Friday, September 29, 2006

Stew, not soup

Yesterday was one of those days where I valiantly tried to be productive and failed miserably. I had grand plans: I was going to get all my work-related stuff done, attack the dirty laundry that had exploded all over my bedroom, clean said bedroom, tidy up the kitchen, and make dinner.

Instead, I got some of my work-related stuff done, although I was stymied by people not answering my e-mails right away (and they have every perfect right not to have to do so =). I washed one load of sheets. I didn't clean the bedroom at all. I put all the dishes in the dishwasher, which then proceeded to flood the kitchen floor while I was upstairs; thankfully, not too badly, and as Chris said upon coming home, "Thank you for washing the kitchen floor!". But in regards to dinner, I was at my most unhappiest.

I have a crockpot, you see, a cute little maybe 3 quart one that I bought years ago for $10 when Bradlees went out of business. It has served me well throughout college, and yesterday, the crockpot and I were going to make vegetable stew. Here's my prototype stew recipe, which didn't turn out as I wanted it to.

1.5 medium eggplants
1 medium yellow onion
1 large parsnip
2 medium turnips
2 medium carrots
0.5 tsp tumeric
0.5 tsp paprika
0.25 tsp ginger
dried parsley to taste
lots of cinnamon to taste (I think I put too much cinnamon in)
1-2 cups water

Cut everything up, dump in crockpot. Mix in spices and water, stir thoroughly, turn crockpot on. Cook on low for ~6 hours and then on high for ~1 hour. Serve finished product over rice.

Now I wasn't happy with how the stew turned out, as I mentioned above. For starters, it needed salt, which we ended up adding after it was cooked. Chris also put pepper in and liked it that way. I felt like I had put too much cinnamon in and that all the spices didn't really meld well together. I based the recipe, by the way, on several online vegetable stew recipes that had similar spices, but maybe I put too much spices in.

So here is my challenge to you, faithful LIT SOUP readers... how do I make my stew recipe better? Do I need to change the ingredients somewhat? Do I need to change my spices? There has to be some way to improve it, since I'm not making it again this way. Bear in mind that I don't like cumin, coriander, or chiles of any kind, so suggesting that I add any of those will not be helpful. If you have any suggestions, please comment away!


Anonymous said...

It needs potatoes and meat?

Seriously, I don't think any of your ingredients provides the stew with enough 'umami.' Meat or dried shitake mushrooms (soak them, then add them in but you should be able to use fresh ones as well) will help, or you can use stock.

Napa cabbage will help add what a Chinese cook will call (directly translated anyway) 'sweetness' if you want to keep it vegetarian. Not as in sugary sweetness, but as in that goodness of homemade chicken soup, if that makes sense.

And you should saute the spices with a bit of oil, to really bring out the flavor, before adding the vegetables. This will help meld the flavors too.

IMHO, it's easier to start with a good recipe and tweak from there. Hope this helps!

Jenny Rappaport said...

I was thinking of doing meat, since I have two and a half pounds of ground turkey in the freezer, but the crockpot isn't very big so I decided to keep it vegetarian.

I know it's easier to start with an established recipe, but I like experimenting and at least Chris likes eating the stew (he shall be consuming all the leftovers, not I). He suggested that I might want to put in something like tomatoes or tomato paste.

Harry Connolly said...

I would carmelize the onions in a skillet before I put them in the crock pot. Mucho flavor that way.

I would also leave out the paprika, turmeric and cinnamon (which strikes me as an odd combination) and go with lemon, ginger and garlic.

Which is a little boring, but it works.

December Quinn said...

Hmmm. You have a lot of savory vegetables there, so I think you should use more savory spices--thyme and sage, maybe some marjoram.

You could skip all of the others and try herbs de provence, which would probably be great in a vegetable soup, although I might skip the eggplant then.

I agree with the suggestion of diced tomatoes and potatoes, too, if you want to keep it meatless.

If you're interested, I can tell you how to make the world's best pot roast in the crock-pot...I'm crock-pot obsessed, so I've got a ton of recipes for the C-P.

James Dashner said...

Jenny, although I don't know how to help with your version, I can share my wife's recipe for stew. I absolutely devour every bite of this every time she makes it. I always tell her to make as much as possible so I can eat the leftovers for a couple of days.

2 T flour
1 lb beef or pork stew meat
2 T cooking oil
3 1/2 c vegetable juice cocktail (like V8 juice)
1/2 c chopped onion
2 t instant beef bouillon granules
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t basil
1/2 t thyme
2 1/4 c cubed, peeled potatoes
2 c sliced carrots
1 c sliced celery

Place flour in a plastic bag. Add meat cubes, a few at a time, shaking to coat. In a saucepan brown meat in hot oil. In the bottom of a crock pot layer onion, potatoes, carrots and celery. Sprinkle with bouillon granules, garlic, basil and thyme; add meat. Pour 2 1/2 c vegetable juice cocktail over meat. Cover; cook on low-heat setting for 10 hrs or high-setting 5 hrs until meat and vegetables are tender.

Jenny Rappaport said...

December Quinn, I'm definitely interested in learning how to make pot roast in a crockpot! At some point I'm going to get a bigger one, with neat warming features and a dishwasher-safe ceramic insert, but my plans for that will have to wait a few months.

harry connolly, I was going towards a Moroccan/Turkish thing with the cinnamon and tumeric; I've made chicken and apricot dishes before with cinnamon and such and they've turned out well. A lot of cultures commonly use "sweet" spices for savory dishes, but it's not as well-known in America.

