Something to stew aboutTake comfort in this all-time favorite during cold spells.
When you think about comfort food, what comes to mind?
Before you answer that question, consider what you’ve been eating the last couple of weeks. It’s a pretty well-known fact that people turn to food for comfort when the weather gets nasty. (I’d say that several days of below-zero temperatures like we’ve already experienced this winter would more than qualify readers to respond to this query.)
And despite the recent warm-up this week, I don’t imagine people are in a hurry just yet to put away their recipes for the season for their favorite chili, soup or meatloaf.
I would have a hard time answering the aforementioned question since there are many foods near the top of my comfort food list. But without a doubt, stew would rank high.
I’ve been thinking about making a batch of stew ever since talking with Lillian Elsinga at the gym the other day. Lillian, who is dean of students at UND, told me she tried the recipe for Winter Squash and Black Bean Stew that I had in the paper a couple of weeks ago. (See recipe at www.grandforksherald.com/ event/ tag/group/Features/tag/food/.)
After tasting it, she said it reminded her of a potato dish that was served years ago at the now-closed LaBrasa restaurant on South Washington Street. But Lillian said she never could put her finger on the spices in the dish. But when she tried the stew recipe, it became clear to her that it was a combination of cumin and sage.
Nearly every culture around the world has at least one characteristic stew, and ingredients can include any combination of veggies (such as carrots, potatoes, beans, peppers and tomatoes, etc.), meat, poultry, sausages and seafood, depending on the locale. Water can be used as the stew-cooking liquid, but wine, stock and beer also are common. Point of origin also determines seasonings and flavorings.
For example, when I mentioned stews to a co-worker, Chuck Haga, he told me about the traditional Polish stew he had while studying abroad. Called bigos, it is considered by many to be the Polish national dish.
Most bigos recipes contain cabbage and meat, although my research shows that they vary considerably from region to region and from family to family.
And the first Americans, the Indians, were making stew containing the “three sisters” (squash, corn and beans) long before Europeans arrived.
When making stew, most cooks prefer to use a heavy cooking vessel such as a Dutch oven or thick earthenware. The container also should have a tight-fitting lid. And stews typically are cooked at a relatively low temperature (simmered) for a long time to allow all the flavors to meld together. This is how I make mine.
However, some of the best stew I’ve eaten has been made in less than an hour. And I’m not talking about the canned Dinty Moore variety.
When Therese makes hers, she cooks the meat (usually bison, elk or venison) and vegetables in a pressure cooker — and always to perfection. From the time she starts until the time we sit down to eat is no more than a half-hour.
Come to think of it, I haven’t had any of her stew lately. (Hint, hint.)
And if you didn’t know, I can always use a little bit of comfort.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at email@example.com.