When the weather gets cold, my body wants something hot to eat but sometimes soup just doesn’t feel like enough to warm my bones. That’s when I want something thick, hearty and satisfying; that’s when I want stew. Making stew is similar to making soup – it’s just a bunch of ingredients cooked in liquid for a while but it’s thicker than soup. The liquid in stews transforms into a gravy or sauce that is filled with flavor from the extended cooking time. Stews may look complicated but they are really very easy to make. Here are some tips on how to make simple veg stews and chilis. And we have recipes, of course, lots and lots of recipes. You’re probably feeling warmer already.
1. Meaty Meatless Stews
The first thing you need to decide is what kind of stew you want to make. You might not think so but even plant-based stews can be meaty. Tofu, tempeh and seitan can all stand in for meat to make a hearty, “beefy” stew. When I want to add some meat-like texture to my stew, as in my Seitan Pot Roast, I prepare that ingredient first. If you are using tofu, make sure it is well-pressed and drained. Cut your tofu, tempeh or seitan into chunks and coat it in some flour seasoned with herbs and spices such as garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, dried thyme, kosher salt and black pepper. Heat some vegetable oil in a Dutch oven or large pot and cook the floured pieces in batches until they are browned and crisp on both sides. Don’t worry about them being too crisp since they will soften in the gravy or sauce. Transfer the pieces to a dish and try not to eat them. You will return them to the pot later. With chilis, you can leave the “meaty” pieces in the pot for the whole cooking but I still like to add them back in later so they are less mushy.
Other examples of meaty vegan stews include Beef-Style Vegan Stew, Vegan Irish “Lamb” Stew, “Chicken” Green Chili and Hominy Posole, Seitan and Mushroom Bourguignon, and Traditional “Beef” Stew Recipe.
2. Trinities and Aromatics
If you are making a meaty meatless stew, this is the next step. If you are making a pure veggie stew, this is the first step. Most stews start with what is called the “mirepoix,” “trinity,” or “sofrito,” depending on which regional or ethnic cuisine we are cooking. They are what are known as the “humble beginnings,” lending flavor to the dish. Sofrito is the mixture of onion, garlic, peppers and tomatoes sautéed in olive oil found in Spanish, Latin and Caribbean cooking. French cuisine gives us the “mirepoix” we more commonly known as onions, carrots and celery. In Cajun cuisine, onion, celery and green pepper is known as “the Holy Trinity.” Every cuisine across the globe starts with some common, simple vegetables and aromatics. Other ingredients used are leeks, chile peppers and ginger.
Whichever you are using, chop the vegetables if you want larger pieces or you can dice them for smaller pieces. Saute them in olive oil for about 8 minutes until they soften and onions become translucent. Garlic can be minced or grated right into the pot. Be sure to put the garlic on top of other veggies so it doesn’t burn. Examples of sofrito being used in a stew can be seen in this Mushroom Ropa Vieja and Jackfruit Ropa Vieja.
3. Choose Your Veggies
Choosing the veggies can either be the easy part or the hard part and hard only if you aren’t sure what to put in your stew. The good news is that anything goes. You can make a mixed veggie stew with your favorite vegetables, use whatever will help clean out the fridge or have restraint and only add three or four vegetables that may be dependent on your recipe or what you like. Vegetables that will hold up to long cooking times are the best choices for stews and more delicate veggies should be added towards the end of cooking. Good veggie choices are sweet potatoes, russet potatoes, root vegetables such as carrots, turnips and parsnips, green beans, pumpkin, winter squash, and cauliflower.
Examples of veggie-filled stews include Hearty Purple Potato Stew, Three Sisters Stew, Sweet Potato and Quinoa Chili, Roasted Root Vegetable Stew, Eggplant, Onion and Tomato Stew and the Hearty Vegetable Stew we will make together later in the article.
4. Spice It Up
Now we get to the fun part, at least to me, anyway. Spices are my very favorite part of cooking because just by changing the spices, we can change the entire flavor profile of the dish. Knowing the spice profiles of different ethnic and regional cuisines lets us make one dish in endless ways, traveling around the world without ever leaving the kitchen. Check out my articles on spices to learn more: How to Stock Your Spice Cabinet for Delicious Vegan Cooking, 10 Essential International Spices for Any Kitchen, How to Make Your Own Spice Blends, and How to Add Ethnic Flavor to Dishes.
Examples of stews with specific spice and flavor profiles include African Groundnut Stew, Raw Moroccan Vegetable and Chickpea Stew with Orange Cauliflower Couscous, Vegan Spetsofai (Greek Stew with Sausages and Peppers), Chipotle Chocolate Chili and Ratatouille Stew. For even more stews from around the world, check out 10 Epic Plant-Based Stews Using Global Flavors.
5. Beans, Beans, Beans
The next question is whether you want your stew to have beans or legumes in it. There is no better way to amp up the protein and heartiness of a stew. Once you have cooked all your veggies for ten minutes or so and then added your spices, it will be time to add cooked beans. There are so many delicious beans and each adds its own texture and flavor. My Veggie Cassoulet has cannellini beans, South Indian Lentil Stew has lentils, and black beans go into this Chipotle Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili. Other stews with beans include Ethiopian Beans and Greens Stew and Three Bean and Sweet Potato Chili.
I usually add the cooked beans the same time I add any diced tomatoes and broth. Then the stew gets to simmer so the flavors intensify. Once it’s done, usually about 30 minutes, I return any tofu, tempeh or seitan to the stew, mix it in and let it warm through. Then it’s time to serve.
6. Top It Off
All stews don’t have to have toppings but for some, especially chilis, it’s just more added goodness to an already delicious meal. Usual toppings include avocado, chopped raw red onion, chopped scallions, vegan sour cream, and vegan cheese shreds. Learn to make your own vegan sour cream using coconut milk and your own vegan pepper Jack cashew cheese.
7. Let’s Make a Simple Veggie Stew
I can guarantee you that this stew is simple because it was the first veggie stew I made when I became vegan. Cooking was new to me so I didn’t do anything fancy. I just combined a lot of good, wholesome, plant-based ingredients and made a delicious stew. Let’s cook.
Heat 1 Tbs. vegetable oil in a Dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high heat. Add 1 large diced onion to the pot and cook for about 5 minutes until softened. Add 1 chopped carrot, 1 diced celery stalk and 1 diced bell pepper and cook for another 3 minutes. To the pot, add 1 diced zucchini, 1 diced yellow squash and 4 cubed red potatoes. Add in 6 cloves of minced garlic and mix all the veggies together. Season with 1 Tbs. chile powder, 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. ground coriander, ½ tsp. ground nutmeg and kosher salt and pepper to taste. Add 2 cups cooked red kidney beans, 28 oz. diced tomatoes and 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth. You don’t want a lot of liquid since it’s a stew and not a soup but if it gets too dry, you can certainly add more broth. Cook until the liquid comes to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low.
Add 1 large bunch of any chopped greens you like such as kale, chard, spinach or collards, and let the stew simmer for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are fork-tender. Add 1 cup of corn kernels to the pot, mix and let it warm through. Mix in 2 Tbs. of fresh chopped parsley. Taste for any seasoning adjustments and add 1 or 2 tsp. hot sauce, if desired. Serve in bowls topped with a dollop of vegan sour cream. Yum!
When you want something hot that will make you feel all warm inside, vegetable stews are the answer. One of the things I love about stews is that while I gave you tips, there are no rules. You can change it up every single time so get creative and get stewing.
Also, make sure to check out Here’s Our Ultimate Guide to Vegan Soup Recipes! for all of our favorite soup recipes!
Lead Image Source: Three Sisters Stew