the essentials of stew

It’s the beginning of thanksgiving week and I am anticipating using up the contents of my current kitchen larder and emptying the refrigerator for my time away.  I still need to go to the store to get things like dog food and coffee and accompanied with a  ‘knowing’ that I am going to make a stew of some sort, also buy a frozen package of thick Mahi Mahi fish fillets, wild caught from Peru…..

I have had a whole day to let the idea simmer while the fish thaws in the refrigerator.  The light is now fading at the end of this beautiful fall day and I pull the cast iron pot off the wall and onto the stove, cover the bottom with olive oil.  Essential ingredient #1.  Olive oil is a kind of liquid gold that provides a reflective surface for each and every ingredient going into the pot.   It is like the connective tissue in the body, allowing everything to move together easily and with a mirror back to what is on either side.  I put a chopped onion and two chopped leeks into the warm liquid oil.  Essential ingredient #2.  Leek and onion remind me of how my relationship to life is like an infinite series of layers; the minute one is peeled away, there is a new one in its place to consider.  They remind me that the ‘whole’ is simply the process of considering all the layers as inextricably linked to each other and necessary to the integrity of the whole.  There is no gem or golden prize in the center …just layer after layer of rich substance…into which I now add about 1/2 teaspoon of fennel seed.  Essential ingredient #3.  Spice.  I am particularly partial to fennel and tend to use it a lot, but most any spice here will do.  The fragrance that leaps from the pot at this stage is immediate, truly gratifying, taking me and my imagination to another pleasurable place, if only for a moment….

Next to go in the pot are the carrots.  Three big fat locally grown carrots that are so fresh that there is no visible skin, just the shiny orange flesh rinsed and ready to be cut into diagonally sliced chunks and added to the now fragrant onions and leeks.  Essential ingredient #4.  Carrots are such a core element of color in the otherwise bland and pale palate of root vegetables.  Orange and vibrant flash of passion.  The sun rising and setting.  Pick your metaphor.  Carrots are simply essential.  And while they are becoming familiar with the already softening contents of the pot, I wash and prepare three medium potatoes.  Essential ingredient #5.  The stuff of everyday life.  Always plentiful and always available.  Can be grown most anywhere.  Potatoes.  Need I say more?   They are peeled to remove the greenish flesh under the skin and surface blemishes, leaving the creamy white surface of the potato, diced into large chunks and added to the pot.  They get stirred and coated with the now mingling juices of oil and onion and leek and carrot….

Now it is time to consider what the composition of ingredient #6 will be:  The sauce (or to some…the gravy)!   It is the perfect mixture that will become partner and support for all the ingredients.  Some white wine.  A little water.  A generous squeeze of tomato paste, Some fresh lemon juice.  A light red sauce that reminds me that this stew is of the earth first, a thick flowing and yet completely stable medium for support.  Adding enough of each item to taste to make a thickened tasty mixture that covers all the vegetables and leaves enough room for the fish too, then bringing it all to a bubbly simmer while preparing the next ingredient…

I rinse, chop, and add an entire bunch of rainbow chard.  Ingredient #7.  This is about adding something green (and in this case a little red and yellow too…)  Something that carries the energy of healing and love, of new life and growth.   The greens immediately give up their moisture to the rich community in the pot and integrate easily…

I add a little more sauce ingredients and this time, a couple of tablespoons of butter too. plus extra tomato paste to keep the consistency.  Now I prepare the fish.  Ingredient #8.  Typically the ‘meat’ of the stew.  The Mahi Mahi is a firm fleshed fish and lends itself to the stew beautifully.  It is slightly pink when raw and a clear reminder that it is the flesh of a once living creature.  I honor this creature now as an equal participant in this meal, with gratitude for providing balance to the mix, and so it is cut into large chunks about same size as the rest and piled into the pot…

Then stirred.  Equanimity in the pot.  Protein and carbohydrate and fat all claiming equal space….

And then finally add the last ingredient, large crystals of sea salt.  Ingredient #9.  The salt has a way of solidifying the flavor of the whole, bringing everything together in a swirl of readiness.   Adding salt and stirring until the fish is just barely cooked through, just a few minutes, then turn off the fire, cover, and let it all sit and rest for a moment.

Last, but not least, ingredient #10.  Appetite.  Whether a cold day or a hot day, eating stew requires an appetite for nourishment, for heat, for balance, and for appreciation of community in the most primal way.  I can’t wait to get this stew ladled out into my bowl.  It’s beautiful.  It’s delicious…..

4 thoughts on “the essentials of stew

  1. “Olive oil…liquid gold that provides a reflective….!” This may be your most beautiful post yet, showing us yet again how food reflects life. Your conscious combinations and all the rich associations make for a truly wonderful stew for all the senses.

  2. Kathy! I am ready to dive into my screen and devour your stew!! Ingredient # 10 built within me as your descriptions made me burst with excitement. What a delightful post! Thank you!

    • Of course!! First thing that comes to mind is to substitute with chunks of rutabaga in the same way you would potato…or…perhaps add chunks of zucchini at the end with the fish, making sure not to overcook the zucchini so it holds the form of the ‘chunk’ much like a potato….have fun!!

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