This isn't your grandma's bland and mushy stew.

By Laura Rege
December 21, 2019
Greg Dupree

Bold. Vegetable forward. Exciting. This is what today’s stews look and taste like, thanks to creative combinations of spices, condiments, and sauces and lots of fresh ingredients.

“As the diversity of our pantries keeps growing, Americans are tapping into a multitude of flavors for stews,” says John Becker, a coauthor, with Megan Scott, of the new edition of Joy of Cooking. The techniques for making the dish have also changed to incorporate a variety of textures (including crunch!) and layers of different tastes for richness and complexity.

To transform a bowl of bland vegetable purée into a heart-warming meal that makes your tastebuds sing, steal these tips (and a recipe for a rich and soothing sweet potato stew) from Becker and Scott. (Not sure where to start? Try whipping up a batch of these cozy stews.)

Greg Dupree

How to Build a Stew with Bold Flavor

1. Lay the foundation.

Start your stew with a sofrito, a combination of aromatics (like onion and garlic) and vegetables (like carrots, peppers, and fennel) sautéed in oil or butter. To this base, add herbs like rosemary or thyme. “Cook the sofrito on medium-low heat for at least 10 minutes to get a slow brown on it,” says Becker.

2. Toast the ingredients.

Add tomato or curry paste to the pan, and give it a brief fry, says Scott. “This is crucial for making its flavors deeper,” she says. Just mix the paste into the browned sofrito, and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture darkens and starts to stick to the bottom. Then scrape up the toasted bits when you add liquid. (Related: 5 Recipe Hacks That Will Change the Way You Make Soup)

3. Bring it together with broth.

Stock gives your stew a backbone of flavor. To intensify it, add a dash of instant coffee to the broth for charred, caramel notes and a touch of acidity. Or toss in some dried mushrooms (ground in a coffee grinder) for an infusion of umami, says Scott.

4. Whip up a purée.

Just before serving, blend a ladleful of the vegetables in your stew with some of the liquid. Then stir the puree into the cooking pot to give your broth a luxurious, rich texture.

5. Add a surprise for your tastebuds.

Instead of infusing the flavor of every ingredient into the dish, create pockets of spiciness or depth with a dollop of a condiment like harissa at the end, Becker says. “Or drizzle in an herb sauce, like chimichurri or salsa verde, for acidity and brightness,” says Scott.

6. Go crazy with garnishes.

“Garnishes can completely change a bowl of stew, adding great flavors and different textures,” says Becker. Experiment with a variety of toppings, like crispy fried shallots, crunchy toasted nuts, fried sage or rosemary, sliced radish, and fresh herbs.

7. Don't forget a side of carbs.

A thick stew is delicious spooned on top of a tortilla or flatbread. You can also eat it over a grain, like rice, farro, or pasta. For a stew that’s a little thinner, soak up the broth with a baguette, toasted sourdough, crunchy croutons, or tortilla chips.

Greg Dupree

Sweet Potato Stew with Peanuts

Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 jalapeño or serrano, seeded and chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 piece ginger (1 inch), peeled and minced
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2 medium), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 small zucchini (1-inch diameter), sliced
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter, chunky or smooth
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • Kosher salt
  • Steamed jasmine or basmati rice
  • Peanuts
  • Chopped cilantro, chopped scallions, and lime wedges

Directions

  1. Heat a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil, onion, bell pepper, and jalapeño and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender but not browned, 7 to 10 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic, ginger, chili powder, cumin, and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring, 1 minute more.
  3. Add the sweet potatoes and water just to cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sweet potatoes are just tender, about 30 minutes.
  4. Add the zucchini and cook, 15 minutes more.
  5. Ladle 1 cup stewing liquid into a small bowl; whisk in the peanut butter and tomato paste. Stir the mixture into the stew; simmer 15 minutes more. Season with salt. Spoon stew over rice, sprinkle with peanuts, top with cilantro and scallions, and squeeze lime wedges over it.
Shape Magazine, December 2019 issue
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