Ask anyone who knows me well and they’ll tell you my favorite season is Autumn. Slightly crisp days turn into cool evenings and come dinnertime, all I want is a nice, rich bowl of stew. Not just any stew. I want a go-down-and warm-my-belly kind of stew. Rich with texture, full of seasonal vegetables, with a slightly spicy punch, you’ll be going back for seconds.
The inspiration for this stew came one day when I really wanted pot roast but wanted more flavor. Plus, I had a butternut squash from my CSA box that needed to be eaten. And some apple cider that would go past it’s prime if it didn’t get consumed quickly. That apple cider and lemon juice sounds strange in a stew but, trust me, it adds a depth of flavor like you wouldn’t believe, with sweet and tangy undertones that awaken your taste buds with the first bite. Plus, it acts like alcohol to deglaze the pan and gather up all the delicious bits and pieces.
A lot of people are intimidated by stews because they take a long time to make. But, I’m telling you the payoff is worth it. And if I can do it with four kids trying to figure out creative new ways of trying to seriously hurt themselves while I cook, then I’m confident you can do it too. Did I tell you, I started this stew after lunch, cooked it for an hour and had to turn it off so I could pick up my kid from school, came back and re-ignited the stove so it could continue cooking until dinnertime? When I say you can do it, I mean you can do it.
The thing about stews is you’re not submerging the meat and vegetables into liquid and boiling them. You’re braising so that the vegetables soften and the meat becomes fall-apart-tender. That means you simmer in just enough liquid so a part of the meat and vegetables are covered, over low heat, and add small(ish) amounts of liquid as it evaporates. And the end result is thick, rich, velvety, bursts of flavor in your mouth.
A common mistake people make with stew (or anything that has low heat and long cooking times) is they add the softer vegetables at the very beginning. By softer texture, I mean vegetables that tend to dissolve if cooked too long. Like the poor potato and it’s distant cousin the squash. They just don’t stand a chance hanging out in the hot tub all day long- they wither away into nothingness. After some trial and error, I realized that the mistakes I was making were: (a) cutting the vegetables too small and (b) adding them to the dish too early. So now, I either quarter the potatoes or halve them if they’re on the smaller side. With the butternut squash, they tend hold up a little bit longer than the potatoes. So make sure to add the potatoes and squash 20 minutes before you take the pot off the heat. You should be able to pierce it with a fork but they shouldn’t fall apart when you do.
And after working so hard to make that stew, you will be rewarded. Throw some nice, thick, crusty rolls in a hot oven for 5 minutes at 400° and use to transport the stew from your bowl to your mouth.
- 2 lbs beef stew meat, trimmed and cut in 2 in cubes and patted dry
- 1 lb potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 3 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
- 4 medium carrots, cut into 2 inch slices
- 2 parsnips, cut into 2 inch pieces
- 2 onions, peeled and chopped into 2 inch chunks
- ½ cup apple cider
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tbsp high temperature oil (vegetable, olive, or coconut)
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tsp garam masala
- 6 cups water
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 3 tsp salt
- 1 tsp paprika
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp cayanne pepper or chili powder (optional)
- 3 bayleaves
- cilantro for garnish
- In a medium bowl, add pepper and 1 tsp salt to the stew meat and set aside. In a heavy bottomed pan, heat the oil on medium to medium high heat. Add the meat in a single layer. Cook 3-4 minutes and turn over to cook the other side. Remove meat from pot and set aside.
- Add onions and carrots to the pot and add the remaining 2 tsp salt. Sauté for 2 minutes, until the onions begin to soften. Add parsnips and cook for 1 minute. Add garlic, ginger and continue cooking for 30 seconds, until the garlic and ginger become fragrant. Add the garam masala, paprika, cumin, chili powder (if adding) and coat the vegetables. Add the bayleaves and stir. Add the tomato paste.
- On high heat, add the apple cider and lemon juice to deglaze, scraping browned bits of meat and vegetables. Let reduce until most of the liquid evaporates. Add the browned stew meat. Add water and stir well. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat. Simmer covered stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add more water, as necessary, one cup at a time.
- simmer for 2 hours or until beef is tender until you are able to cut through it with a fork easily. Add potatoes and butternut squash. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork.
- Garish with cilantro and serve with hot, crusty bread.