The terms can get confusing. Is it a soup and stew, a stew or a soup?
For example, why is gazpacho considered a soup and not vegetable stew? Or how about minestrone? A thin stew or a hearty soup? Can you really say there is a difference between soup and stew, or is this simply an interpretation of regional semantic differences?
To recognize the difference between a soup and stew you probably should define each first. A soup is typically any combination of meats or vegetables cooked in liquid. Most soups have a thin water-based (or juice- or milk-based) broth. Soups are typically served in a bowl, can be cooked or uncooked, be served hot or cold and if you’re using fruit, they can be served as a dessert.
Stews are thicker and could, if you want, be described as really thick soups. Stews often are thickened with potatoes and always served hot. The liquid in a stew is minimal to the point of being more a gravy than a broth. In reality, a stew is usually considered a main dish and soup a first course. Stew ingredients should be chunkier than a soup’s.
To me, the key difference between soup and stew is the amount of time you need to cook them. Stews usually require a slow, (oven, cook top or crock pot) low-temperature cook. Soups are quicker to cook at higher temperatures (cook top or crock pot) and rely on herbs, spices and garnishes to create their unique and deep flavors.
If you’re still confused as to the difference between a stew and soup, just ask yourself this question: If someone you love is not feeling well decide whether or not you’d say I brought you this (fill in the blank with whatever you’re considering making) to make you feel better. Truly, saying I brought you this stew for your cold doesn’t play as well as here’s some chicken soup.
Since nobody at my house is sick, I’m opting for making stew this weekend. As for those of you that have your hand raised to ask me about a ragout or cassoulet, well, class is over for today and that question is for another column.
Lamb Stew with Lentils and Spinach
2 pounds lamb stew meat
1/2 pound green or brown lentils
1 pound fresh spinach or 8 ounces frozen chopped spinach
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 ounces butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (14-ounce) can peeled tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 dried chili peppers (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons parsley or fresh coriander
Wash the lentils in cold water. Trim the fat from the lamb and dice the meat into 1-inch cubes. If you are using fresh spinach, wash it thoroughly. Finely slice the onion and garlic, and peel and slice the carrots into rounds. Place 1/2 ounce of the butter and the olive oil into a large casserole pan. Heat until the butter melts and sizzles, and then add the lamb cubes, stirring until they are browned. Leaving the fat in the casserole pan, remove the lamb with a slotted spoon and set side. Add the onion, garlic and carrots and cook over a medium heat until softened. Add the tomatoes, lamb pieces, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, optional chilies, lentils and enough water to just cover the mixture. Stir in the cumin and simmer for 1 1/4 hours, until the lentils are cooked. Add a little more water if the mixture begins to dry. Set the mixture aside when cooked. Cook the spinach in 1 ounce of the butter with a little salt and the ground coriander. Reheat the lentil mixture and stir in the cooked spinach. Sprinkle with chopped parsley or fresh coriander and serve. Serves 4 to 5.
Beef or Bison Stew in a Pumpkin Shell
2 pounds beef or bison stew meat, cut in 1 1/2 -inch cubes
3 tablespoons oil
1 onion, chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
3 white potatoes, peeled and diced
3 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups beef broth
1 medium-size pumpkin
Butter or margarine, melted
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups corn fresh, frozen or canned, drained
Trim any excess fat from beef. Heat the oil in a stock pot and add the onion, garlic and meat. Cook just until the meat is browned. Add the tomatoes, green pepper, 1 tablespoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, sugar, apricots, white potatoes, sweet potatoes and broth. Cover and simmer 1 hour. Meanwhile, cut top off pumpkin and discard. Scoop out seeds and stringy membrane. Brush inside of pumpkin with butter and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Stir wine and corn into the stew and spoon the mixture into the pumpkin shell. Place shell in shallow pan and bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour, or until pumpkin meat is tender. Place pumpkin in large bowl and ladle out stew, scooping out some of pumpkin with each stew serving. Serves 6.
Garlic, White Bean and Rosemary Chicken Stew
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 pounds skinless chicken parts (bone in)
1 large onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
5 garlic cloves, chopped
4 ounces ham or Canadian-style bacon, diced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
2 (19-ounce) cans cannellini or Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 cups chicken broth (or one 14.5-ounce can plus 2 tablespoons water)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat oil in large, non-stick stock pot. Add the chicken pieces and brown on all sides. Add the onions, carrots, garlic and ham or Canadian bacon; sauté until onions are lightly browned. Stir in balsamic vinegar and wine or broth; bring to boil and then simmer over medium heat until liquid is reduced by about a third. Stir in the beans, rosemary and chicken broth. Bring back to simmer, reduce heat to low, cover and let cook for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serves 4.
Barbeque Beef Stew
2 pounds beef or bison stew meat, cut in 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 cup thinly sliced onion, separated into rings
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon of pepper
2 cups beef broth
1 (8-ounce) can tomatoes, cut up
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/3 cup bottled hickory barbecue sauce
1/4 cup cold water
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Hot cooked rice
In a skillet, brown meat in hot oil. Drain off fat. Place onion rings, green pepper and garlic in slow cooker. Place meat on top of the vegetables; sprinkle with salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Add beef broth, undrained tomatoes, mushrooms and barbecue sauce; stir to mix. Cover; cook on low-heat setting for 8 to 10 hours. To serve: Turn cooker to high-heat setting. Blend 1/4 cup cold water slowly into cornstarch; stir into stew. Cover and cook till thickened and bubbly, stirring occasionally. Serve over hot rice.