Someone once said, “Soup remains a faithful friend during all of life’s occasions.” Making soups and stews can be intimately linked to life’s rhythms; daily work, the change of seasons, occasions special or ordinary, time with family and friends. Soups and stews are comfort foods that suit many different occasions. Cooler days create the opportunity to discover again and again the art of making stews. Recipes can be tweaked and adjusted to satisfy any palate. Relish these days when we can fill the house with fresh aromas and good memories.
The difference between soups and stews: Soups can be eaten hot or cold, can be cooked or uncooked, and some are even served as dessert, such as a fruit soup. Stews are almost always served hot. Ingredients in a stew are chunkier while a soup is generally thinner in texture with more liquid. Stews could be described as hearty soups, and are usually considered a main dish, rather than a first plate. The liquid in a stew is usually thickened to the point of being more of a gravy than a broth. Because stews generally cook longer than soups, they are an excellent place to blend flavors.
For me, those first cool days bring to mind a dish my mother used to make, a hearty beef stew with onions, carrots, potatoes and celery. One of the many values of cooking is that the aromas and flavors have a power to remind us of warm feelings of home or childhood. On that first cold day don’t you ever think of making a pot of chili? Does chili remind you of Friday nights at a high school football game?
Another joy of soups and stews is their diversity. Every culture has its own tradition. Texas Chili, Louisiana Gumbo, Old South Chicken and Dumplings, New England Chowder, New Mexico Green Chili, Mexican Posole, French Ratatouille, North African Tagine… are all variations on the same theme, blending the flavors of meat, vegetables and seasonings. Exploring outside your typical meal repertoire can be fun and can create some interest at the table. You will know you are succeeding if your children’s friends are turning up just in time for supper. And what an opportunity to discuss the wonderful diversity of foods and cultures! “So Mom, what’s a Tagine?”
For those who are not keen on vegetables, stews can be a great place to increase our consumption of plant foods in a combination dish. This means eating less meat and more vegetables which saves money and improves nutrition. Our parents would reduce by half the meat in a stew using more vegetables to stretch their food dollar but they were also increasing the ratio of vegetables to meat thus improving meal balance. Less meat and more vegetables means less fat and fewer calories per serving. And when we serve stew, we have only one pot to clean!
With the holidays comes company. Create a favorite memory by having a pot of stew on the stove when your family arrives. Those aromas will forever remind your children of home. And perhaps they will pass this memory on to their children. Our lives continue in the memories we create for our children. Some of the thoughts in this article were inspired by Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette’s book Twelve Months of Monastery Soups, a marvelous resource for some interesting recipes.
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with many years’ experience practicing nutrition therapy in local hospitals and clinics, teaching nutrition and developing healthy recipes. He helped create the popular TV show Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrating the world of food and health. Memorial Cooking Innovations is produced by St. Luke’s Health and the City of Lufkin. It currently runs in 62 cities and is locally available on Sudden Link cable TV channels and online at http://www.chistlukeshealthmemorial.org.