When the weather turns cold and food is scarce, some animals such as bears hibernate to survive. Although people do not have the same metabolic characteristics needed to hibernate, I often feel the inclination to cocoon during the cold months of the year. However charming this concept seems, the “not eating” aspect of hibernation has far less appeal. In contrast to the fasting bears, during these dark and cold days, I feel that nothing beats the comfort of a simmering pot of a hearty stew.
Fortunately, with the discovery of fire, clothes, shelter and agriculture, people have developed more effective ways than hibernation of surviving the cold. Although not specifically mentioned in the history books, I am quite sure that a stew would be considered another one of them! One of the many advantages of having a stew bubbling on the stove means that, with several days worth of tasty and hearty meals secured in the stew pot, it is possible to be a homebody indefinitely!
Origins of Stew
The combining and simmering of ingredients in a pot to create a nutritious and filling meal has been around since ancient times and likely began shortly after the discovery of fire. In Raey Tannahill’s book, Food in History, she states that our prehistoric ancestors learnt to boil water long before pottery was even invented using vessels such as the shells of turtles and large mollusks, or the stomachs of animals they had killed.
What defines a stew?
The stew is found in virtually all of the world’s cuisines and is basically considered any combination of two or more ingredients simmering in a liquid. The ingredients can include meat, poultry, fish, as well as any combination of vegetables and seasonings. The general signature of a stew is that food is typically cooked at relatively low temperatures, simmered rather than boiled, which allows the flavours of the various ingredients to mingle.
Recipe for One Pot Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew
In meatless stews, the orange sweet potato is a popular ingredient because of its ability to “carry spices”. This recipe, inspired by Making Thyme for Health, includes a sweet potato and is full of wonderful spices. With the addition of lentils, which are rich in iron, folate and are an excellent source of protein, it makes for a hearty and well-balanced meal. This recipe makes 6-8 servings and any leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or the freezer for up to 1 month.
- 1.5 cups roasted sweet potato
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 jalapeño pepper, cored and finely chopped (optional)
- 1 large red bell pepper, cored and finely chopped
- 3 tsp chili powder
- 1.5 tsp curry
- 1.5 tsp cumin
- 1.5 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1.5 cups dry red lentils, rinsed
- 1 (28) ounce can diced tomatoes
- 6 tbsp tomato paste
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 1 (14) can coconut milk (preferably full fat and less 1/4 cup for cashew coconut cream)
- 1.5 cups frozen peas, defrosted (optional)
- cilantro for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Peel and chop a sweet potato into small cubes and lightly coat in oil and bake for 25-30 minutes or until soft. Set aside.
- In a large pot, warm 1 tbsp oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then add the garlic, peppers, and seasonings (curry, cumin, turmeric, salt and cayenne pepper if using), and continue to cook for 5 more minutes.
- Add the rinsed lentils, diced tomatoes with their juices, tomato paste, and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes, just until lentils are tender. Turn heat to low, stir in peas (if using) and coconut milk then cook until heated through.
- Stir in sweet potato cubes.
- Serve with brown rice or other grain, cashew cream and cilantro.
Recipe for Cashew Coconut Lime Cream
A tasty addition to the stew is this cashew coconut lime cream. It is very easy to make and adds a depth of flavour to the stew. If you do not have all the ingredients, coconut yoghurt with some added lime zest will have a similar effect. As the cream will only keep for a few days, feel free to halve the recipe. (I halved the recipe but still used the full 1/4 cup of coconut milk and the consistency worked well.)
- 1 cup cashews (soak for 30 minutes in very hot water or soak overnight and then drain)
- juice of 2 limes (1/4 cup)
- 1/4 cup coconut milk
- 1/4 cup water
- salt to taste
- Blend all ingredients until smooth (I used a hand blender )
- Add water to thin as needed
- The original recipe used a cup of coconut milk and even after using the extra 1/4 cup for the cashew coconut lime cream, there was milk to spare from a 14 oz can. Unless I plan something specific, I find I often don’t end up using the extra milk so rather than waste it, I adapted the recipe to use the entire can of milk. A 14 oz can worked out to about 1.5 cups of coconut milk for the stew with 1/4 cup for the cashew cream.
- If you are not fond of peas, feel free to replace them with some leafy greens such as kale, spinach or swiss chard or omit entirely.
- If you are pressed for time, the sweet potato can be roasted the day before or simply add it during Step #3 (you may need to adjust liquid broth accordingly). If you choose the latter, you may sacrifice some flavour as the high, dry heat of the oven gives the sweet potato a golden, crisp exterior and deep, rich flavor.
Although meat is often a key ingredient in a stew and provides protein as well as seasons the dish, this stew is one of the many options for a meatless version which can provide equal protein, flavour and heartiness.
Stews are extremely versatile and there is an endless variety of possible combinations and, as there really is no right or wrong ingredient to add, they provide an opportunity to be as creative as you want or just simply to use up whatever is at hand.
Stews have and likely always will make a tasty and satisfying meal that can keep us warm and motivated when the sun goes down and reduce the temptation to follow the example of the bears and sleep through the winter!
Other Sweet Potato Recipes:
- Farro, Kale and Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Lemon Tahini Dressing
- Cinnamon and Paprika Roasted Sweet Potatoes (Sweet Potato and Yams – what is the difference?)
- Raw Sweet Potato Salad with Curry Almond Sauce