Much Ado About Stew
I just love a good, hearty stew. Don’t you? Whether it is simmering away on the stove top or bubbling all day in the slow cooker, a stew just seems to say, “Relax”. Can you remember the feeling of coming home from school and being greeted with a warm, inviting kitchen and the delicious aromas of beef stew in the air? It makes you feel like someone has been thinking about you, and you can drop your cares and worries at the door. A stew is “stick-to-your-ribs” food and just perfect on a cold and blustery day. The long, slow simmer allows flavor to develop as each chunk of vegetable softens and tougher cuts of meat turn tender. It all comes together in a thick, rich broth that is almost gravy. My mother made a great beef stew, which I remember fondly. The carrots were my favorite part back in the day. When I make beef stew, I add a few different vegetables than Mom, but I still love those carrots!
A vegetarian stew that I enjoy has beans and lentils in place of beef, and is perfumed with warm, exotic spices. Definitely not the kind of stew we would have had from Mom’s kitchen, but hearty and delicious nonetheless. So grab a bowl and a great big spoon. It’s time for stew!
MY FAVORITE BEEF STEW
2-3 pounds stew beef (chuck roast), cut into 1-1/2 to 2 inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, cut into large wedges
3 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 ribs celery, cut into large chunks
2-3 potatoes (red, Yukon gold or russet), peeled and cut into large chunks
1-2 parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 rutabaga, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 cup green peas (frozen)
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1/3 cup flour for browning meat and/or thickening
4-6 cups broth (first choice is beef, then chicken, then plain water)
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1-2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced (or 2 teaspoons dried)
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme, minced (or 2 teaspoons dried)
Salt & pepper
Optional: splash of red wine or beer
Preheat oven to 325°.
With a paper towel, pat dry the stew meat chunks and season liberally with salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven or heavy soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Brown 1/4 of the stew meat in the oil, about 5 minutes, turning to get brown crust on all sides. Remove meat to a plate and set aside. Repeat with remaining 3 batches, adding 1 Tablespoon of oil to pan each time. Do not crowd the meat in the pan or browning will not occur. NOTE: If desired, stew meat can also be lightly dredged in flour before browning.
After meat is browned, add onion to the pan and toss in the remaining oil, scraping the bottom of the pan to release the browned bits, 3-5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook a minute more. Add the browned meat, along with any juices, back to the pan. Sprinkle flour over meat and onions and stir until flour is dissolved. Add broth (or water) and wine or beer (if used) to the pan, along with bay leaves, rosemary and thyme. Stir thoroughly, releasing even more of the browned bits. Bring liquid to a boil, cover pan, turn off heat and transfer pan to preheated oven. Braise at 325° for 2 hours.
After 2 hours, remove pan from oven and all chopped carrot, celery, potatoes, parsnips and rutabaga. Add a little more stock or water if needed. Cover pan and return to oven, braising for 1 hour more or until vegetables are cooked, the meat is tender and the broth is thickened. Add frozen peas and return to oven for 5 more minutes. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve warm, or cool quickly and refrigerate to serve the next day. Most stews are even more flavorful on the second day. Reheat covered, on the stovetop or in a 350° oven.
MOROCCAN-STYLE BEAN AND LENTIL STEW
1 onion, diced
2-3 carrots, diced
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 15 oz. can chick peas
1 15 oz. can black beans
1 cup dried lentils
1 can diced tomatoes (also use liquid)
3 cups veggie broth, plus up to 2 more cups water
2 teaspoons garam masala
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Place onion, carrots and grated ginger in your crock pot. Add the drained and rinsed chick peas and black beans. Add the dried lentils. Pour in a can of diced tomatoes, including the liquid, and the veggie broth. You can add the extra water now, or wait until the stew is finished and add it at the end, if needed. Add all the spices, salt and pepper to taste and give the mixture a good stir. Place the lid on your crock pot and cook on low for 6-7 hours.