The Comfort of Stew

For me, stews are the canvas to a great meal. I have no particular recipe for a stew – I just grab all the veggies and meat I can find, toss everything into a pot, add whichever liquid is handy (broth/wine/V-8 juice or some combination of all of the above) and cook.

I have to admit, some of my stews turn out better than others.

However, no matter how badly I misjudge the spices, or how watery my stew turns out to be, there’s still something comforting about sitting down to a big bowl of steaming goodness (especially if it’s cold outside). As we Mennonites say, it’s food that really schmecks.

But it’s not just a cold-weather thing: every country seems to have its own version of this amazingly versatile “let’s clean out the fridge” dish. My stews tend to feature beef, lots of root vegetables that overwinter well, and basic spices, because that’s what we have in the Canadian prairies. In that way, I think stews are very much the most basic, grassroots reflection of a place and its people. I mean, just look at some of these stews from around the world:

• Ghormeh Sabzi (Iran) – made with lamb or beef, lime, beans and seasoned with turmeric, coriander and fenugreek (I’ve never tried this but it sounds nummy)

• Plokkfiskur (Iceland) – an incredibly basic fish and potato stew in which freshness of the ingredients is key (when I was in Iceland, I couldn’t get enough plokkfiskur. And skyr, but that’s a subject for another blog)

• India – Where to even begin? This country has an amazing array of vegetarian and meat-based stews, spiced according to the region and influences. (When I was in University, my roommate was Indian, and all of her cooking was vegetarian. After years of living with her, I have to admit it took me a little while to wrap my mind around Indian food that included meat)

• Poronkäristys (Finland) – a stew from the Lapland region made with reindeer meat and lingonberries (Check your local IKEA store for this)
I reached out to the Chefs at Red Table for their go-to stew recipes, and got this one from Rod Pickrell (who has cooked for royalty, so he knows a thing or two). He has this to add about his recipe: “You can replace the beef with wild meat such as venison. It is a filling meal that can be changed to many different things later, such as pot pie or soup, to give many days of comfort.”

Hearty Beef Veg Stew
2 lb cubed beef
3 tbs veg oil
3 tbs flour
4 cups of beef broth
1 tsp parsley
1 tsp rosemary
3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 oz of tomato paste
3 large potatoes, cubed
4 carrots cut into 1” pieces
4 stalks of celery cut into 1” pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 small turnip (cook separately and add later or everything will taste like turnip)

Brown meat in oil, add flour and tomato paste. Then add broth, herbs, spices and vegetables. Put in slow cooker for hours until tender. (Typical chef – Rod didn’t add a time, but the timeframe for most slow cooker recipes is 6-8 hours on low or 4-6 hours on high).

Add turnip and salt to taste. As an option at this point you could also add peas, corn, cut green beans, and mushrooms to make it even heartier.
Serve with warm baking powder biscuits.

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