Soups & Stews
A traditional cassoulet is not a dish that springs to mind as summer arrives, but it is one of my favorite go to meals, especially when entertaining. With a few considered adjustments a classic winter cassoulet can be transformed into a scrumptious lighter cassoulet to add to your summer meals repertoire.
Cassoulet is a well known and much loved regional classic stew made with white beans and assorted meats from the Languedoc region of France. Traditional versions vary but typically include duck or goose confit, pork or lamb, and some well seasoned local sausage. All placed in a deep earthenware crock along with cooked white beans seasoned with aromatic herbs and slow baked to golden perfection. Very much a rich hearty meal for the winter months that is anchored and bound together by flavors derived from copious amounts of duck fat used to preserve the confit. Without a doubt, absolutely delicious!
However, by using lean meats and sausages, and chicken rather than duck or goose, dramatically reduces the fat content without sacrificing flavor. The resulting “summer cassoulet” is every bit as flavorful as a classic cassoulet by simply applying a lighter healthier approach to your summer cookery.
Another reason a cassoulet is a favorite is that all the elements required for the finished dish are made in advance which is ideal for entertaining or for easy assembly for consecutive meals.
There are essentially three elements to prepare for a cassoulet. Cooking the beans, creating a flavorsome cassoulet broth for braising, and a final browning of the meats and finally baking of the cassoulet.
A Summer Cassoulet: serves 4 to 6
For the beans: Prepare a day in advance
- 12 oz / 350 g dried white beans
- 2 ¾ oz 75 g pancetta, diced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, peeled and finely diced
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 quarts water + more as needed
- small bunch fresh thyme sprigs tied together
- salt freshly ground white pepper
Rinse the beans, place in a bowl, cover with plenty of water, and soak for 8 hours or overnight,
Place a stock pot on the stove over medium heat. Add the diced pancetta to the pot and saute, continuously stirring, until the fat is rendered and the meat is lightly browned.
Add the olive oil to the pan and when hot add the onions. Lower the heat slightly and stir until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute while stirring.
Add the bay leaves, the water, and the drained and rinsed pre-soaked beans. Bring the water to a boil and lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Add the thyme leaves. Cook the beans until they are soft but still holding their shape. Be sure to stir the beans now and again so they do not stick to the bottom of the pan. Add more water as needed until the beans are finished cooking.
When the beans are finished remove them using a slotted spoon and place them in a large storage container.
Continue to simmer the cooking liquid until it is reduced and thickened slightly. At this point season the cooking broth with salt and pepper to taste. Keep in mind that the broth will be used later and reduced, so do not overly salt the broth.
Remove the bay leaves and thyme and discard, Transfer the broth to the container holding the beans and set aside on a cooling rack. When completely cool, cover the container and refrigerate.
For the cassoulet broth:
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 ½ cups diced onions
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled whole
- ½ cup diced peeled carrots
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 quarts chicken stock, hot
- herb bouquet; sprigs parsley, sprigs thyme, sprig rosemary 2 bay leaves
Hat the olive oil in a stock pot and when hot add the onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and carrots and cook a couple of minutes. Move the sauted ingredients away from the center of the pan and place the tomato paste in the center. Press the tomato paste against the bottom of the pan for a minute or until caramelized and a deep red color.
Add the stock and stir well. Add the herb bouquet and adjust the heat so the broth is gently simmering. Cook until the liquid is reduced by 1/3, about 1 ½ hours.
Remove from the stove and strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl. Then transfer the broth to a storage container, or containers, and set aside to cool. When cool, cover and refrigerate if not using immediately. Discard the solids.
- 3 chicken legs and thighs, detached, skin, on
- 1 pound / 450 g pork loin, cut into chunks
- 1 pound/ 450 g well seasoned lean sausage
- salt pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup white wine or water
Season the chicken and the pork generously with salt and pepper and set aside.
Heat a large dutch oven or deep wide cast iron roasting pan over medium heat on the stove top. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and when smoking add the chicken pieces and evenly brown on all sides. Transfer them to a platter and set aside.
Add another tablespoon olive oil to the pot and add the pork and brown on all side. Transfer to the platter along with the chicken.
Add a final tablespoon of olive oil to the pot and dd the sausage to the pan and brown on all sides. Add a half cup of wine or water to the pan and stir until the liquid is reduced and the sausage is coated with the deglazed pan juices. Transfer the sausage to a separate plate and set aside to use later.
