Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Clean Out The Fridge" Stew

It's Sunday, which generally means that I am cooking up something that will last me through at least a few days in the coming week.

My boyfriend was working today, which meant I was out running errands. On my way home, I stopped at the PCC Co-Op market (a somewhat capitalized version of a "health foods co-op", for those not in Seattle. Click here to find a co-op near you!). One of my strange hobbies is wandering the aisles of different grocery stores. You really never know what you're going to find to inspire you, and considering that most people purchase the same few items week in and week out, I try to take my time in the store and see what gets itself into my basket.

I picked up some cheeses, and some cauliflower that looked very fresh in the produce rack. I wandered towards the back of the store, and came across the meat case. I had been hankering for some lamb recently, and came across some reasonably priced packs of lamb stew meat (I don't know what cut this is, but it works remarkably well for grilled lamb kabobs, too!)

As I put an 8 oz pack of lamb meat in my basket, I figured I should make a soup. A soup that cleaned out the fridge.

In addition to various other sundries, I picked up a quart of low-sodium chicken broth and a small pouch (2 lb? OK, I eat carrots every lunch at work, so it's small to me!) of pre-washed / cut / peeled organic carrots, and made my way home (after a, ahem, stop at a yarn shop...but we won't go into that here!).

I got home, unloaded everything, and began my work. I opened up my fridge and excavated everything that looked edible and was in the Plant kingdom. Kale, chard, onion, garlic, peppers, the last of the summer tomatoes (which were on the countertop, because you Never Refrigerate Tomatoes! [enzymes in the tomatoes start to break down in the fridge, and they lose their flavor and texture very quickly]), the newly purchased cauliflower and carrots - it all got chopped up and loaded on a plate. I heated up some olive oil and garlic in the bottom of my 3 qt stockpot and started browning the lamb meat. Once the meat was browned, I added a glass of red wine (thereabouts), then added all the vegetables, less the kale and chard, plus salt and pepper. I added chicken stock to cover, and let it simmer for a bit. Towards the end, I added the chopped kale and chard leaves and let them wilt down into the top of the soup.

I came back and tasted the broth. Missing something! But what? I added a litle more salt and pepper, and a good glorp of Tabasco. Something was still off. I opened my fridge and stared into it, willing divine inspiration from the cold breeze coming out of it. I don't know what made me do it, but a good dash of toasted sesame oil and some Panamanian mild hot sauce (tastes like taco sauce, is probably the closest thing I can align it to) finished off the stew nicely.

I will include the "general formula", then tell you what I used, for those who like following directions. :)


- olive oil
- Meat / tofu
- Vegetables: aromatics (garlic, onions, etc.), "fillers" (tomatoes, squash, carrots, celery, etc.), "toppers" (finishing touches: leafy greens, lemon zest, etc. - things that don't need cooking time)
- Cheese or dairy (optional)
- stock of some sort (homemade or not..)
- wine or beer
- hot sauce (optional)
- salt & pepper or mixed seasoning (e.g. Old Bay, Tony Chachere's, Nature's Seasons)

I recommend browning the meat or protein substitute first. Use some olive oil and some aromatics (garlic, onion, shallots, leeks, etc.) in the pot you'll be cooking the soup in, and stir the protein around till it's nice and brown all over.

Start seasoning your soup early on. It takes a surprising amount of salt to make everything taste "more like itself". I know there are studies on this, but I am not inclined to find them today. :) Add some pepper and a dash of hot sauce, if you like.

Add in the veggies that need a longer cooking time, and some wine or beer. About 4-8 oz should be plenty, depending on your pot size. Add enough stock to just cover the veggies and protein. Let it simmer for a while, till you start to smell it coming through the air... Add the "topper" leafy green veggies, and just let it sit a couple of minutes. Taste the broth, and season it till you like it.

Serve! You can grate some hard cheese over it, or crumble in some cheese or a dollop of sour cream, really you can let your mind go crazy. And the best part is that you cleaned out some veggies that were going to wilt in the next couple of days, anyway!! :)


What I Used:

- 8 oz lamb stew meat
- 4 oz Charles Shaw red wine (aka "Two Buck Chuck" )
- cauliflower, roughly chopped
- lots of garlic, crushed and chopped
- half a large onion, chopped into large pieces
- some small sweet peppers, chopped
- pre-peeled / cut carrots, chopped in half
- several tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped
- 1 bunch of kale, stems removed, leaves chopped into "get-in-your-mouth"-able sized pieces
- 1 bunch of chard, stems removed, leaves chopped into "get-in-your-mouth"-able sized pieces
- Tabasco garlic sauce
- Salt & Pepper
- toasted sesame oil
- Panamanian mild hot sauce

...I think some grated parmesan would be good, too...


Vegan / Vegetarian Options:

- Swap out the chicken stock for veggie stock.

- Use tofu or mushrooms instead of the meat.

- Don't use cheese if you don't eat dairy.

- Some kombu or other seaweed might be a nice addition to the stew, if you are so inclined. If you ate fish, you could add some shellfish in there like a cioppino-type dish.

These are my basic vegetarian / vegan swaps that I recommend. I feel it's nice to have a reminder that, should you choose not to eat animal products, there are available options out there! :)


No comments: