Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Winter Stews

It's no secret that stews are freaking awesome.

Stews can be incredibly complex or wonderfully simple: stretching ingredients or reducing them down; layering flavors or creating single notes.

In addition, stews are generally one-pot meals and crowd-pleasers.  Approachable to all walks of life, and a member of low-brow, high-brow and everything in-between, they make your house smell good, and can bring everyone back to Earth.

So, here is a collection of some recipes that I think are wonderful for the cold winter months. December is behind us, and with it, recollections of candy-canes and pine trees, latkes and menorahs. The wreaths and trees of most peoples' festive holiday are in the street, waiting for the chipper to turn them to mulch.

But we don't have to forget that it's still freaking cold, and we can sit around watching Netflix, drinking hot chocolate and making stew to warm our souls and fill our stomachs.

I'm going to skip more traditional stews and offer only the really cool, or mind-blowingly amazing ones.

First up, a stew that most people have never had: Mafe.
A stew of African origin, it can be as simple or complex as your cupboard. A strong base of tomatoes, chilies, meat and peanuts, it makes for a wonderful meal and a great introduction to more ethnic stews.

These three recipes are essentially the same. I will point out their differences so you can more easily choose the one you like. Or read them all and decide for yourself.

Mafe - food network: This recipe is a great introduction to Mafe. It is super easy, without a ton of ingredients. It will give you a feel for the stew and has plenty of room to improvise. For instance, if you don't have carrots, use another root vegetable or squash. Often times farmers markets will have a discount section or grab-bag of roots and such that you can get cheap and are perfect for this application.

Mafe - senegalI like this recipe because it uses a lot of winter vegetables like squash and 'roots and tubers' and cabbage. However, it is lacking in the tomato department. If you don't have lamb, lean beef will work too. if you don't have beef you can use chicken etc. etc.

Peanut stew - nytimes: Now that you're familiar with Mafe, step it up a notch and make this version which includes whole chopped tomatoes and okra (I love okra). Perfect food for a cold winter night with rice or fat, thick egg noodles. (this page also has a bonus fish stew recipe)

So you've got the African stew down, or maybe you're allergic to peanuts. Either way, here is another stew with loads of flavor that is pretty wonderful with nice Italian bread, a nice Southern Cornbread (corn and mushrooms go really well together), or simply on its own with a bowl and spoon.

Pork and Mushroom Ragout - Food and Wine: This recipe brings out some really amazing earthy flavors. Mushrooms are one of my favorite ingredients for anything, and the meaty, umami-rich flavor they impart really pairs well with slow cooked stews.

Also, really simply stewed mushrooms are one of my favorite things to make. Pretty much just butter, mushrooms, fresh herbs and a little stock go a long way in terms of flavor.

Maybe your house doesn't see enough curry. Or maybe you don't make enough fish at home.
Here is a recipe with fantastic results and minimal heavy-fish odors. Anytime you mix curry and coconut milk, you're hard-pressed not to produce a winner.

Groan Curried Fish Stew: Make this stew. It's awesome. I know you don't make a lot of fish curry. I know it. Like they say, make a lot of rice to serve this with. Or, make lots of rice noodles or glass noodles and serve piping hot.

Here are some other fantastic stews to try when you're ready for some "adventurous" eating (ie. bored of the regular stuff and want to try these other cool stews)

Kimchi Stew: This bad-boy right here includes 3lbs of skinless pork belly. If spicy amazing kimchi isn't reason enough to try it, the pork belly should put you over the edge. If you really need a starch to eat this with, do I even need to mention what? Yeah, rice. Not a fan of rice? Try it with boiled Yucca (cassava) or big red potatoes; or just eat it as is, because it's awesome.

Red Chile and Pork Stew: This Carne Adobada is crazy good. Use Guajillo chilies if you can't find the New Mexico ones, or use a mix and follow the general recipe. It will be good. I promise. This stew doesn't need rice, but serve it with corn tortillas (not flour). It makes a difference, trust me.

Like something more involved? How about making Meatballs! Yeahhh meatballs!

T'fina Pkaila - Tunisian beef rib and meatball stew: This stew right here! Yes it is more involved. Yes it has more steps. Yes it is delicious. A little bit of spinach, some white beans, meat. It's got all the stew parts you want in your life. All of them. Cilantro. Beef ribs!

So there you have it folks. Various stews from around the world to keep you busy and full in the winter months.

When your house smells this delicious, you can be sure that your neighbors will "pop-in" to borrow something, only to fawn over the wonderful smells (and would you share!)

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