Thursday, October 7, 2010

Early Autumn Stew

Snap! It's cold outside! I guess that's why they call it a cold snap -- Last weekend, seemingly overnight, the Atlanta area went from daily highs of 90 degrees to lows in the 30's! We are all digging in our closets to find something warm to wear. So I was inspired to make something warm, hearty and healthy to eat. This is the stew that received the sweet potatoes of "Trees in my Pantry" fame. I made this in a crock pot, since my son had a lacrosse game I wanted to attend and I couldn't leave a pot bubbling on the stove while I was off watching the game, but you could make it on the stove too. I will supply suggested cooking times for each.

Making it up as I go . . .

Pretty stew veggies

The thing I love about making stews is that there's not much brainwork involved. Through washing and chopping the veggies, once you find a rhythm, a sort of meditative state might be achieved or you could just enjoy some good music during the process. It's a nice way to spend a bit of an afternoon.  Here's the recipe:

Early Autumn Stew

1 large yellow onion, diced small
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 small new potatoes, diced
1 sweet potato, diced
1 russet potato, diced
2 carrots, large chunks
2 celery stalks, large chunks (I also used the leaves!)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c. pearl barley
32 oz good vegetable broth
1 veggie boullion cube
1 Tbsp. sherry
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 c. frozen baby lima beans or edamame
4 collard leaves, stems removed, chopped into a chiffonade
salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients except the lima beans and the collards in a pot on the stove or in a crock pot. the liquid should cover the veggies. Add water to raise the level of the liquid if necessary. bring the stew ingredients to a boil and then lower heat, simmering for at least an hour and a half if the stew is cooking on the stovetop, or for about 4 hours in a crock pot. You want the potatoes to be thoroughly cooked. While the stew is cooking, put the frozen lima beans in a bowl on the counter to defrost. At the end of cooking time, turn off the heat and stir in the lima beans and collards, which will cook quickly in the heat of the stew. Adjust seasonings to your liking.

If you are not familiar with the term chiffonade, it is really just a way to cut an ingredient into thin strips by first rolling it into a cigar shape and then cutting thin slices, like this:

After I made the stew, I decided it would have been prudent for me to have cut each chiffonade slice into quarters before unrolling. Unfortunately the strips of collards were so luxuriously long that I sometimes had tomato-broth-covered greens wrapping around my chin. Still, the stew was delicious so I didn't care much about that sloppy problem. But you may want to cut yours shorter!

The ingredients of this stew are a bit different from stews you may be used to. This is not a midwinter combination. I was inspired by this unusual in-between time of year, icy and crisp in the evening, but still warm and bright at midday. I want to clean up my veggie garden for winter, but I have a few summer stragglers still holding on that I don't have the heart to pull out yet.  So I wanted something warm and comforting, coupled with the bright tang of tomato, and the fresh pop of something green, added at the end so it is not overcooked. A squeeze of lemon might also be nice as you serve each bowl. I find this stew to be both sustaining and healthful.  As I often do, I encourage you to tailor the stew ingredients to what you personally may have on hand. Don't leave out the sherry, though, it's my secret ingredient and it makes all the difference in the flavor ---Shhhhh!

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