"We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have". - Frederick Koenig

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Battling Beef Stew: The Ruin and Rediscovery of Winter Comfort Food

So, with all of the cold and ice around I usually find myself questing for creature comforts like the furry leopard throw on my couch, warm chunky knit sweaters, and the perfect pair of soft slippers.  Along with these, I seem to find myself looking for food that makes me feel just as warm and comforted;  like a stew should.  This said, I run into an annual dilemma, because I really don't like most stews (especially of the beef variety).  After being forced to eat the stuff as a kid every year on Halloween before heading out for the annual candy grab, I think I can say without hesitation that I have had enough beef stew for a lifetime and am properly scarred by it.  (Side note - quickest way to engrain a certain hate of a particular food item into your children is to serve something completely non-appetizing that they MUST finish before going out in drag to get candy.  Longest. meals. ever).  This being the case, I usually find myself on a quest for that oh-so-warming 'stew replacement' every winter at about this time.  Imagine my surprise when I was actually inspired by a recipe I came across that I got excited enough to make it ... and on a weeknight after work no less!

Willing to take a gamble on whether or not my time making this new concoction would lead to stew nirvana or further ruin my life, I proceeded to chop, boil, and simmer away.  This little recipe, as it turns out, is not really a stew at all, but a vegetable curry ... sigh of relief.  While covering the bases of a stew in warmth, comfort, and one pot cooking, it by far surpasses the sad, watery, lackluster of a stew.  The aroma of the spices cooking will do wonders to improve the happy factor in your humble abode, and watch out for the perky bright color of the dish, which will liven up any bleak winter evening.  Imagine my shock when it turned out to be incredibly tasty as well.  (Take that beef stew)!  Though the version made last night was vegetarian, even my die-hard carnivore Jay loved it enough to say it should be made again sometime, and though he did have a side of chicken, you could certainly include the chicken in the dish should you wish.  I've included the recipe basics below (with pics) for all of you other stew haters out there that need a different inspiration.  Now you can cling to the idea of a winter infatuation with stew and be able to eat it too!

Fry up some diced potatoes in about half a cup of veggie oil until golden brown.  (You could use chicken here instead if you prefer, or mix it up a bit and use both).  Once golden, remove potatoes with a slotted spoon and set aside.   Add two sticks of cinnamon (or one broken in half), 4 or 5 crushed green cardamom pods, 3 or 4 whole cloves, and about 2 teaspoons of cumin seed  into the remaining oil and simmer until very fragrant.

Once your spices have made your kitchen smell like the only place you want to be in the world at that moment, add one medium chopped onion and cook until soft.

To your onion, add crushed garlic and shredded ginger to taste (I used 3 cloves or garlic and about 1 tsp of zested ginger); generously shake in some ground coriander, salt, and pepper, and add one can of UNdrained diced tomatoes.  Add your potatoes/chicken/paneer cheese back into the pot along with a chopped carrot or three (depending on how much you like them - I used 2), some spicy green chiles (depending on how hot you like it - I used 2, but could have gone for more), and a cup and half of water.  Bring to a boil, then simmer until all of the veggies are tender.

Once your veggies are tender, pump the heat back up to medium and toss in MORE veggies - this time about half of a small green cabbage, chopped; some cauliflower florets, and a bag of frozen peas.  Mix these around until soft, adding water as needed.  Once you're happy with the tenderness of the veggies, and the consistency of your mixture, toss in a generous handful of chopped cilantro, and mix well.  At this time, you also might want to pull out the cardamom, cinnamon sticks, and cloves if you can find them.  In my house, we just called them 'prizes' though.

Dish up your gloriously colorful pile of goodness over some basmati rice (or Uncle Ben's if that's what's in the cabinet), and serve with some naan or whatever type of flatbread you have available.  Nom nom nom...

1 comment:

  1. If this is as good as the vegetarian chili you got me to eat (I like meat) I will give it a try. But just as beef stew is a name that makes you cringe, curry brings back memories of that Indian place you selected for me to take you during your college years....I survived but with deep scars...thus the following trips the Famous Dave's ;)