Assembling and roasting the cassoulet:
- reserved cooked white beans with their broth
- cassoulet broth
- browned chicken
- browned pork
- browned sausage
- flat leaf parsley
preheat the oven to 325 f/ 170 c
Add about 1/2 of the cooked beans along with some of their broth to the cleaned Dutch oven or cast iron roasting pan you used previously. Arrange the chicken pieces and pork on top of the beans and add just enough cassoulet broth to nearly cover the chicken and pork.
Transfer the pan to the oven and cook about 45 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and add the remaining beans tucked in around the edges of the pan and between the chicken and pork. Then tuck in the sausage in around the chicken and the pork. Add any remaining beans around the edges. Add cassoulet broth to nearly cover all and return the pan to the oven for another 45 minutes.
At this point if the liquid around the edges of the pan is not bubbling away increase the heat to 400 f/ 200 c. Add a little broth over the meats and return the pan to the oven for another 15 minutes.
When the cassoulet is done remove from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes before serving.
Combine and warm any remaining bean broth and cassoulet broth and set aside to use when serving.
The cassoulet may be served directly from the pan or transferred to individual shallow bowls.
I like to present the cassoulet right out of the oven for all to feast their eyes on before serving.
You can then spoon the cassoulet into individual shallow bowls. Be sure to add some of the reserved combined broth mixture which is absolutely delicious when sopped up with crusty bread! Garnish with flat leaf parsley and serve.
The overall appearance of the cassoulet should be neither dry nor soupy. I lean toward ample amounts of broth as it really is the element that binds the cassoulet together.
Garnish with flat leaf parsley sprigs.
Suggested: Serve with a copious summer salad and a loaf of crusty bread!
Early summer is a perfect time to utilize fresh from the garden produce for light soups that are as lively and colorful as they are delicious. Freshly made soups are ideal for easy summer meals that celebrate the season’s ever evolving bounty. A beautiful soup accompanied with a crusty loaf along with a freshly made pesto (see recipe here) is a perfect summer meal in and of itself!
Summery Vegetable Soup with Chicken Serves 4
- 2 ears sweet corn
- 2 quarts water
- 2 bay leaves
- handful of celery leaves
- 1 cup diced onions, divided
- 8 black peppercorns
- 2 skinless boneless chicken breasts
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 jalapeno chile, seeded and finely diced
- 1 cup diced carrots
- 1 cup celery diced
- 2 potatoes, peeled and diced
- sprig of Italian basil leaves, finely sliced
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- ½ teaspoon saffron threads
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced
- whole basil leaves as a garnish
First thing you want to do is cut the corn kernels off of the cobs and set them aside to use later. Then holding the cobs vertically in a small bowl, scrape the cobs with the back of a knife to extract the corn milk and set the milk aside to use later. Reserve the scraped cobs.
Fill a large pot with 2 quarts of water and add the bay leaves, celery leaves, ½ cup diced onions, peppercorns, the scraped corn cobs, and the reserved corn milk scrapings. Bring the water to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes.
Add the whole chicken breasts to the pot and simmer for another 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and set the pot side, covered, for about 30 minutes. Then using tongs remove the chicken breasts and set them aside in a bowl to cool.
Remove the corn cobs from the pot and discard them. Then pour the contents of the pot into a fine mesh strainer set over a large bowl. Press all the liquid out of the solids. Discard the solids and set the broth aside.
Rinse out the pot and return it to the stove top, add the olive oil, and set over a medium flame. When the oil is hot add the remaining half cup of onions, the diced yellow and red bell peppers, diced jalapeno, and saute until they soften about 5 minutes. Then add the carrots, celery, and potatoes, and continue to saute for another 5 minutes. Then add the reserved broth to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are soft, but still holding their shape. Then add the reserved corn kernels.
Gently pull the chicken breasts apart and into bit size pieces and add to the both. Stir in the sliced basil and season to taste with salt. Add the saffron threads and stir to combine and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Just before serving stir in the lemon juice.
Ladle the soup into shallow soup bowls and garnish with whole basil leaves and lemon slices.
I can’t think of any dish more satisfying than a steaming bowl of earthy chili when winter’s grip bears down in earnest. Not that that happens here in Thailand, but vivid memories of winter’s bite are forever embedded in my psyche none the less. Chili’s colorful cultural past adds an almost palatable celebratory air that makes it an ideal choice for those informal holidays meals that lie ahead. Chili does freeze beautifully so why not get a head start and have chili essentially ready on demand.
