Stew on this: Meatless medleys |

Stew on this: Meatless medleys

Marialisa Calta
United Features Syndicate

As the seasons change, you’ve got to love the idea of a stew, simmering away and filling the kitchen with an indescribably comforting smell.

People have been making stews since way before there even were kitchens. Primitive people, archaeologists say, used large mollusk and tortoise shells as vessels in which to boil various foods and liquids together. Once pottery vessels were developed (the earliest found, in southern China, is 18,000 years old), this method of cooking really took off. The earliest surviving cookbook, an ancient Roman volume called “Apicius de re coquinaria” (“Apicius on the subject of cooking”), includes recipes for lamb and fish stews. From then on, stews were part of the culinary canon.

When we think of “stew,” we typically think of a meat-and-potatoes concoction like beef stew or Irish (lamb) stew. For many home cooks, it’s an ideal dish for several reasons: Stew can be cooked in just one pot or a slow cooker; it can be a clever way to disguise leftovers and use up almost-gone-by ingredients; it can offer an opportunity for creative use of herbs and seasonings; and it needs no further accompaniment than, say, a loaf of bread. Stew covers all the bases — meat, starch, veg.

Few of us think that stew can be just the veg, but a meatless stew can be every bit as comforting, filling and delicious as one with meat. Root vegetables and beans are ideal for stews because they take a relatively long time to cook.

Here are two vegetable stews for the change of season. Enjoy the first, a Moroccan-flavored Winter Vegetable Stew from a new book called “Simple Comforts” from Sur la Table (Andrews McMeel, 2010), with crusty bread and a glass of wine. The Mexican Vegetable Stew, adapted from Jeanne Lemlin’s 1992 cookbook, “Quick Vegetarian Pleasures” (HarperPerennial), can be served with cornbread or warm tortillas and Mexican beer.


Yield: 6 to 8 servings

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 3⁄4-inch pieces

2 stalks celery, cut into 3⁄4-inch pieces

2 tablespoons golden or dark raisins

2 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly smashed

1 leek, trimmed and cut into 3⁄4-inch pieces

8 ounces winter squash (such as butternut or acorn), peeled, seeded and cut into 3⁄4-inch cubes

8 ounces Yukon gold or other potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 3⁄4-inch cubes

8 ounces rutabaga, peeled and cut into 3⁄4-inch cubes

8 ounces turnip, peeled and cut into 3⁄4-inch cube

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juices

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika

1 teaspoon coarse salt

1 cinnamon stick

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

2 tablespoons minced preserved lemon, for garnish (optional)

Combine the carrots, celery, raisins, garlic, leek, squash, potatoes, rutabaga, turnip and olive oil in a large Dutch oven or other ovenproof pot. Add the tomatoes, cumin, paprika and salt, and stir until blended. Tuck in the cinnamon stick and bay leaf.

Cover and place in a cold oven. Turn the oven to 450 F. Bake without disturbing for 1-3⁄4 hours. Remove from the oven, and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and preserved lemon, if using. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Recipe from “Simple Comforts” from Sur la Table (Andrews McMeel, 2010)


Yield: 4 servings

1⁄4 cup olive oil

4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2 large onions, peeled and diced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes, roughly chopped, with juice

6 to 8 cups vegetable broth

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

3 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise into sixths, and then into 1-inch chunks

3 cups freshly cooked or canned kidney beans, drained

3 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels

grated cheddar cheese for serving (optional)

corn chips for serving (optional)

In a 6- to 8-quart pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the garlic, onions and cumin for 10 minutes, stirring often.

Add the tomatoes (with juice), 6 cups of the broth, salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Add the carrots and cook 15 minutes, then add the zucchini and cook five to 10 minutes, or until the zucchini is tender but not mushy. Add the beans and corn, and cook two minutes, or until heated through.

Remove 2 cups of stew, puree in a blender or food processor, and return to the pot to thicken the stew. Taste to adjust the seasoning. Add some or all of the remaining broth, if desired, and heat through. Sprinkle the grated cheese and corn chips over each serving just before serving, if desired.

Recipe adapted from “Quick Vegetarian Pleasures” by Jeanne Lemlin (HarperPerennial, 1992)

• Marialisa Calta is the author of “Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the American Family” (Perigee, 2005). For more information, go to