2 – Soups & Stews

Potjiekos has all of the things I like in a good stew: tender and rich meat, sauce that’s bursting with deep flavors, subtly-seasoned vegetables, and a good backstory. I’ve been watching a lot of Game of Thrones lately (well, once a week), and digging into the show’s theories and lore, so I’m most interested in the backstory part right now. Let’s dig in.

Cast-iron cooking was first popularized in Europe during the 1500s. During the Siege of Leiden, South Holland, in 1573-1574 (part of the Eighty Years’ War between the Netherlands and Spain), the local townspeople turned to communal hodgepodge cooking to survive – in small cast-iron pots, with any meat and vegetables they could find. This communal dish bore the name hutspot, and remains popular today.

Hutspot cooking was carried by Dutch explorers who arrived at the Cape of Good Hope (in present day Cape Town, South Africa) in 1652; over time, the dish started to incorporate new spices brought in from the Dutch East India Company, and took on the name Potjiekos (“small pot food”), using a small three-pronged cast-iron pot called a potjie pot, and cooked over an open fire.

Potjiekos eventually spread throughout South Africa when Voortrekkers (Dutch pioneers), dissatisfied with the then-British colonial administration of Cape Colony, migrated eastwards in 1837 into much of what makes greater South Africa today. Locals appreciated the practicality of potjie pots over their traditional clay pots, and they were integrated into several tribal cuisines – often to cook maize-based porridges such as putu or pap. It’s striking to see these medieval cauldrons take root in a place so far from their origin, and it’s a testament to the adaptability of humankind.

Today, Potjiekos remains a communal dish, cooked outdoors among friends (and a bottle of wine). If you are comfortable with cooking over an open fire, it’s definitely worth the extra effort. For everyone else, adding a bit of liquid smoke can replicate the experience while remaining in the kitchen. I even added Instant Pot instructions below the recipe, for good measure. This dish can be made with any meat, from lamb to chicken to fish, but I prefer the naturally rich flavor that comes from simmering oxtails.

Potjiekos is distinct from traditional stews in that the ingredients are not stirred together until right before serving; instead, the vegetables are layered over the meat and steamed, giving each ingredient its own distinct flavor. Additionally, you don’t want to add much liquid to the pot – just enough to cook the oxtails – since the vegetables will release plenty of liquid as they steam.

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I’ve been in a Thai food mood lately, as evidenced by last month’s Green Papaya Salad recipe. The flavors that are ubiquitous in Thai cooking – namely coconut, fish sauce, lemongrass, and lime – make for excellent summer eating.

Tom Kha Gai is a soup that often takes a backseat to its hot-and-sour sibling, Tom Yum. Both share several ingredients, but today’s recipe also contains coconut milk, which gives the soup a smooth flavor and tends to be a bit more filling, too. I first developed this recipe in partnership with my friends Brent and Heather for their blog, That Paleo Couple, and liked the results so much that I added a tweaked version to Paleo Takeout in 2015. The recipe you find below is what appeared in the book.

As its translated name (“Chicken Galangal Soup”) implies, this soup is best experienced with galangal, a rhizome (underground root) that is most similar to ginger. Ginger will work in a pinch, but consider buying dried galangal if you don’t have access to the fresh variety; dried galangal keeps well and works great in soups like this Tom Kha Gai. Same goes for kaffir lime leaves, which are easily reconstituted in warm water.

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For those of you following my recently updated approach to recipe development, you’ve probably already guessed that the recipes in my new cookbook will cover a variety of traditional and international dishes. So far we’ve highlighted cuisine from France, the Caribbean, and the American South. Today we’ll be exploring Scandinavia, with this Norwegian Lamb and Cabbage Stew.

Originally from Western Norway (Vestlandet), Fårikål has become a widely-loved autumn staple, to the point where it was named Norway’s national dish in 1972. Scandalously, in 2014 the Norwegian Minister for Food & Agriculture demanded a new national dish be voted on–via email, no less! Fårikål won by a landslide, grabbing 45% of the vote and easily beating out Kjøttkaker (meatballs) and Raspeball (potato dumplings) for the top spot.