Whenever I sit down to write about chiles there is that lingering conundrum about spelling and usage of the words that always comes to mind. When to use Chile and when to use Chili? Having lived among both Spanish and Mexican communities in the American Southwest and in Los Angeles for some time I have have sorted out the usage, but there are still ongoing heated debates about the correct spelling, definition, and usage of the words chile and chili.
In short chile is the Spanish word for all varieties of peppers (capsicums) that they discovered when they arrived in the new world. In Mexico however the word chili stems from the Nahuatl/ Aztec language dating back to at least the 7th century which describes the plants that produce all varieties chilis (capsicums).
Of course today both words have garnered various meanings not only for the peppers themselves but also for dishes that are made with them.
For example, in the North American southwest the word chile is used to describe varieties of capsicums associated with various levels of scoville heat as well as dishes made with the them. In the rest of North America the word chili (chili con carne) describes the popular spicy Tex Mex stew like dish that contains ground meat in a chile and tomato based sauce that often includes beans. South of the border chili con Carne is a chunky meat stew in a spicy chili based sauce without the addition of beans.
Confused? Just to make the differentiation even a little more complicated the Nahuatl language is still widely used in rural central Mexico as is the word chili. So in Mexican communities living on both sides of the border use both words interchangeably.
Generally speaking, it is safe to say that chile is the appropriate word to reference all varieties of capsicums with heat. Chili is reserved for describing the popular dish chili con carne as well as the seasoning mixture of ground dried chile powder mixed with other seasoning spices. Pure ground chiles without other seasonings would be called chile powder.
For more tasty information on this spicy subject (click here) for Chili (Basics).
The recipe that follows more closely follows a Mexican chili con carne that includes dried chiles to deeply flavor the sauce. However I have used ground beef instead of chunks of beef, and included beans in the chili which are served separately in Mexico. For me, including the beans in the chili makes a more complex and richly flavorsome Mexican meal in a single bowl. But maybe I’m just biased having grown up eating Tex Mex chile.
Chili con Carne serves 6
- 12 dried guajillo chiles, split lengthwise, seeds removed
- 1 or 2 dried chipotle chiles (or canned chipotles in adobo)
- 6 garlic cloves, skin on
- 3 tablespoons lard or cold pressed peanut oil
- 2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons toasted cumin seeds, ground
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano (Mexican if available)
- 4 vine ripe tomatoes (or canned Italian plum tomatoes)
- 2 pounds ground beef
- ¼ teaspoon ground clove
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon pure ground red chile powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt + more to taste
- 1 quart beef or chicken stock + more as needed, preheated
- 2 cups cooked beans (pinto, kidney, or black)
- salsa fresca
- crema or sour cream
- warm corn and flour tortillas
Warm a heavy bottom skillet over medium heat. Place the guahillo chiles in the skillet. Using a spatula press the chiles against the bottom of he pan. Let them toast for a minute or so and then flip them over, again pressing them against the bottom of the skillet and toasting another minute. Remove them and set them aside to cool briefly. Then remove the stems, tear the chiles into pieces, and place them in a sauce pan. Add the whole dried chipotle chiles and add just enough water to cover all the chiles and place the pan over low heat. Bring to a low simmer and cook until the chiles are soft and pliable, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool. Remove the stems from the chipotle chiles and transfer all the chiles to a blender jar and add enough cooking liquid to cover. Reserve the remaining cooking liquid to use later as needed,
Using the same skillet toast the unpeeled garlic cloves until they are lightly colored on all sides. Remove them and set them aside to cool. Then peel off the skin, mince the garlic, and set aside.
Add 1 tablespoons lard or oil to the skillet. When the oil is hot add the onions and saute until they are soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the chopped garlic, ground cumin, and oregano and saute another couple of minute. Then transfer the contents of the pan to the blender jar.
Add 1 tablespoons of the lard or oil to the same skillet set over medium heat. When hot add the tomatoes (fresh or canned) and fry them until they are soft and lightly caramelized. Break them up and continue to cook until very soft. Then transfer them to the blender jar including the juices.
Add enough reserved chile liquid to to fill the blender jar to about half full. Begin pulsing until the ingredients are broken down and then increase the speed to high until the mixture is very smooth. If it is very thick thin with the remaining reserved chile liquid or stock.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of lard or oil in a soup or stock pot set over medium heat. When hot add the ground beef and cook until the meat is evenly browned, stirring from time to time. Add the clove, bay leaves, cocoa powder, red chile powder, and salt. Stir until well combined. Then pour in the hot stock and stir. When the contents reach a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
Add the beans and continue to cook another 30 minutes. The consistency of the chili should be very thick, but add a little stock to thin it out a bit if needed. Taste and add additional salt to taste. Skim off excess fat floating on the surface of the chili and discard.
