As temperatures drop, I begin to crave warming stews, soups and comfort foods.
But save me from monotony.
Classic beef stew is great, but I can’t take a steady diet of it. As a big fan of Indian food, which certainly fits the warm and autumnal theme, I had fallen into a rut with the typical tomato-based chicken curry, so I needed to shake things up a bit. This coconut-based beef curry did the trick.
Warming and comforting? Check.
Interesting flavor and a bit of spice? Check.
Relatively economical? Check.
Homey and welcoming aroma? Check.
Beets did double duty for this meal; the greens were simply sautéed and served alongside the curry. Their roots were turned into a fresh-tasting beet salad that can be served warm or cold.
I ended up serving it warm with dinner, and using the leftovers, cold, as a side for another meal the following night. Kind of goes back to that theme of repurposing and repackaging leftovers to avoid kitchen waste and culinary repetition.
We ladled the curry onto mounds of brown basmati rice, but it would be fine on white rice, quinoa, even noodles. Not a fan of the grains? Simply offer warm naan, pita or even baguettes alongside the stew. The gravy is tasty, so you’ll want to sop it up with something.
As for dessert, this is quite a hearty meal, so my inclination is to go light and simple: I suggest pears poached in syrup infused with Indian spices like cardamom and ginger.
Not your cup of chai? Consider a mango, lime or coconut sorbet, which keeps the subcontinental theme going, and has the benefit of requiring no work from the chef. If you want something a bit more substantial, consider an autumn fruit cobbler or apple cake that uses Indian spices in lieu of the more traditional flavors.
Serves 4, with leftovers
I made my own spice blend to control the flavor and add some extra kick with additional chili powder, but you can simplify this by using curry powder in place of the spices. Added bonus: This curry freezes well — so if you are feeling just a little bit motivated, double this, and it easily becomes another dinner in few weeks when you don’t have the time or inclination to cook.
2 pounds beef chuck, cut in bite-sized cubes and trimmed of excess fat
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece ginger, grated
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cayenne or other powdered chili pepper (less for milder flavor)
1/2 teaspoon dried mustard
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 can coconut milk
4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
Lime wedges and chopped fresh cilantro for serving
Sprinkle the beef cubes with salt and pepper. Heat the canola oil in a Dutch oven over medium and add onion, garlic, ginger and salt. Sauté until fragrant. Add the beef, and brown on all sides. This takes about 5 minutes.
Place the spices in a small bowl or cup and mix; sprinkle into a pan. (You can substitute 2 or 3 tablespoons of your favorite curry powder for the spices.) Continue to stir as the beef sears. If the spices stick to the bottom, add a bit more oil and scrape them up.
Pour the coconut milk over the meat mixture and stir. Fill the empty can halfway with water; add to the pot. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat. Cover and simmer one hour or more until the meat is fork tender. Add the potatoes and simmer another 30 minutes until they are softened.
Serve with chopped cilantro and lime wedges.
Sautéed beet greens
Greens cut from two bunches of beets
2 tablespoons oil
2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Rinse the greens well, as they tend to be gritty. I soak them in a large bowl of water and rinse them several times to clean them thoroughly. Remove the long stems; you can leave a bit of the stem on near the leaf.
In a large skillet, heat the oil, garlic, salt and pepper.
When the garlic is fragrant, add the greens and turn them over with tongs, repeatedly, until they are wilted and cooked through; this takes between 5 and 7 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Lime cilantro beets
Serves 4 with leftovers
Salt for boiling and seasoning
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Juice of ½ lime
Place the beets in a large saucepan or stock pot and cover with water. Add about 1 teaspoon of salt and bring the water to a boil. Simmer the beets, covered, until soft, about 30 minutes.
Drain the beets, and when they are cool enough to handle, remove the skin. Chop the beets into bite-sized pieces, and place them in a medium bowl.
Sprinkle with the desired amount of salt, spritz with lime juice and add chopped cilantro. Stir and serve warm, or chill and serve as a cold salad.
These are a go-to as a pareve option, especially at this time of year when pears are in season and meals tend to feature hearty meat main courses. I’ve offered other versions of this preparation before as a complement to autumn and winter dinners with other poaching liquids — this one hits a high note with Indians spices and complements the curry nicely.
4 firm, ripe pears, peeled, with stem intact, and bottom-trimmed to a flat surface. Bosc, Bartlett or Anjou pears are recommended.
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 stick cinnamon or 1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cardamom pods or 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 inch piece fresh ginger, grated
Spritz the pears with lemon juice to avoid browning.
Place the sugar and water in a medium saucepan (large enough to hold pears). Bring the mixture to a boil so that the sugar dissolves.
Add the remaining ingredients, return it to a boil and add the pears.
Cover and simmer for 20 minutes until the pears are tender.
Remove the pears from the pan and boil the poaching liquid until it reduces and becomes syrup. Strain the syrup and drizzle it over the pears before serving.
Keri White is a Philadelphia food writer.