The traditional preparation of this dish couldn’t be simpler: layer some lamb, salt, and cabbage in a pot, then add water, potatoes, and peppercorns and simmer until everything is tender. I made a couple tweaks to complement the dish, such as dropping in the potatoes later in the process (so they don’t lose their body), and broiling the meat at the end for a nicer texture. In the end, this is still one of the most basic stews you’ll find anywhere, but Fårikål carries with it a rich flavor you may not expect from such a simple preparation.

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Today’s recipe is one that long-time The Domestic Man readers will recognize, a couple times over. I first tackled the dish in 2012, and again in 2013; and then in 2014, during a spurt of creativity, I went back and thoroughly researched the dish, including the individual histories of every ingredient used in the dish (you can find that post here).

I think this dish is the perfect introduction to my new blogging approach, wherein I post recipes from my upcoming cookbook instead of trying to balance my time between maintaining the blog with new recipes while secretly testing new dishes for the book. As you’ll learn in future posts, my new book will continue the path I’ve been forging for the past seven years now, by focusing on traditional and historically-appropriate dishes. I feel that these dishes taste the best, as they’re a reflection of hundred (if not thousands) of years spent cooking in front of a fire.

It’s hard to top Boeuf Bourguignon when it comes to flavor. As if the decadent flavors of butter, red wine, stock, and tender beef aren’t enough, we up the ante by starting with bacon. I’ve made a few improvements to this dish over the years, like separating the beef from the bones ahead of time so that you can fish the bones out easily at the end. It’s not a quick recipe, nor should it be, but it makes six portions and freezes like a dream.

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We’re in the thick of stew season here in the US; this is the time of year where I like to spend my lazy weekend afternoons filling the house with the smells of simmering meat and winter vegetables. Unfortunately for stew season, but fortunately for us, our little part of Florida is still experiencing warm weather: as I type this, it’s 74F outside right now. Understandably, I’ve had a hard time getting into the winter stew spirit, as warm weather calls for warm-weather food.

So this past weekend I decided to mix both worlds, combining the comforts of cooking a stew and the flavors of an exotic dish. Today’s recipe for Curried Beef Stew doesn’t quite have a distinct origin, and its flavor is equal parts Indonesian Beef Rendang and Japanese Curry (the latter’s recipe is found in my debut cookbook, The Ancestral Table): earthy, hearty, and exceptionally rich.

In developing this dish, I wanted to appeal to many audiences. The recipe is Whole30-friendly, to be used as a resource for those who are starting their New Year off with some squeaky-clean eating. Included at the bottom of the recipe are also instructions for those of you who were recently gifted an Instant Pot electric pressure cooker, or are dusting it off after a period of neglect. Finally, I was careful to choose ingredients that are readily available at any grocery store – no need to hunt down particular items across several different markets.

Quick note as you are grocery shopping: there are two bell peppers in this recipe – one in the paste, and another in the stew itself!

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As I mentioned over Instagram the other day, our youngest son recently came down with a fever, the first of his life (he’s only 11 months old, but still, I like saying that). Four airplane rides over the course of seven days will do that (we traveled to my home state of Washington for Thanksgiving last week). No problem regarding the fever, though – chicken soup to the rescue, and he was back to his usual, trouble-making self the following day.

I think the Instant Pot pressure cooker craze has reached a fever pitch this year; in fact, it was on heavilty discounted during both Black Friday and Cyber Monday this past week on Amazon (I mentioned the sale in my periodic newsletter – which you’re signed up for, right?). So it seems right to share a simple pressure-cooker chicken soup recipe with you folks today.

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Scouse is a form of stew popular in Northern Europe. The English word scouse is a shortened form of lobscouse, taken from similar words like the Norwegian lapskaus, Swedish lapskojs, and Danish labskovs. The dish, which likely originated in the Baltic, is a traditional sailor’s stew consisting of salted meat or fish and thickened with ship’s biscuits. Today, the word is closely related to the port city of Liverpool, to the point where inhabitants of Liverpool are colloquially called “Scousers”.