At this point the chili is ready to serve. Otherwise transfer the chili to containers and cool to room temperature before covering and refrigerating or freezing.
This chili is so rich and flavorsome it needs very little embellishment other than a dollop of sala fresca and a swirl of sour cream or crema with each serving. Be sure to have a basket full of warm corn and flour tortillas and a bowl of salasa fresca placed on the table.
Crema is a Mexican sour cream that you can make by simply stirring a small amount of whole milk into a bowl of sour cream.
I was in my kitchen the other day admiring a gorgeous pile of succulent New Zealand green lipped mussels and some plump shrimp that I had purchased earlier in the day. As I gazed, an ad hok seafood stew was formulating in my mind using some Mediterranean ingredients that I already had on hand. Some pancetta to saute along with some onions, garlic, carrots and celery would beautifully flavor a sofrito base for the broth. Adding to that the water reserved after steaming the mussels to the stew broth would introduce the briny flavors of the sea. A flourish of chile flakes and Spanish smoked paprika would add a nice spicy heat and a rustic earthy flavor to the stew. A final splash of a fruity Italian olive oil and a spritz of crisp lemon juice just before serving would really bring this robust mussel stew to life.
New Zealand green lipped mussels are more available than other varieties of mussels here in Thailand. They are the largest mussels available and perfect for a mixed seafood soup or stew. Their flesh is plump, succulent, and juicy. The shells are quite large so usually not included in the dish like the smaller mussel shells you would find in a French bouillabaisse, an Italian zuppa de cozze , or a Catalan zaruela de mariscos. New Zealand green lipped mussels are shipped across the globe. That said, shells or no shells in the stew, any variety of mussels available to you are suitable for this recipe.
This is an easy seafood stew to prepare, it looks spectacular, and is sure to WOW a crowd!
Mediterranean Mussel Stew serves 6
- 1 kilo/2.2 pounds New Zealand green lipped mussels, or another available variety
- 500g / 1 pound medium size shrimp, shells removed, deveined, tails attached
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 thin slices pancetta, finely chopped
- 2 onions, peeled and finely diced
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- ½ cup white wine
- 1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced
- 3 stalks celery with leaves, finely diced, leaves thinly sliced, and whole leaves reserved for garnish
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram
- 1 1/2 liters/ 1 1/4 quarts fish or chicken stock, preheated
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon chile flakes
- 1 ½ teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika
- 6 medium sized yellow potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾ inch chunks
- finishing quality olive oil
- fresh lemon wedges
Soak the mussels in cold water and then scrub the shells to remove any dirt or seaweed that may be attached.
Place a steaming rack in a stock pot and add about 2 cups of water below the rack. Place the mussels on the rack and bring the water to a boil. Lower to a simmer and place a lid on the pot. Steam the mussels for about 6 minutes or until the mussels have opened. Remove the mussels from the pot and set aside in a bowl to cool. Any mussels that have not opened should be discarded.. Transfer the steaming water left in the pot to a container and set aside to use later.
Place the same pot over medium low heat. When hot add the olive oil. When the oil is hot add the pancetta and saute while stirring continuously until the fat has melted. Then add the onions, stir to coat with the oil, and saute until the onions are translucent, about 6 or 8 minutes. Add the garlic and saute another minute or two. Then add the wine and cook until the wine has been completely absorbed.
Stir in the carrots and celery and saute until soft, about 6 minutes. Add the bay leaves and marjoram and stir to combine.. Add the reserved broth from steaming the mussels and the preheated stock. Stir until all the ingredients are combined.
Once the stew is boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. Then stir in salt, pepper, chile flakes, and smoked paprika and stir until combined. Then stir in the potatoes and continue to simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 15 to 20 minutes.
While the stew is simmering, if you are using New Zealand mussels you will want to remove the mussels from their shells and discard the shells. If you are using other smaller mussels you can leave them in tact.
Once the potatoes are fully cooked you can add the mussels and shrimp to the broth. Simmer for about 3 to 5 minutes. Taste the broth and season with more salt to taste.
Serve the stew in shallow individual soup plates with 4 or 5 mussels per portion and plenty of broth. Sparingly drizzle each serving with a finishing olive oil and garnish with a few celery leaves and a slice of fresh lemon.