Recipe: Basic Stew

After yet another intense winter (I think we hit -20 Celsius on a few days...) spring is finally beginning to show itself in Seoul as the city begins to thaw out from the winter spell.

In between winter and spring in Korea there's almost always this brief period where the temperatures begin to climb and spring seems to be in the air when suddenly the temperatures plummet once more for a few days making it seem the season is having a brief identity crisis.

This little period is known to Koreans as 꽃샘추위 ("Kkot Saem Choo Wi") which is said to be because the cold because envious of the flowers beginning to bloom in early spring.

I returned to Korea just in time for this year's kkot saem choo wi and after experiencing spring full-on in Turkey, I too was momentarily confused in how to appropriately dress for the climate here as I went about in light long sleeves and jacket-less, like I did there, while my friends looked on in bewilderment.

Having just thawed out my body in Turkey the cold spell really didn't make me inclined to step out if I didn't have to. Nevertheless my fridge was looking a bit bare as I still had to go grocery shopping since my return. My laziness won the best of me a few days ago as it came to dinner time and I began scouring my cabinet of canned and boxed goods (or my mini-"Costco" as my Korean friends here call it) to see what I could whip up for a dinner meal with what I had on hand. After assessing what I had, I decided to make a nice stew for the chilly evening.

Stews are nice, not only because I, myself, am named Stew, but because they are quite a flexible dish as long as you have a basic template of ingredients to work with. Whatever you think would be good with your basic broth you can throw in to make it.

This is my most recent version I used which you can modify to your heart's content. My only recommendation would be that when choosing what to put in the stew, you should think not about each ingredient separately but how it would come together with the other ingredients in the end. I suppose it's like painting something with a picture in mind; just because you have a particular favorite color doesn't mean it's always the best idea to go ahead and use it without thinking ahead of how it would come together with your other colors.

Basic Stew
Makes about 3 servings
Total time: 35 minutes

- 1/2 can of chicken broth (I always find low sodium preferable but it's up to you)
- 1 can of peeled plum tomatoes
- 1/2 can of corn (drained) 
- 3 chicken breasts
- 2-3 sausages (ones with bold flavors work well such as curry or sun dried tomatoes) 
- 1 onion
- 1/2 carrot
- 2 medium potatoes (I like potatoes so I went with two but feel free to just use one or none)
- 1/2 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 bay leaves
- 1-2 cup water (adjust as needed according to how salty you like it)

1. Dice up your carrots, onions and potatoes into 1/2 inch or so sized pieces.

2. Dice up your chicken breasts and sausages into slightly bigger pieces than your diced vegetables.

3. Heat up a nice heavy pot with some extra virgin olive oil on medium high heat and add your diced carrots, onions and potatoes. 

4. Stir and cook for about 3 minutes or so until the veggies start softening up.

5. Add the diced chicken breasts and sausages to the pot and stir and cook for another 3-5 minutes until the meats have turned color. 

6. At the last 2-3 minutes, add the minced garlic. Adding the garlic too early in the process will result in burnt garlic and burnt garlic tasting broth. I also like to add a dash of white wine or other similar alcohol to help bring out the stuff at the bottom of the pan but this is optional. 

7. Add half the can of chicken broth, the can of plum tomatoes and the water and break up the canned tomatoes a bit as you stir. Add in the bay leaves. 

8. Once it begins to boil, bring the heat down to medium and let it simmer with the pot closed making sure to stir the contents once in a while. Taste and adjust flavor as needed. You could add more of the chicken broth, add more water, add other seasonings, etc. 

9. After continuing to boil for about 5-7 minutes, the soup itself should start reducing. When the veggies are soft and the meats are thoroughly cooked the stew is good to go.

Using the leftover carrot and corn, I washed up and tore up some lettuce to make a salad. I also had some baguette left over so I took that and broiled it up a bit on a pan with just a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper to serve with the stew. You could just as easily serve it over cooked rice or quinoa instead of with bread. 

Warm, hearty and filling, it's a quick and easy meal and with leftovers you can reheat for another day!

- Feel free to take out/add other ingredients to the stew. Canned kidney beans, diced fresh tomatoes, chopped frozen spinach (you may need to add some more broth for this last one as frozen greens will release water) are all possibilities
- If you have more exotic condiments/spices on hand, give them a try to spice up the stew. Mexican spices and ingredients added to the stew during cooking and then topped with some shredded cheese and a dollop of sour cream on top could be a fun experiment. Maybe even "Korean"-izing it with some red pepper paste or kimchi! :P