It's winter. It's cold. After a day of busy outdoor carnival activity, a hearty stew will warm you up and nourish you.
Unlike cream-laden casseroles, broth-based stews are lean and full of virtuous veggies, lean protein, starches (like potatoes, grains or pasta) and seasonings. And it's still a stick-to-your-ribs hearty comfort food.
Stews are one-pot wonders that are easy to make and save cleanup time. The flavors blend together as the stew simmers for a delicious combination.
Stews are versatile. You can use any type of meat - or make a vegetarian or bean-based stew.
Do family members have varying schedules? Are out of town guests coming for carnival activities? Warm, filling stews can be made in advance and are easily reheated when you come in from the cold, allowing you to relax with your guests rather than busying yourself in the kitchen.
Stews are cheap - slow-cooked stews make cheaper cuts of meat shine. Expensive, well-marbled steak cuts turn tough and chewy in a stew because their fat melts away into the soup. Tough, lean cuts are much better. They're full of collagen connective tissue which breaks down during the long, slow cooking process, resulting in tasty, fork-tender meat.
Whether using beef, pork, lamb, bison or venison, good cuts for stew include neck, shoulder roasts, breast roasts, and shanks. Pot roast, stew meat, chuck - (chuck shoulder, chuck roast, chuck-eye roast, top chuck), bottom (bottom round roast, bottom eye roast, rump roast, eye round roast), top round, and round tip roast are all good in slow cooked stews. You can also use poultry - here, dark leg meat is best. If using sausage, pan-fry it first and add it to the stew at the end.
Many recipes call for searing the meat first for maximum flavor, then simmering slowly in a flavorful broth until tender. You can do this in a slow cooker all day, or in a large kettle or Dutch oven on top of the stove for an hour. If the meat is too chewy, simmer it a bit longer. Check for doneness every 15 minutes or so, and eventually it will hit that magic point where it goes from tough to tender.
Veggies add color, flavor and texture. And a dollop of yogurt or sour cream on top provides a bit of creaminess and mellows the spices.
A stew is any combination of ingredients simmered on the stovetop. Most often, stews combine meats and vegetables with a sauce or gravy. Stews have been part of man's culinary repertoire since the development of pottery about 10,000 years ago. As soon as people could mix ingredients together in a vessel and cook them over a fire, they made stew. Over time, the ingredients changed and herbs and seasonings were added. We read in the book of Genesis about Jacob, who bought Esau's birthright in exchange for "bread and some lentil stew." (Genesis 25:34, NIV) The ancient Roman cookbook De re coquinaria (Latin, "On the subject of cooking") by Apicius, dating to the fourth century A.D., includes recipes for fish and lamb stews.
Delicious stews combine meat or beans with vegetables and grains or potatoes for an easy, complete, satisfying main dish. Such ethnic dishes as Hungarian Goulash, African Groundnut Stew, Irish Sausage Stew, Beef Stroganoff, Pasta e Fagiole, Boeuf Bourguignonne and Jewish Cholent are examples of stews from various cuisines.
No matter what ingredients you use, stews make a hearty meal for a chilly winter night after a day filled with carnival activities. Add a tossed salad and crusty bread or dinner rolls, and you're ready to eat.
Pork and veggie stew
Tender chunks of pork in a gently seasoned, wine infused sauce.
2 tablespoons fat (Lard, butter or oil)
1 1/2 pounds boneless pork, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium onions
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups carrots
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups broth or water
1 cup apple juice
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1/4 teaspoon rubbed sage
1 bay leaf
3 cups cubed butternut squash
2 apples, cored and cubed
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
Heat the oil in the bottom of a large heavy pot. Brown the meat to sear it. Remove to a plate and set aside.
Peel and dice the onions, sprinkle with salt and add to the pot. Wash and chop the carrots, and stir in. Cover and cook on meidum-low heat about 5 minutes. Slice the celery and mince the garlic, stir in and cook 5 minutes longer.
Add the liquids, seasonings, remaining vegetables/fruit and reserved meat. Cover, bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and cook about an hour. Taste, and adjust seasonings. Serve with a side salad and bread or biscuits.
Bean and sausage stew
Thick, hearty, chunky beans provide a base for a medley of flavors. Toss all the ingredients into your slow cooker, set it on low, and come home to a deeply satisfying dinner.
1 pound (about 2 cups) mixed beans, like red beans, pintos, white beans, and giant limas (you can also use 3 cans of different types of beans)
2 teaspoons olive oil or other fat
1 large onion
1 bell pepper (red or green or combination)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 stalk celery
1/2 cup white wine
1 pound potatoes
1 pounds sweet potatoes
1 pound diced tomatoes (or 14 ounce can with liquid)
1/2 pound kielbasa, chorizo or other smoked sausage, sliced (optional)
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
cup Greek yogurt, for topping (optional)
Soak beams overnight (or for 6 to 8 hours) in 2 quarts water. If you forgot, bring them to a boil, cook 5 minutes, then remove from heat and wait an hour or longer.
Drain the beans through a strainer. Transfer to a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven. Add 2 quarts of broth or water. Add to the beans and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer 30 to 40 minutes.
While beans are cooking, In skillet, heat the oil to medium low heat. Chop onions, sprinkle with salt and add. Add the peppers. Wash and slice carrots and celery, and add. Cook about 10 minutes. Peel and mince the garlic, add and cook 5 minutes longer. Add the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, to deglaze and until it is reduced by half.
Pour the beans into a crock pot. Stir in the vegetables from the skillet. Add diced potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, sausage (if using) and herbs. Cover and cook on low for six to eight hours.
Or, add everything to the pot of cooking beans and simmer one to two hours until beans and vegetables are tender.
Taste to adjust seasonings. Stir in the parsley and serve. Top each serving with a dollop of yogurt.
Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com.