In my research, I focused on the modern Liverpool interpretation of Scouse, and quickly found that there is a certain pride in preparing what’s known today as a “proper Scouse”. A proper Scouse, it seems, is low on ingredients, indicative of the dish’s humble origins. Today, the dish is prepared with lamb neck, onion, carrots, and potato – and not much else. In keeping with this tradition, I kept the ingredients list to a minimum; no fancy parsley here. This dish is typically served with pickled cabbage or beets, so grab those when you’re at the market, too.

My main purpose in creating and sharing this recipe was to treat it as an exercise in restraint, relying only on salt and pepper to perfect the stew’s subtle profile. To round out the flavor, many will serve HP Sauce with the finished stew (HP Sauce is a UK-based brown sauce that is like a cross between ketchup and Worcestershire sauce). As a concession, I flavored my stew with Worcestershire near the end, for those of us without access to this condiment.

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Like I mentioned last week, I’m on travel for work – right now I’m enjoying sunny (but a little chilly) Naples, Italy. And just like last week, I’m using today’s post as an opportunity to share a favorite recipe from one of my cookbooks; this time I’m sharing one from my debut, The Ancestral Table. From the book:

Borscht (Борщ) is a hearty soup most commonly associated with Russia, Poland, and Ukraine. Its name likely comes from the Slavic name for hogweed (Borschevik), which was often used to flavor soups. Although potatoes were a later addition, the foundation of borscht as we know it today dates back at least to the 9th century. This recipe is the popular Russian version, which is served hot and with meat. To cut down on the cooking time, you could make this soup with premade broth, or even make it vegetarian by using just water. Instructions for each variation are provided below.

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It’s been a couple months since my last soup post, so this one is long overdue. Soups are a vital part of my diet; they are versatile, easy to prepare, and a seamless way to integrate more homemade broth into my eating routine. Today’s lettuce soup is a nice change of pace, and a unique way to avoid the incessant crunching and chewing that comes from eating a plateful of lettuce.

There are two main cuisines with a history of enjoying lettuce in their soup. In Chinese cuisine, it is added as a finishing vegetable, much in the same way you’d add herbs like cilantro or scallions; for example, our local Vietnamese restaurant serves its Chinese-inspired Hu Tieu soup with lettuce on top. Today’s recipe favors the French preparation of lettuce soup, which is often blended (or run through a sieve) and flavored with cream.

Any lettuce will do for this recipe, with the exception of iceberg, because it probably won’t add much flavor. This dish is served both cold and hot, and we prefered the hot version. Lettuce soup has a flavor that’s hard to describe – earthy but not dirty, sharp but not biting. I’ve found that cooking down a leek in the chicken broth enriches and balances the soup; adding a few sprigs of parsley and some lemon zest help brighten its top notes as well.

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We’re in the thick of tomato season (June to September in the US), which means it’s time to share one of my favorite simple soups.

Tomato soup is a common comfort food here in the US, and has a similar association in many western countries; Poland, I’ve found, is particularly fond of the soup, as it is the first thing young chefs learn to make (a quick Google search of “Zupa Pomidorowa” yields 1.5 million results).

Tomatoes are relatively new to the Western palate; first imported from Mexico to Europe by Spanish explorers, they were initially considered poisonous and used as ornamentals. In 1789, Thomas Jefferson introduced them to the United States – he was Secretary of State at the time, which leads one to wish all Secretaries of State were judged by the deliciousness of foods imported during their tenure. In the US, tomatoes were not commonly eaten until the 1830s, and the first record of tomato soup was written by famous American author Maria Parloa in 1872. Joseph Campbell’s condensed tomato soup cemented its comfort-food status in 1897.

The English word tomato is on loan from the Spanish tomate, which was lifted from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word tomatl. The first tomatoes were probably yellow, which makes sense when considering the other common word for the savory fruit, derived from the Italian pomodoro – a pairing of pomo ‎(“apple”) +‎ d’oro ‎(“golden”).

This soup takes about an hour to make with fresh tomatoes, slightly faster when using canned tomatoes, and significantly quicker with the help of my favorite kitchen appliance, the Instant Pot electric pressure cooker (instructions for each method below).

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