Over on SpaceHook, I've gotten in the habit of posting my dinner menus every night that I cook. It's something of a mental health activity after a busy day. It's fun to share the things I make, and to see the responses. Some folks list their own menus, some want to come over for dinner, some tease that I can't really be making those things. And when I don't post the menus for a few days, I get inquiries: are you ill? are you traveling? have you forgotten to tell us what you're cooking?
The challenge of this, in the midst of a life where evening events are occurring with greater frequency, is what to do when I can't cook something fresh that evening.
That's where stews come in.
They're reasonably inexpensive, easy to stretch with some more veggies, something that exists in a variety of ethnic cuisines, they generally freeze well...
So last night, as I finished up prep for dinner, a salade Nicoise serving as a touch of Mediterranean summer in the middle of January, there was a stew slowly cooking in the oven. Stews can be the promise for another day.
What was simmering away was an Indian beef stew, one that I've made for years. A pound and a half of stew meat would make at least four, maybe five servings, with a rice pilaf and something vegetable (perhaps ginger/turmeric/cumin seed cabbage cooked in ghee, perhaps saag paneer with spinach and Indian cheese). A stew with complex flavors.
It's a variant on a Julie Sahni recipe that has morphed based upon my impatience and the availability of ingredients. My children have eaten it since they were toddlers, so you know it's not overly spicy. You could put some cooked cauliflower in it when reheating it if you wanted, to stretch it a bit.
Ah, reheating - that's the ticket. When I first read the recipe, I was overjoyed to see the endnote that said it was even better reheated. So I've gotten in the habit of cooking it in a large batch and then freezing half of it for later use.
On the nights when I'm out at a meeting or away at a conference, PH can enjoy the warmth of a home-cooked favorite. On the nights when I come home too tired to whip something up from scratch, I can just pull it out of the freezer. That's true comfort food: it pats you on the head and says "there, there, here's something good and warming and easy for you tonight. Enjoy!"
Indian Beef Stew (after Julie Sahni) - 4-5 servings, depending on how many side dishes you serve.
0. Preheat the oven to 325 deg F.
1. In a food processor or blender, whizz up 1 cup of canned, crushed tomatoes, 4 garlic cloves, 2 Tbsp of grated fresh ginger, and a half cup of Greek plain yogurt. Put to the side.
2. Chop up a large sweet onion (I prefer WallaWallas to Vidalias, but this will even work with regular yellow onions).
3. In a large Dutch oven - got to love the Le Creuset for this kind of cooking - saute 1 1/2 pounds of stew meat - chuck is good for this - in 2 Tbsp canola oil over medium high heat. Don't overcrowd the beef; you will need to do this in a couple of batches so the meat properly sautees. You want the meat to brown, not steam! As the meat is browned, take it out of the pan and put it into a bowl.
4. Once all the meat is browned, turn down the heat under the pan to low-medium and add the chopped onions. Sahni wants you to cook the onions verrrrry slowly, for 15 or 20 minutes. Yes, this is lovely, but I go a bit quicker, maybe 6-10 minutes, and the onions are soft and have picked up all the caramelized bits of brown fromt he bottom of the pan. Stir them every now and then while they are cooking.
5. Now add 8 green cardamom pods, 8 whole cloves, 2 tsp turmeric, a dash of cayenne (hot food fanatics can add more cayenne), and 1 1/2 tsp of Kosher salt. Stir it as the spices get warm and warm up, maybe for a minute, and then add that yogurt-tomato mix you made in step 1. The heat is still set for low-medium. Stir it around once or twice, then let it cook for a few minutes, until it starts to bubble a bit. Add 1 1/2 c hot water, stir it again, and put the meat back into the pot. Make sure the liquid covers the meat - add a little more if necessary - cover the pot with aluminum foil and then the pot lid so it is well and truly sealed.
6. Put the pot into the preheated oven for about two hours. Take it out, and let it cool for an hour before you transfer the stew to storage containers for the frig or the freezer. If you're going to serve it right away, taste for salt, add some toasted cumin seeds and chopped cilantro and you're good to go. If you've stored it away, you'll add the cumin and cilantro when you reheat it.
Julie is right. It is better reheated, and it's a whole lot better than a Swansons frozen whatever.
Tonight, by the way, we aren't eating in. We're taking advantage of DC Restaurant Week to try a rather pricey restaurant we wouldn't normally go to The stew will be waiting patiently for us, though. As I said, the promise of another day.