Stews and bean soups are both thick and hearty, and typically rich and flavorful enough to be eaten as a one-dish meal. Stews are typically meat based, but there are variations. Bean soups can be made with just about any type of bean including legumes, which are not technically beans but often fall into that category.
How to Make Traditional Stews
Traditional stews are made in the same way as any standard braise except the ingredients for a stew are cut into bite-sized pieces, thus decreasing the overall cooking time. Here are a few general rules of thumb for cooking stew:
- Searing the meat separately and then combining it with the remaining ingredients before the boiling or simmering process begins typically start the process for making stews. The end result of this type of stew is typically dark and rich in color.
- Sometimes a white stew is desired and is generally made from pale cuts of meat such as chicken or veal. The meat for this dish is first blanched instead of seared to create a luscious, ivory color. Regardless of how the meat is initially treated, the goal is to finish with a dish in which the meat is so tender it practically melts in your mouth.
- Stews are almost always cooked in stock and contain a variety of vegetables, which are often added at different times during the cooking process depending on how quickly they cook.
- In addition to meat stews, there are some fish and shellfish based stews. These stews typically cook in less liquid and for a shorter amount of time.
Types of Common Stews
- Beef Stew: Generally made with beef chuck chunks or beef tips or other cuts of meat that require long cooking periods to tenderize the protein. Beef stew often uses combination of vegetables, spices, herbs, and stocks
- Chicken Stew: Generally made with white meat pieces or other cuts of white meat that doesn't require long cooking periods. Chicken stew often uses combination of vegetables, spices, herbs, and stocks
- Vegetable Stew: Vegetable stews can be made with virtually any combination of vegetables and often also includes some sort of protein for balance and thickener for a hearty and thick consistency
- Thai Curry: A regional type of stew often made with a combination of vegetables, different meats, fish, spices, herbs and coconut milk and stock as the base. Thai curry dishes also always contain some sort of curry flavor in the form of powder, paste, or a homemade variation or aromatics.
- African and Moroccan Tagine: A regional type of stew often made with a combination of vegetables, different meats, fish, spices, herbs, and sometimes even fresh or dried fruits like raisins, currants, dates, and figs. Tagine always contain spices from different African or Moroccan cultures and is usually very full in robust flavor.
Dishing Up Rich Bean Soups
Bean soups are rich in texture and usually subtle in actual bean flavor. They can be served as they are made, with the beans left whole, or they can be pureed and strained for a smooth, silky consistency. Here are some general rules of thumb for cooking bean soups:
- Beans are often used in broth-based soups, left whole to add a burst of individual flavor as they are bitten into with each spoonful.
- If the clean, natural flavor of the bean is desired, additional ingredients are usually not added except for some subtle vegetables. A simple, sweet white bean puree with the garnish of a flavored oil or sprinkling of a chopped fresh herb is a good example of this.
- Sometimes the beans in bean soups are used more for texture than overall flavor and a number of interesting ingredients are added to make a soup with many layers of flavor. A good example of this would be a black bean soup seasoned with bright, piquant spices and chilies and limes to give it some extra zip.