November 1, 2004
Thick, hearty stews provide comforting, nourishing meals in many cultures. Easy preparation and low cost make them popular. People often cook stews slowly in a covered pot, and use ingredients ranging from seafood to meat to whatever's leftover. Additional ingredients include vegetables, beans, tubers, spices and chiles. They marry well with rice, breads, couscous, salads, mashed cornmeal or cassava, and are often topped with sauces, eggs or condiments.
The French make a variety of well-known stews, including beef bourguignon, simmered with browned beef, bacon, onions, red wine and mushrooms; bouillabaisse, a flavorful seafood stew prepared with olive oil, saffron, fennel, parsley and garlic; ratatouille, a Provençal specialty made of eggplant, tomatoes and bell peppers with bouquet garni; and potee, a rustic meal cooked with pork, haricot beans, smoked ham, bacon and potatoes.
Spanish people enjoy stews as a way of life, with numerous regional variations of potages, cazuelas, pucheros or cocidos. Cocida madrilène is cooked in an earthenware oven, called an olla, and consists of chickpeas, potatoes, cabbage, turnips, beef, bacon and chorizo. Potaje a la Catalana contains chickpeas, tomatoes and butifarra, and is topped with hard-boiled eggs. Andalusian cocido has a wide selection of vegetables seasoned with sofrito and saffron, and cocido de pelotas features minced meat wrapped in cabbage leaves.
Thanks to Spanish and American Indian influences, many varieties have evolved in Latin American regions. Mexican stews include pozole, which uses pork and hominy with chile guajillo; birria, a mix of goat meat and chiles in tomato broth; and caldillo, which blends beef with tomatoes and serrano chiles. Other varieties include Argentinean cocro de choclo (green corn), Colombian ajiaco Bogotano (creamed potato chicken), Ecuadorean sancocho (beef and vegetables), Chilean locros de papas (potatoes, fish and cheese), Peruvian chupa de camarones (shrimp chowder) and Guatemalan carne guisado (spicy pork).
In the Caribbean, people stew pieces of meat, fish and crayfish with okra, coconut milk, beans, salt pork, taro leaves, tubers, calabaza, habaneros, ackee, chayote or rice to create callaloo, oxtail stew, conch chowder, bisques, gumbos, gazpachos and pepper-pot stews. For pepper-pot, islanders add pig's tail and bits of beef to vegetables and cassareep juice (from cassava), and season it to their particular taste.
Koreans cook hot-and-spicy chigaes in clay pots and serve them with rice. Kimchi chigae is loaded with kimchi, small pieces of pork, tofu and various vegetables; dwen-jang chigae is soybean-paste based, with vegetables and clams; and soon-dubu chigae has vegetables, clams, tofu and an egg.
Tagines, the fabled stews of North Africa, are simmered slowly in covered earthenware dishes and seasoned with smen (clarified butter), broth or olive oil. Beef tagine combines tomatoes, merguez (lamb sausage) and red bell peppers, and is seasoned with ras el hanout, an exotic Moroccan spice blend. Chicken tagine features lemons, ginger and saffron. Fish tagines use tomato sauce and cumin, while lamb tagine uses prunes, cinnamon and rose water.
Susheela Raghavan is president of Horizons Consulting Inc., a New Rochelle, NY-based food-consulting firm, which develops ethnic and "new" American products for the U.S and global markets. Raghavan can be reached via e-mail at [email protected], or by visiting www.SusheelaConsulting.com.
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