James, your recipe looks delicious... I'm so tempted to make that next week, after Yom Kippur. My mom does a stew in the crockpot that's similar, except that she does it with beef stew meat, peas, potatoes, and beef ravioli... it's so good. =)

December Quinn said...

If it's a Moroccan-style soup you're aiming for, I'd definitely add tomatoes, and maybe throw in a cup or two of couscous about ten minutes before you're ready to eat? That'll give the stew some body. Also, I'd add a little nutmeg too, and less cinnamon if it was overpowering. Lemon and/or mint also go well with eggplant and in Moroccan cooking.

Okay, the roast is so, so easy. Pick up a roast that will fit in the crock-I usually get a 3 lbs. or so rump roast. If you want to peel and dice carrots, you can, but I always bought bags of peeled baby carrots. Parsnips and turnips are good, too, peeled and sliced.

You'll also want a packet of soup mix (I think McCormick is the one I used to get, it's in a blue box and you want the golden onion or beefy onion mix) and a can or bottle of dark beer (Guinness or Murphy's Irish Stout).

Throw the carrots and other veg (I usually do my potatoes seperately, but you can add them if you want) in the crock and put the roast on top of them, fat side up or down doesn't matter.

Rub some of the soup mix on the roast, sprinkle the rest. Pour about 10-12 oz. worth of beer in. You can add any other spices you like, but I usually don't add anything more than maybe some gravy powder if I have it handy.

Cover. Cook on High for at least 8 hours (the longer the better), but I've been known to leave this in for up to 14 and all that happens is the meat gets even more tender. You'll literally need to serve yourself with a spoon because the beef will fall apart, and the beer gives it a fantastic, velvety-deep beef flavor.

I've also done this from frozen and cooked it overnight, turning the heat to low in the early afternoon--but in that case, save the veg and add them in the morning. You shouldn't lift the lid on a crock-pot too much but once in such a long cooking time is fine.

This will start to smell amazing after only a couple of hours, even when the meat still looks sort of pale and icky. It will brown up nicely, though, and the fat will basically liquify and add a pleasing unctuousness to the cooking liquid.

If I'm making gravy with the gravy powder (I'm hopeless at real gravy) I add some of the pot liquor to it.

The leftovers of this are amazing, too. Sometimes I wrap them in fried flour tortillas with some cheese to make a sort of taco.

And there you go--I hope you give it a try!

Anonymous said...

Tomato paste will add more body than using fresh. Tomatoes are a good source of natural flavor enhancers. After frying the spices, add both the paste (you can use canned crushed tomatoes too) and the onions, and saute some more.

Instead of the spices you were using, you could use a bouquet garni. They are available in little packages that you just drop into the stew, or you could make your own.

Harry Connolly said...

Jenny, I mix sweet and savory, too, but I don't see paprika as being that versatile. I think it clashes with some of the other choices there, like ginger.

But my wife's family comes from Slovakia, so we end up eating paprika in a lot of traditional Eastern European cooking. Maybe I need to expand my perspective.

emeraldcite said...

I will say, being of Italian descent, that Oregano will fix anything


I'll back up december's idea, although be careful with that nutmeg, I've ruined a meal or two with too much...

Virginia Miss said...

Here's my Moroccan recipe. Sorry I don't do quantities, I always just throw stuff in and it seems to work

Stew beef or lamb, cubed
Onions, diced
Carrots, sliced
Garlic, crushed
Green pepper, diced
chickpeas, canned
tomatoes, diced (or canned)or tomato paste to make it thicker
Beef stock
cinnamon (1/2 teaspoon per pound of meat)
salt, pepper
Optional, to taste: raisins, olives, lemon juice, chopped almonds

Brown the meat and caramelize the onions and spices in olive oil before putting them in the crockpot or Dutch Oven.

Serve with couscous.

spy scribbler said...

Lots, and lots of onion and garlic ... that fixes everything! Using vegetable stock or chicken stock will help a lot!

Some of these recipes sound great. I'm hungry!

WriterForHire said...

For my vegetable stew, I use cabbage, carrots, potatoes or parsnips, corn, and a can of tomatoes--and chicken stock. Squeeze some lemon juice in at the end and make sure to add salt (I love kosher salt) and pepper and you're good to go. Yes, sauteeing the veggies LIGHTLY first adds a lot of added flavor. But for a REALLY yummy Stew, I'd do this:

Season stewing beef with salt, pepper, garlic powder and allspice. Cook stewing beef (the good thing is you can buy a little package or only use half of it and freeze the rest of the package for later since your crock pot is little)over HIGH heat on the stove top in a little bit of olive oil to brown it.

Place the stewing beef in your crockpot with a can of beef stock and a can of diced tomatoes. You can add additional salt, pepper, and allspice if you'd like. For the last hour or two, add a package of frozen pearl onions. Serve this stew over white rice--it's really really yummy.

If you get around to buying a bigger crock pot, try making a simple roast (any kind you like) by seasoning it with allspice, garlic powder, salt, and pepper and browning it in a deep pan with olive oil. Then put it in the crock pot with cut up onions, potatoes and carrots, a packet of Lipton Onion Soup Mix, a can of cream of mushroom soup, a dollop of butter, and some milk or water. Let it cook all day--YUM.