A spiced stew for a cold weekend

Here in New York City , it's currently 16 degrees, going down to a frigid 8 tonight. (Though I guess I can't complain too much, given that in Pollock, South Dakota , it was minus 47 yesterday!) But luckily, we're heading into a holiday weekend. I plan on not leaving the house for a day or two, hunkering down with a cozy blanket, a fire in the fireplace, and a nice, hot bowl of stew.

There really is no more perfect dish for cold winter days. Good, hearty stew fills your belly and warms you up from the inside out. But the traditional European version can get a bit monotonous, so instead, I like to draw inspriation from a Greek dish called stifado.

Stifado is a rich stew that can be made from rabbit, beef, lamb, or a variety of other meats. But what makes it special is not the meat, but the recipe's unique, delicious combination of tomatoes, onions, spices, and sweet and sour flavors. My mother discovered stifado when she bought a Greek cookbook in the 1980s. The first time she made it for dinner, I was blown away.

When I moved into my first apartment, I called my mom and asked her, what was it that made stifado so special? She explained that the key was a flavoring mixture that you whisked up separately, then stirred into the stew. Here's the basic recipe:

2 (6-ounce) cans tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar

In a medium bowl, whisk the above ingredients together with a tablespoon or 2 of water until smooth. Stir the mixture into the stew, then stir in:

2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 bay leaves
2 dashes cayenne
Salt to taste

You can add this flavoring mixture to any basic stew, though it's especially good with beef or lamb. I've even used it in a vegetarian "stew" made from lentils, rye berries, potatoes, carrots, and green beans cooked in a veggie broth. One key for authentic stifado, however: Be sure to include lots of onions, ideally the tiny, sweet pearl variety.

Add some crusty bread and a pint of toasty ale, and you've got the perfect winter meal.

For more on stews, check out Epicurious's favorite stew recipes

By Sarah Kagan


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