IN A STEW by Dotti Hydue
Welcome to the Levy County Kitchen. My stew pot has been put to good use the last few weeks. Its long-simmering contents has filled the house with fragrant aromas and my belly with warming soups and stews. Actually I have several pots that allow for the slow cooking of savory ingredients: a large copper-bottom saucepan and a Crockpot. Sometimes they are both bubbling away, one with a vegetarian dish for me and the other with something meaty for my carnivorous husband.
One complaint I often hear about finished soups and stews is that some ingredients end up being overcooked. The individual vegetables lose their texture and smoosh together into mush. The best way to remedy the mush factor is to make the recipe in stages, starting with the toughest ingredients first. That usually means letting the meat stew in a liquid first, and then gradually adding the vegetables in order of how fast they cook. Sometimes mush is the point, as in Brunswick Stew. The vegetables, especially the potatoes, act as a thickening agent in this long-cooking Southern dish.
After Christmas, my neighbor brought over a large bowl of lamb stew, made from leftover leg of lamb she had dined on with her family. Hungarian Goulash is a type of stew, redolent with paprika. You can also stew up oysters, although the first time I had this dish I was sorely disappointed. It was nothing more than oysters, milk, and a little seasoning. Upon reflection I realized how the delicate flavor of the fresh oysters tickled my palate, unobstructed by chunks of vegetables or heavy spices. If you find yourself with containers of leftovers clogging the fridge, put them in a pot, add some stock or tomato juice, and heat them up. How much liquid you use determines whether you end up eating soup or stew.
One of my favorite stews contains neither vegetables nor meat. I love stewed fruit. Last year I cooked up the dried fruits I had leftover from making my annual fruitcakes. This year I made sure to buy more fruit than I needed so I would have plenty to enjoy. You can purchase bags of mixed dried fruit at most supermarkets or individual fruits at stores that sell them from bulk bins. My favorites include regular and golden raisins, pineapple, cherries, apricots, prunes, pears, candied ginger, and cranberries. Because the fruits are dried, their natural sugars are condensed yielding a sweet mixture perfect for stirring into oatmeal and yogurt, and as a topping for ice cream and plain cake. Use two to four cups of fruit, chopping the larger pieces up a little. Place them in a heavy-bottom saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer gently, with the lid slightly ajar, until fruits have softened and the water has reduced to a syrupy consistency. Add a little vanilla, lemon or orange zest, or cinnamon for an extra level of flavor. Be sure and keep the heat very low and stir regularly to prevent scorching. You might need to add a little water occasionally to keep the mixture moist. Serve warm, chilled, or at room temperature.
Root vegetables are plentiful at the market and now is the time to take advantage of their earthy goodness roasted or in stews and soups. I especially love beets, and came across packaged beet hummus at one of the markets I frequent. I make my own hummus on a regular basis, eschewing store-bought versions because they contain so much garlic. Yes, garlic, like all its relatives, is very good for you. I used to eat a clove of raw garlic every day when backpacking to repel biting insects and wayward strangers. Nowadays garlic leaves me groaning with heartburn; that’s one reason I make my own version of hummus.
Online research yielded numerous recipes for beet hummus. I share two of them with you here. If you usually have tahini (sesame seed paste) in your pantry, then the first recipe is for you. Otherwise make the second recipe, which uses walnuts instead of tahini. I leave the amount of garlic up to your discretion. Whichever recipe you make, note that the hummus keeps in the refrigerator only for three days. How much time do you need to eat this tasty snack?
To cook the beets, cut off the tops, scrub the roots clean, put them in a covered dish with about a quarter-inch of water in a 375 degree oven, and bake until easily penetrated with a knife or fork. Alternatively, cover with water in a saucepan and simmer until tender, about a half hour or more depending on their size. Peel once they have cooled. You can also use canned or jarred beets (not the pickled variety!) instead of fresh ones.
Beet Hummus with Tahini (from simplyrecipes.com)
You can add a cup of cooked garbanzo beans but will need to increase the oil by a tablespoon or two.
1/2 pound beets (about 4 medium), scrubbed clean, cooked, peeled, and cubed
2 tablespoons tahini
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon lemon zest (from approximately 2 lemons)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings and ingredients as desired. Scrape the sides of the food processor bowl or blender container to make sure all ingredients are incorporated, especially the spices. Chill and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container or freeze for longer storage.
Beet Hummus with Walnuts
1 small red beet
1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
4 garlic cloves, halved
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Leave root and 1 inch of stem on beet; scrub with a brush. Wrap beet in foil and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake 35 minutes. Add walnuts and garlic to pan. Bake 5 to 8 minutes or until nuts are toasted. Watch carefully so nuts don’t burn. Remove pan from oven and let cool 10 minutes. Trim stem off the beet and rub off the skin. Cut beet into quarters. Place garlic in a food processor; process until finely chopped. Add beet and process until very finely chopped. Add walnuts, lemon rind, and remaining ingredients. Process until smooth, adding more oil if necessary to desired consistency.
My winter garden is looking pretty sparse these days. Many of the cool season vegetables performed poorly because of the heat that lasted until Christmas. Aphids and grasshoppers were so prevalent despite my eradication efforts that I ended up harvesting many crops early. That was not the case with three of the cauliflowers, however. They just could not tolerate the warm temperatures resulting in stunted “babies.” Two other plants gave me heads about the size of my fist.
This is a good time to do any necessary garden cleanup. Turn empty beds in preparation for the next series of crops. Collect fallen leaves to add to your compost pile. Check your seed stash and note what you have on hand and what you need to resupply. Consider planting something new, maybe a different variety of lettuce or herb or carrot. It might become your new favorite.
Check your local chambers of commerce, churches, and newspapers for the festivals and activities that make our Nature Coast such a wonderful place to live. Get out and enjoy our natural beauty and don’t forget to shop locally. Until next time, the kitchen is closed.
February Days of Note:
2: Groundhog Day
7: Super Bowl Sunday
8: Chinese New Year
9: Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday)
12: President Lincoln’s Birthday
14: St. Valentine’s Day and National Organ Donor Day
15: President’s Day
22: President Washington’s Birthday
29: Leap Day