Monday, February 12, 2024

Comforting Beef Stew, Elevated: Simple Accoutrements that POP!

Soups, stews, cassoulets and burgoos (Kentucky by way of African American origins) are in perfect harmony with the blistering, biting and blustery weather we're having this winter and is  most welcoming, might I add.    The warming liquids, both thick and thin, speak to our souls, coating our inner bodies and remedies that which ails us, be it physical, emotional or spiritual, all having importance and its place in what makes us who we are.  Comfort foods do just that, comfort, with its ability to transcend time, barriers and space, almost magical, make things better or at least momentarily better.  Sometimes, that's all we need. 
There are as many recipes for Beef Stew as the day is long, so I won't bore you with yet another one.  Besides, the one or ones you probably already have, may meet your needs just fine, but I will share some of the ingredients I use that could potentially elevate the flavor profile, maybe even make Grandma's version a little more....I wouldn't dare try to compete with your mother, Grandmother or even Dad's recipe for bringing you the comfort you need and deserve at times.  

One ingredient for adding levels is fish sauce.  It's essentially like a nice, slow simmered broth, except fermented and made with fish, namely anchovies.   The funk of this condiment is unmistakable, but believe me when I say, It is so damn good.  Fish Sauce adds loads of Umami goodness to just about any dish you can think of sans desserts.  A little goes a long way, so use sparingly and limit other forms of sodium to keep the dish in perspective. 
Another ingredient perfect for enhancing stews, chili beans and soups is pureed pumpkin.  Pumpkin provides a wealth of essential vitamins ,minerals and micronutrients like vitamins A, C,K, E, Potassium, Iron, Copper, Magnesium, B vitamins, Fiber, Proteins and beta carotene, plus much more.  Pumpkin is rich in anthocyanins or antioxidants, which help fight free radicals in the body that can cause certain cancers.  Pureed Butternut Squash works really well too.  Baked Macaroni and Cheese matches its color perfectly.  Both are great thickeners, with a mild flavor and can easily be blended with the other ingredients.  
Gochujang and Miso are also wonderful ways to add depth to your simmering goodnesses.  Gochujang is a fermented hot pepper paste that I simply adore for more reasons than one, but definitely for its brilliant hue of red and its sweethot profile.  
Miso can be commonly Red or White by name, but there are infinitesimal varieties, depending on ratios of ingredients, length of fermentation, types of ingredients, temperatures, etc...which is quite phenomenal.   Miso  is made from fermented soybean paste, but also rice and commonly barley.  I love to use Miso in cooking, especially in soups, stews, chilis and casseroles. 
Other ways to elevate dishes like soups and stews is with both fresh and dried ingredients.  Some dry add ons can be French fried onions, croutons and bread crumbs.  For the above featured Beef Stew, I used a combination of both, fresh and dry.  Chopped Roma tomatoes, diced white onion and cilantro work brilliantly with a comforting dish like this, brightening and lightening it up in the process. 
The fresh vegetables and herb complement the protein and vegetables beautifully.   
One is not limited to the toppings I used of course.  In fact, the tomatoes, onions and cilantro are quite common accoutrements or accompaniments for Latin American cuisine.  The beef stew resonates with tones of delicious slow cooked Birria, of which those toppings are used as a finishing touch, fresh and bright with flavor.  Mango, tri colored peppers and red onion are also a combination I feel would do your stew a service, both delectable and nutritious!  
I also added some Shatta Hot Pepper Sauce for garnish,  for more personalized heat.  Shatta Hot Pepper Sauce by Wildfire Provisions of the Mediterranean Soil and Sun is a condiment made from the ancestral Kashmiri pepper, heirloom in nature, planted by farmers, dating all the way back to the Ottoman Empire!!! (700 years ago).