Today’s cookbook recommendation is just in time for those slow-cooking days of winter, when a bubbling stew can warm the house and the body. When Harvard Common Press offered me a copy of Clifford A. Wright’s book The Best Stews in the World* I debated about whether it would be worth my time. Stews are the busy-mom’s second-best-friend (right after casseroles). They take very little prep work, they cook slowly, and are easy to serve. But my stews always emerged a little lifeless and bland.
If that’s been your stew experience, then you’ll be so glad to add this cookbook to your shelf. Clifford Wright has assembled a compendium of comfort food from around the world transporting you from your kitchen to Cape Cod, Sweden, India, or Morocco. The recipes are Weston A. Price Foundation from the time before Mr. Price was even born. They are Slow Food from the time before fast food, Local Food from before anyone knew there was anything but local food. By this, I mean that they are refreshingly approachable and unpretentious. And they are delicious.
This is a hefty tome of 300 recipes. Clifford Wright explores practically every ethnic and cultural stew from practically every continent on the globe (is there a stew originating from Antarctica? Apparently last century’s explorers lived on stews of penguin, seal, and pemmican, but I suppose they are probably not worth recreating). You’ll find some recipes that are familiar, like Gumbo and Chile con Carne, and some that are perhaps not as familiar, like Octopus Stew from Djerba (an island off the coast of Tunisia in Africa. See how educational cooking can be?). There are also some recipes that are completely original, like the last recipe in the book, Cliff’s No-Name Stew, which he describes as “the last stew I tested for this book, and the way it came about was by emptying my freezer and refrigerator, going to the farmer’s market, dumping everything into a large stockpot, and cooking it nearly forever.” The ingredient list is 5 times as long as the instructions, and if you make it I hope you’ll invite me over for dinner.
Recipes are divided according to the type of meat they use, and there is also a chapter of vegetable stews (though it should be noted that not all of these are vegetarian as some contain meat as flavoring). In addition to the recipes, Mr. Wright sprinkles tidbits of cultural and historical information through the chapters, giving depth and insight into the traditions and ingredients behind certain dishes. Also included is helpful information that answers such burning questions as how to prepare an artichoke or how to shuck an oyster. And there are even some secondary recipes for intriguing things like Spanish pork sausage and Assiniboin Bear Stew.
Our family first tried out the recipe for Jagasee, which was adapted from an old cookbook called From Cape Cod Kitchens and is something of a New England beans and rice dish. I picked it because I had every ingredient in my cupboard, and it was inexpensive (what can I say, it was the end of the month!) The recipe says it will make 6 servings, but honestly I thought it was more like 4. I ought to have doubled it to feed our family. But the family seemed to enjoy it and so we tried out another recipe.
Next up was the Chicken and Sweet Potato Curry, which was a real winner even in leftover form. I adapted the seasoning ever-so-slightly so that it would fit into my diet restrictions and we all ate together from the same pot. The chicken was lusciously browned, the sweet potatoes perfectly tender, and the seasoning just right.
I’m looking forward to turning to this book again and again as the days grow shorter and the temperatures grow colder. When the snow is blowing outside there is nothing so cozy as a pot of stew bubbling on the stove, the smells of slow-cooked comfort warming the spirit.
* Review posts are my opinions on items that were sent to me free of charge. The items were given to me, but the thoughts and opinions are my own. I do not provide reviews of every item sent to me and only review items that I find to be truly worthy of recommendation.
Chicken is a popular meat in India, probably second only to lamb. It is considered a festive delicacy, and this recipe of stewed chicken curry is quite a delight. It is spicy, but that does not mean it is spicy hot. In fact, the preparation has a vague sweetness that comes from the very small amount of brown sugar used. Serve the dish very hot with some plain rice pilaf.
Source: The Best Stews in the World by Clifford A. Wright
Course: Main (Chicken)
- 2 medium onions cut into several large pieces
- 2 large garlic cloves peeled
- 1 1-inch cube fresh ginger peeled
- 2 tsp cumin seeds freshly ground
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp paprika
- 3 Tbs white wine vinegar
- 1⁄4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 3-pound chicken cut into serving pieces
- 4 cloves
- 1 2-inch cinnamon stick
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 1 1⁄2 tsp salt
- 1 1⁄2 cups water
- 3 sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds) peeled and quartered
- 1. Put the onions, garlic, ginger, cumin, turmeric, paprika, and vinegar in a food processor and process into a smooth paste.
- 2. In a large casserole, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken pieces on all sides, about 6 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- 3. Add the onion paste to the casserole and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring. Add the cloves and cinnamon and cook for another minute.
- 4. Return the chicken to the casserole along with the brown sugar, salt, and water. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and continue to simmer over low heat, covered, until the sweet potatoes are tender and the chicken falls off the bone with a little tug from a fork, about 1 hour.
- 5. If there is a lot of liquid left in the casserole, remove the chicken and sweet potatoes and reduce over high heat for a few minutes. Return the chicken and sweet potatoes to the casserole, and heat for 1 or 2 minutes before serving.
- Recipe © 2002 by Clifford A. Wright and used by permission of The Harvard Common Press