Certain times of year beg for certain comforts. When mother nature cruelly ambushes us with frigid, sub-zero temperatures, a warm and hearty meal will always provide a delicious refuge from the cold. Keeping that in mind, I felt a moral imperative to share with you a recipe that will leave your family or dinner guests wholly satisfied and one which will really ‘stick to your ribs’. Hmm, I never really understood that idiom, but it is definitely an apt metaphor for this hearty and filling stew. It is as delicious as the weather is cold and is the perfect stew to enjoy along with crusty french bread, by a roaring log fire.
The Bean Roster: Top row: light red kidney beans, black beans, green whole peas | Middle row: green whole lentils, black eye beans, small red beans | Bottom row: red split lentils, pinto beans, small white beans.
I happened to use 9 types of beans and lentils for this stew; largely because I picked up a container of 9 varieties of mixed beans from my local Costco store – it could have just as easily been called 5-bean stew if my pantry wasn’t so handsomely stocked! If you have membership at Costco, you will be doing your family a great disservice if you don’t pick up a container of these. They are the perfect medley of beans and have a variety of uses beyond this recipe. If you don’t happen to have 9 varieties of dried beans taking up space in your pantry, you can simply use any combination of the above, so long as they total 1 cup of dried beans for the recipe. [Note: the 1 cup of dried beans will plump up to 3 cups after soaking] I decided not to add a whole lot of meat in this recipe as I served it as a second course in a meal which had a protein-heavy third course, but the recipe can be varied to add chicken, beef or veal. On the other hand, this recipe is not entirely vegetarian either. It’s a ‘meat stew’ by virtue of the beef broth which is used, as well as the turkey bacon.
1 cup dried beans (any varieties – see above for combinations)
4 tablespoons (60 ml) canola (or vegetable oil)
1 1/2 medium onions
2 large garlic cloves
2 strips turkey (or chicken) bacon, uncooked
2 medium tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cajun seasoning
1/4 teaspoon crushed chili flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 sprigs freshy thyme
2 cups (500 ml) beef broth
1-2 cups (250-500 ml) water
5-6 fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons (or a small bunch) fresh parsley
Soak the beans overnight: Place the dried beans in a large bowl with three times their volume of cold water and allow to stand for 12 hours or overnight. Drain the beans in the morning.
Prepare the stew: Add the oil to a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat, and allow to warm. Meanwhile, finely mince the garlic, and dice the onions and add both to the heated pot and cook until the onions are just translucent; about 2 minutes. Finely mince the turkey (or chicken) bacon and add it to the pot. Allow the turkey to cook fully. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, cajun seasoning, crushed chili flakes, tomato paste, and thyme. Add the beef broth and the drained beans. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce to low heat and continue to cook gently (mixing occasionally) for about 1 1/2 hours. The beans will tenderize well before that, but, the longer you cook this stew, the better the flavours will marry and mingle. You will have to add a cup of water (or two) to the pot as the water from the broth will begin to evaporate halfway through the cooking process. If you have extra beef broth on hand, you can add that in lieu of the water. Once the stew is fully cooked, remove from heat and pick out the stems of thyme (the leaves will have fallen off the stem leaving just a bare stem) and discard. Chop the basil and parsley and mix it into the stew.
Transfer the stew to wide, deep bowls and enjoy warm with crusty french bread. Garnish with a sprig of thyme to add panache for a fancier dinner affair.
Yields: 4 generous servings