillon is a thick paste that is packed with flavor. I love this stuff and season a lot with it. If you don't have that, veggie broth is fine. Water is also fine. The veggies will flavor it.
That little container under the Better than Bouillon in the photo holds six ingredients: split green peas, split yellow peas, lentils, pearled barley, brown rice, and tiny pasta. I found it at my local produce stand. Whenever I make any soup or stew, I add about 3/4 cup of this (for a big crockpot full) right at the beginning. It turns the broth into gravy, adds nice hit of protein, and just makes the entire thing heartier. If you can't find a mix like this, just get some barely, lentils, split peas and add what you like. A little goes a long way, as they expand to 4 times their size or so.
Wash and chop all the veggies. I never peel my potatoes, just scrub lightly under running water and remove any bad spots or eyes. Use the garlic press to get maximum flavor from your cloves of garlic. Throw it all into the crock pot. Fill it right up. Toss in a handful of the dry "soup mix" or about a tablespoon each of as many as you have of the
Mix your Better than Bouillon with two cups of water and pour it in, then add two to three more cups of water. Or pour in 4 to 5 cups of veggie broth. Or even just water. You'll make your own broth with all these vegetables! Don't cover the veggies with liquid, but get near the top.
Dump in the spices of your preference or use my recommendations. I like a lot of flavor, but I don't like to burn my tongue with hot spices. If you're timid, start with smaller amounts, and then later (4 hours later) taste and add.
Starchy foods don't absorb the herbs' flavor after they've been cooked. So it's best to flavor your pastas and potatoes while they are raw by seasoning the water.
Set the crockpot on high for 4 hours, or if you prefer, on low for 8 hours. At that point your stew should be nice and done.
If you're like me, and make a great big batch that will last for days, then refrigerate the leftovers and be aware it will thicken even more as it stands. You might well have to thin it with some fresh veggie broth or a little water for warmups. Leftovers can also be frozen.