Soups & Stews
With winter’s weather bearing down in earnest hearty meals are de reguer and I can’t think of a better meal to make than a cassoulet. It is my very favorite winter meal bar none!
Cassoulet is a classic French white bean stew with an assortment of herbs, meats, and poultry all baked together in an earthenware pot. It is undeniably delicious and the perfect antidote for winter’s bitter chill.
That said, making a classic Langeuuedoc white bean cassoulet requires copious amounts of assorted meats, sausage, duck confite and fat along with a considerable investment of time and expense.
Deconstructing the concept however, as radical as that may seem, can produce an as hearty and flavorsome cassoulet with all the allure of the original sans excess fats and expense.
In the recipe that follows I have included a modest amounts of pancetta and sausage, but they may be omitted without sacrificing flavor. It really is all about the quality of the beans, vegetables, and seasonings that brings this cassoulet to life with or without including meats.
Be sure to source your dried beans for freshness and quality. My favorite supplier is Rancho Gordo in California at ranchogordo.com (click here). All of their dried beans are top quality. Supplies do vary so it’s a good idea to subscribe to receive harvest updates and availability.
A simplified Winter Cassoulet
For the beans:
- 1 pound dried white tabais, canellini, or great northern white beans
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 thin slices pancetta, finely diced (or substitute 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, added later)
- 3/4 cup diced onions
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- ¾ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- ½ teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, crumbled
- 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves, crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon sea salt plus more as needed after the beans are cooked
- ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
- 3 quarts stock or water, plus more as needed
Pick through the beans and rinse well. Place them in bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside to soak for several hours or overnight. Then drain the beans and set side.
Add the olive oil to a stock pot set over medium low heat. When the oil is hot add the pancetta and saute until fragrant and just beginning to color. If you are omitting the pancetta, add the smoked paprika along with onions and saute until wilted. Then add the garlic and saute until softened. Add the thyme, rosemary, sage, and bay leaf and saute until well combined and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Stir in the drained soaked beans and promptly add the hot stock or water. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook the beans until they are softened but still holding their shape. Cooking times will vary depending on the age of the beans, but generally about 1 ½ or 2 hours should do it. Taste the beans and add salt to taste and set aside.
While the beans are cooking you can go ahead and prepare the sausage if using as well as the radish leaves or kale.
For the sausage:
- 1 pound Polish or Kielbasa sausage
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup dry white wine
Heat the oil in a skillet and when hot add the whole sausage and seer on all sides until nicely browned. Then add the wine and cook until the wine has mostly evaporated. Remove the sausages and slice on the diagonal into 1 ½ inch pieces and set aside.
Add a little stock to the skillet and swirl to gather up the juices and scrape them into the pot of cooked beans and stir well.
For the Greens:
- 2 large bunches of radish leaves or kale, well rinsed and chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- sea salt to taste
Note: If you are not using sausage you may want to use both radish and kale leaves seasoned with 1 teaspoon of crushed marjoram leaves and ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. when hot add the chopped greens and saute just until wilted. Season with salt and set aside.
For the topping:
- 1 cup bread crumbs, or panko
- 2 tablespoons finely sliced flat leafed parsley
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/2 sea salt
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
Toss the breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, and salt together. Drizzle with olive oil, toss, and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 300 F /150 c with the oven rack set in the middle position. Place a baking sheet on the bottom rack to catch any overflow while the cassoulet is baking.
Assembling the cassoulet:
Select a large earthenware casserole dish. Using a ladle add a layer of drained cooked beans in the bottom of the casserole dish. Layer some sausage pieces ( If using) over the beans, and add a layer of the sauteed greens. Continue to layer the ingredients in the same order, ending with a layer beans with a few pieces of sausage (if using) for the top layer.
Spread the crumb topping evenly over the casassoulet. This will form a nice crusty topping to the finished cassoulet.
Run a spatula round the casserole to create a crevasse. Then spoon some bean cooking liquid into the crevasse all the way around the casserole dish. Giggle the dish several times while continuing to add more liquid until the liquid has nearly reached the rim of the dish. This will ensure an evenly moist cassoulet when fully baked.
