Monday, October 24, 2011

Life Changing, Energy Altering Beef Stew

I'd love it if I could be a vegan.  I can't.  Many of my health heroes (see: Kris Carr, Heidi Swanson) are ardent vegans or vegetarians, and I believe them when they say that their vibrant glow comes from green juices and the pure energy of fresh vegetables and fruits.  However, for me, there is something about a piece of red meat that totally revives my body.  When I am having a particularly draggy moment, the husband will inevitably inquire, "When was the last time you had some beef?"  If it has been more than a few days, he'll insist on zipping over to our healthy burrito joint and bringing me some carne asada, stat.  It's miraculous how much better and more energized and alive my body feels immediately after that infusion of red meat.  In fact, it was steak that initially lured me away from seven years of vegetarianism.  The hubs is certain that I have some sort of chemical balance in my body which demands this regular infusion of iron, zinc and B vitamins provided so holistically by our friend the cow.

When I do feel my body needing beef, I go out of my way to make sure that I satiate the craving with local, organic, humanely-raised beef, in a minimal quantity.  Not only does this meat taste better, consuming it sits better with me politically (yes, I'm one of those people, but I think you already knew that). I often turn to a beautiful publication called Edible Boston to get dialed into local purveyors and producers of food in our community.  It was in the fall edition of Edible Boston that I came upon the most incredible recipe for beef stew.

This recipe comes from Boston local farm manager and author Diana Rodgers, who happens to follow the "Paleo diet".  This diet is based on the presumed ancient diet of wild plants and animals that early humans consumed during the Paleolithic era, and consists mainly of grass-fed pasture-raised meats, fish, vegetables, fruit, roots, and nuts, and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar, and processed oils.  Hardcore.  The funny thing is that in this article Rodgers describes several symptoms (regular sluggishness, digestive issues, blood sugar plummets), that were resolved for her once she started eating like a caveman.  The physical phenomenon she evokes is so similar to what I experience with my red meat infusions that I knew I had to dive in and try the recipes that went along with the article. 
Photo via Diana Rodgers
We love beef stew in the winter, and I already have two favorite recipes that I prepare (Jools' Favourite Beef Stew from Jamie Oliver, and Ina Garten's Beef Bourguignon, specifically).  Both of these recipes involve flour, potatoes, and butter leave you with a very indulged and heavy feeling (which can be quite nice in the dead of winter, but still).  Rodgers' recipe simply features beef, carrots, coconut milk and a tantalizing list of aromatics.  The ingredient list for this stew was so warming and unique, I knew I had to make a pot of this on Sunday.

Dudes.  This stew blew our minds.  Our house smelled so insanely good while it was cooking that the hubs texted me specifically to inform me of the olfactory madness going on while I was out running errands.  And the flavors.  Mmmmm, speechless.  I've never had something quite so warming and singularly satisfying.  Between the fresh ginger, the Indian-inspired spices and the coconut, I must say that this stew is the culinary equivalent of a deep tissue massage followed by a long soak in a hot tub.  After eating a bowl of this, I literally felt like I could bench press the car.  Really.

On top of that, it was easy to prepare... just a small bit of chopping and maybe 30 minutes of active prep before popping it in the oven.  I did have to invest in a $10 jar of coconut oil for this recipe, but after reading about the Paleo reasoning behind choosing this unprocessed, unrefined oil, I was sold anyway.  Did you know most of oils we use are actually rancid by the time they hit our shelves, and devoid of any of the nutritional value of the plants from which they're derived?  Coconut oil, besides being incredibly tasty, is nutritionally unsurpassed, and has a ton of uses for everything from beauty treatments to cooking projects.

All that is to say, this soup will be making a regular appearance on our menus throughout the winter.  The flavor combination is downright dreamy, and the satiety and sense of well-being it provides in one simple bowl is remarkable.  I'll definitely be serving this at many a dinner party to our carnivorous friends.  I'm also thinking it is the perfect dish to bring to a new mama friend to rejuvenate her post-partum energy.  Truly, this is a magical elixir.  Finally, I'll add that I don't think you necessarily need to serve the stew with anything.  I had a good-sized bowl and a glass of water for dinner and was absolutely stuffed.  And the energy provided by this power dinner propelled me through eight hours of sleep, a four mile run and a trip to the playground before I had breakfast.  Amazing.  Maybe these Paleo peeps are onto something?
Photo via Diana Rodgers
Curried Beef Stew with Coconut Milk
By Diana Rodgers
This dish is warm and very rich. It will fill your house with the most amazing aroma for hours as it simmers in the oven. Feel free to add different vegetables during the last hour of cooking.

Serves 4–6
5 tablespoons coconut oil
3 pounds grass-fed beef for stew, cut into 1- to 2-inch
2 medium onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons ginger, minced
2 teaspoons coriander
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 cups beef broth
1 cinnamon stick
1 can coconut milk (Rodgers calls for full fat, I used light and it was still delicious)
6 carrots, peeled and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro for garnish
1) Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2) In a large Dutch oven, heat 3 tablespoons coconut oil and brown the beef chunks in small batches.
3) Remove the beef to a bowl and add the remaining coconut oil, onion, garlic, ginger and spices (including cinnamon stick). Cook for approximately 10 minutes, then return the beef and add broth. Bring to a simmer, then cover and place in the oven for about 3 hours. Check periodically to ensure there is enough liquid. If it looks dry, add a little water to cover.
4) After 3 hours, add the coconut milk and carrots. Replace cover and leave in oven for one more hour. Remove from heat and remove cinnamon stick. Salt and pepper to taste and serve, garnished with cilantro.

*Note: I was going out after prepping the stew, not to return until just before dinner, so I added the carrots and coconut milk with the broth and let it all simmer together for the full four hours.  It was fantastic this way, but next time I'd like to try it per the recipe, as I'm sure the carrots retain more color and crispness...not sure what effect that timing has on the coconut milk...I'll report back!


  1. Gonna try this on Sunday after a stop at our farmer's market for beef.

  2. After being a vegetarian for most of my life I've gone back to eating meat in small doses and only local, humanely raised will do. It does help me feel more balanced at times. This stew sounds delicious-thanks for sharing the recipe.