Stew… Ahh stew. For some reason when we talk of dinner, this kind of dish is mentioned in hushed tones, as if we will be judged for returning again and again to the culinary missionary position of every winter home kitchen. These regular, everyday dishes have saved the hungry bellies of many and are so damn delicious. Part soup, part stodge, and entirely comforting, I say we reclaim them with pride and enjoy what they bring when the winter chill is particularly stubborn and broody. We've added a few elements to four traditional casseroles.
Beef short rib stroganoff
This one is for the weekend, when slow cooking is the order of the day and you have the time and inclination to fill your house with the wondrous smell of dinner, long before it is needed. This dish really sings when you use a variety of mushrooms; they add to and hold their own against the richness of the beef beautifully.
1 tbsp ricebran oil
1.2kg beef short ribs (about 3-4 ribs)
1 brown onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
200g swiss brown mushrooms, roughly chopped
150g mixed mushrooms (such as shiitake, oyster, black fungi), roughly chopped
1 tbsp sweet smoked paprika
2 tbsp tomato paste
500ml quality chicken or beef stock
250g creme fraiche
4 large flat mushrooms, sliced and sauteed in a small knob of butter
fresh pasta (we used lasagne sheets cut into 5cm-wide ribbons)
flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
1. Preheat oven to 160C.
2. Place a flameproof braising dish over medium heat. Heat the oil, then add ribs and brown well all over (2 to 3 minutes). Remove from pan and add the onion, garlic, mushrooms and paprika. Cook until the onion becomes translucent and mushrooms have cooked.
3. Return ribs to the pot, cover with the tomato paste and stock. Cover and braise in the oven until meat falls from the bone (about four to four-and-a-half hours). Once cooked, gently remove the ribs from the liquid and set aside.
4. Check that the braising liquid has reduced – you want it to have reduced by about half. If not, place over medium heat until reduced. Stir through creme fraiche and season generously. Gently shred the meat and return to the sauce to warm through.
5. Cook the pasta according to packet instructions. Plate the pasta and scoop over some of the mushroom sauce. Top with meat, sauce and additional cooked mushrooms. Scatter with chopped parsley and serve.
Classic apricot chicken gets a tagine-y makeover. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Apricot chicken redux
This is not the sickly sweet apricot chicken that Gran used to make. The apricots are there, in every texture, but this version is spiced, piquant with hits of preserved lemon and served with a tabbouleh of sorts that does all kinds of wondrous things when stirred through at the very end.
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 heaped tbsp cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
1 heaped tbsp coriander seeds, toasted and crushed
1 tsp ground cloves
½ tbsp ground cardamom
2 cinnamon quills
pinch of saffron (about 10 threads)
1 bay leaf
1kg skinless chicken thighs, halved
1 cup apricot nectar
1 cup chicken stock
1 preserved lemon, thinly sliced
1 cup dried apricots
½ cup tinned apricots, strained
¼ cup chopped coriander leaves
¼ cup chopped mint leaves
1 red onion, thinly sliced
½ cup pistachio kernels, roughly chopped
streamed rice or couscous, to serve
1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. Put the oil in a large tagine or six-cup capacity ovenproof dish over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is translucent.
3. Add the spices, saffron and bayleaf and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the chicken pieces and cook for 2 minutes or until lightly browned. Add the remaining ingredients, cover and place in the oven for one hour.
4. Remove the lid, gently stir the ingredients and cook for another 10 to 20 minutes, either in the oven or on the stovetop, until the liquid has reduced by about half. Stir regularly as the sugar in the apricots and juice can burn.
5. Serve topped with fresh herbs, onion and pistachio, and with steamed rice or couscous.
Sausage stew covered with squeaky haloumi cheese. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Sausage and lentil stew with grilled haloumi
Because adding a layer of cheese has the power to improve everything.
1 tbsp olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 leek, white part only, sliced
1 red onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 thick beef sausages, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp ground chilli powder (or to taste)
3 tsp dried oregano (plus 1 tsp, to serve)
1 tbsp molasses
1 cup red wine
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 cups (500ml) chicken stock (you may need a little extra)
2 cups French-style green lentils
300g haloumi, sliced 1cm-thick
1. Place a large frypan over medium heat. Add the oil, carrot, leek, onion and garlic and cook for 10 minutes or until the onion and leek is soft and translucent. Add the beef sausage chunks and cook until lightly browned on the outside. Add the chilli powder, three teaspoons of the oregano, molasses, wine, tomatoes and stock and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the lentils and cook for one hour or until the lentils are just soft.
2. Preheat grill (or an oven with a grill-top function to 160C).
Arrange the haloumi slices on top of the lentil and sausage mixture. Scatter over the remaining one teaspoon of dried oregano and place in the oven or under the grill for 10 minutes or until the haloumi is brown and bubbling on top.
3. Remove and serve immediately.
Eggplant, yoghurt and chickpea fetteh with crispy pita. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Eggplant and chickpea fetteh
Calling this a stew is a stretch, but use the right yoghurt – one with plenty of creaminess and tang – and this fetteh is perfect comfort fodder for your belly.
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small eggplant, cut into 5cm cubes
1 red onion, peeled, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, sliced
2 large pita bread
1½ cups plain yoghurt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 x 400g tin chickpeas, rinsed thoroughly
juice and zest of ½ lemon
4 tbsp chopped fresh mint
1 heaped tbsp tahini
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ cup pistachio kernels, roughly chopped
¼ cup almonds, roughly chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 175C.
2. Add the oil, eggplant, onion and garlic to a roasting dish and toss to coat. Roast, shaking the dish occasionally to prevent the garlic catching, for about 30 minutes or until golden.
3. Toss the topping ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.
4. Combine the yoghurt and crushed garlic in a bowl then add to a saucepan with the chickpeas. Season with salt and pepper. Place over low heat and cook until chickpeas are warmed through (about one minute). Be careful to keep the heat on low so that the yoghurt mixture doesn't separate. Add the roasted eggplant mix and stir until just coated, then stir through the lemon juice, zest, mint and tahini.
5. Add your pita breads to the oven for 1 to 2 minutes or until just crisp. Break the pita into pieces and use it to line four bowls. Spoon the chickpea-eggplant mixture into the bowls and finish with a generous spoonful (about 2 tablespoons per serve) of the topping and serve.