Bake for 2 hours, turning the casserole dish from front to back after the first hour to ensure even baking.
Should the crumb topping brown to quickly during baking cover the casserole loosely with foil.
Remove the cassoulet from the oven and set aside for 15 minutes before serving,
Placing the hot cassoulet in the center of the table is sight to behold as the aroma beckons! Let everyone serve themselves family style.
Serving a simple wintery greens salad including some mustard greens, Belgian endive, and a baby arugula leaves completes this meal beautifully.
You might also like to try A Summer Casssoulet (click here for recipe)
I am a big fan of the high heat roasted chicken that’s been all the rage of late, but a Dutch oven roasted chicken is still a favorite method for a homey one pot meal! It is so easy and never fails to deliver a beautifully bronzed succulent moist chicken along with colorful array of aromatic roasted seasonal vegetables that lays out a comforting meal time after time.
No recipe required as the ingredients will vary with the changing of the seasons.
As it is now approaching late fall the vegetables I have used are season appropriate including onions, garlic, turnips, carrots, celery, potatoes, and bell peppers. Herbs used include locally dried rosemary, sage, and thyme, and a bay leaf. All the vegetables are tossed together with extra virgin olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and roasted along with the chicken.
The whole chicken I’ve used is free range. Rinse the chicken well and pat dry with a paper towels. Generously salt the interior of the cavity and tuck in a couple of garlic cloves, a sprig of rosemary, and some died sage and thyme, and a bay leaf. Loosen the skin covering the breasts and legs and slip in some butter and rosemary under the skin. Season the exterior of the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Set the chicken aside to come to room temperature.
By all means if you have a Dutch oven this is the time to use it. A cast Iron Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid retains heat beautifully and is ideal for slow roasting. Otherwise use a large casserole dish with lid or a roasting pan with the contents covered tightly with foil.
Set the oven temperature at 350 f /180 c
Lay a single layer of prepared vegetable vegetables in the bottom of the pan and center the chicken on top of them, breast side up.
Tuck the remaining vegetables in around the chicken, leaving the top of the chicken exposed. Rub with olive oil and season the exposed top of the chicken with salt and pepper again if needed.
Add a half cup of water and cover tightly with the lid. Place in the oven, and roast for 45 minutes.
Open the oven and turn the pan from front to back and roast another 25 minutes, covered.
Then open the oven and remove the lid to expose the top of the chicken.. Increase the temperature to 375 f/ 190 c. Push the pan to the back of the oven and roast another 15 or 20 minutes or until he the top of the chicken is nicely browned.
Remove the pan from the oven and set aside with the lid just ajar to rest for 10 minutes.
Transfer the chicken to a carving board, carve, and serve promptly with roasting liquid spooned over the chicken and vegetables.
Having some warm thick slices of crusty levain loaf is the perfect for accompaniment for sopping up some of that irresistibly flavorsome roasting liquid left in the pan!
Leftovers?: My go to favorite re purposing solution is enchiladas! They are easy to assemble and are always sure to please.
Reheat some of the roasted chicken that has been pulled along with vegetables that have been cut up along with roasting liquid to cover in a saucepan over medium low heat. Cover and bring to a summer.
warm corn tortillas on a griddle or in a cast iron skillet. Top with some grated mild cheese. When the cheese begins to melt transfer the now pliable tortilla to a serving plate. Top with hot chicken and vegetables and roll up the enchilada with the seam tucked underneath to hold it together.
Bring the pan liquid to a simmer. Stir together 1 tablespoon of corn starch with 1 tablespoon of cold water, or more depending on the amount of liquid, and add to the simmering pan liquid while stirring for two minutes until thickened. Add salt to taste. Ladle the sauce over the enchiladas garnished with sour cream or Greek yogurt.
New Mexico’s legendary chiles are renowned for their their sweet and earthy flavor and beguiling assertive heat. Their flavor is unlike any other chile in the world. When eating in New Mexico the colloquial question is “Green or Red?”as chiles play a part in most meals.
New Mexico’s chile growing season begins in mid- summer and culminates in late fall when the chiles are harvested and the aroma of roasting green chiles fills the air. It’s that time of year when cocido, a New Mexican roasted green chile stew, is on the menu to ward off the chills of fall and winter.
A New Mexican chile harvest for most is a savored idea or a memory of a visit vividly remembered. Luckily for we far flung cooks New Mexican roasted green chiles are available frozen as a first choice and canned as a second. I have found Bueno brand frozen green chiles in my local supermarket as well as Hatch brand canned roasted green chiles as a backup should the frozen be out of stock once the season’s harvested supply is depleted. There are also sources available online. You can even reserve a supply in advance from the next season’s harvest. Amazon has a wide variety of sourcing options to choose from. All New Mexican brands offer both mild and hot flame roasted chiles.
So you are probably wondering should I use mild or hot?
That depends entirely on your tolerance level of a chile peppers heat. I can say this, hot New Mexican chiles are seriously HOT! The capsicin levels from these hot chiles trigger a release endorphins and dopamine that produces that tingling “chile high” if you will, along with a refreshing sweat on the back of your neck. However, unlike the scorching heat of the small red chilies used in Southeast Asian cooking, the much larger New Mexican green chile’s heat peaks quickly and then stabilize at a palatable level as you continue to eat.
My advise to all you cooks is to combine both mild and hot chiles at first and discover your own comfort level.
The recipe that follows is a very easy basic New Mexican roasted green chile sauce that I made at least once a day when I was teaching New Mexican cooking in Santa Fe years ago. This green chile sauce is ideal for enchiladas, tacos, with grilled meats and fish, as well as added to a queso fundido, or as a base for a green chile “Cocido” green chile stew with the addition of pork, potatoes, and corn. (click here for a similar recipe)
The applications for this New Mexican green chile sauce abound!
So let’s get cooking!
New Mexican Roasted Green Chile Sauce (basics)
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, pealed and chopped ( about 1 cup)
3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons flour
- ½ cup chopped hot green chiles and 1 ½ cups mild green chiles, or 2 cups chiles of choice
- ½ teaspoon toasted ground cumin seeds
- a pinch of Mexican oregano
- 2cups hot chicken stock, a bouillon cube dissolved in hot water, or just hot water
- 1teaspoon salt or to taste
Heat oil in a large saucepan on medium low heat. When the oil is hot and add onions and saute for about 5 minutes and then add the garlic.
Saute another minute and then stir in the flour. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring continuously to prevent the flour from browning.
Add chilies and stir to combine. Pour in hot stock and seasonings. Bring to boil over medium heat and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 15 or 20 minutes partially covered, stirring from time to time to avoid scorching.
Taste and add salt as needed.
Cool the sauce to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze for later use.
Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is a uniquely Mexican holiday that celebrates the lives of the dead on the 1st and 2nd of November every year. The origins are attributed to Aztec animist beliefs combined with Catholicism, the dates coinciding with the Catholic All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Contrary to what you may think, Dia de Los Muertos is a joyous familial occasion that is celebrated with food, drink, music, and entertainment in homes and in grave yards throughout Mexico, Latin America, and in parts of North America where there are Latin American communities.
The imagery of vividly decorated skulls (calaveras) and dancing skeletons (calacas) associated with Dia de los Muertos was popularized by Mexico’s most famous graphic artist Jose Guadalupe Posada in the mid 1800’s. His work influenced a whole new generation of famous Mexican muralists and painters that followed him including Diago Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and Frida Kahlo.
Popular Dia de Los Muertos foods include typical Mexican favorites that are prepared ahead of the celebrations and served throughout the day and night, and often into the wee hours of the morning. Frijoles de olla and moles de Olla, are popular clay pot meals that include various meats, vegetables, chiles, and of course beans. Typically cooked over a fire or slowly braised in the oven as I have done for the recipe that follows. The mole is then tucked into warm tortillas, topped with picante salsas, and served with a chunky guacamole. Essentially you have a hearty meal in hand and the mole de olla will hold up until the last of the revelers eventually wend their way home as the sun rises!
For some more Dia de Los Muertos recipes, click on the following links.
Sopa de Maize y chile Verde con Pollo (click here)
Mexican Roasted Pumpkin Soup; sopa de Calabezza (click here)
Dia de Los Muertos Mole de Olla con Pollo y Chorizo Serves 6 to 8
- 2 pounds skinless chicken breasts, sliced into plump strips
- 2 pounds Mexican chorizo, divided
- 3 tablespoons olive oil + more as needed
- 3 large onions, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
- 2 large green bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips
- 2 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
- 4 to 6 green or ripe red jalapeno chiles, seeded and cut into strips
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 ribs celery, diced
- 1½ teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
- 1 cup tequila
- 6 cups cooked black beans (or canned)
- 1 quart hot chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons pure ground red chile powder
- pinch of ground clove
- salt to taste
- chopped cilantro leaves
- flour tortillas, warmed
- fresh crumbled cotija cheese (or mild feta)
- fresh cilantro leaves
- chunky guacamole
Choose a large wide pan with a lid that will fit on the oven wrack set in the middle positioned of the oven.
Preheat the oven to 325 f/ 160 c
Place the pan on the stove top over medium high flame. When the pan is hot add some oil. When the oil is nearly smoking add the chicken pieces and seer until the chicken is nicely browned and releases from the pan easily. Turn the chicken and seer until nicely browned. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside on a large platter.
Add the chorizo to the pan and seer until the skin is deeply browned and releases easily from the pan. Turn the chorizo and seer until deeply browned. Remove the chorizo from the pan and place it in the platter with the chicken.
Add a little more oil to the pan if needed. When nearly smoking add the onions and saute while deglazing the pan as the onions begin to soften. Promptly add the green and red bell pepper and saute until the onions and peppers have wilted. Add the garlic and celery and cook another two or three minutes. Then add the jalapenos and saute while tossing until the contents are evenly combined.
Pour in the tequila and stir continuously until the tequila is nearly absorbed into the vegetable mixture. Add the cumin seeds, oregano, and marjoram and toss until evenly distributed into the mixture.
At this point return the browned chicken and chorizo to the pan and add the beans. Stir to combine and then add the stock to just cover and stir. Cover the pan with the lid and place it in the center of the oven. Braise for 1 hour undisturbed.
Open the oven and transfer the pan to the stove top. Remove the lid and stir in the red chile powder, ground clove, and chopped cilanto . Stir to combine and then season with salt to taste. If the mole is looking dry add more stock as needed.
Cover the [pan and return it to the oven to keep warm while warm the flour tortillas, assemble assorted salsas, and make the chunky guacamole.
Stack the warmed tortillas in a basket lined with a kitchen towel to keep them warm.
Place your salsas of choice on the table along with the guacamole.
Remove the pan from the oven.
Place a warm tortilla on a plate and spoon a generous portion of the mole de olla just off center. Scatter some crumbled cotija cheese, or feta, over the meats and vegetables and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves. Serve open faced so salsa can be added before folding the tortilla for eating.
The beauty of the chunky guacamole is it is easily forked and eaten along with bites of the filled tortilla.
- 4 Haas (bumpy skinned) ripe avocados
- 1 onion, peeled and finely diced
- 2 to 4 serrano chiles, stem and seeds removed, and minced
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 1/3 cup freshly chopped cilantro leaves
- fresh lime juice to taste
- olive oil for drizzling
Slice the avocados in half lengthwise and remove the pits. Crosshatch each half of the avocado and then slice the hatches in half lengthwise. Gently remove the chunks of avocado and place them in a chilled bowl.
Place the diced onions, minced serrano chiles, and sea salt in a mortar. Crush and grind the ingredients with the pestle into a moist paste.
Scrape the paste over the avocado chunks and add the chopped cilantro leaves. Spritz fresh lime juice over all and then drizzle with just a little olive oil. Toss gently until the paste is evenly spread over the avocado chunks. Taste and add more salt and lime juice to taste.
Chill the chunky guacamole until just before serving.