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Joni Woolf: Soups, stews still good wintertime choices

Soups and stews have dominated my writing recently, and with good reason: there is little so satisfying during dreary winter days than a steaming bowl of soup or a rich stew or gumbo. So,  we’ll consider some “real” recipes, plus the story of an accidental one that became one of my better efforts. First, the “real” ones. For those who love oysters, there’s nothing better than a Louisiana gumbo to please the palate, and perhaps the heart. So, here’s any easy gumbo recipe that is not difficult, nor too time-consuming.

Louisiana Oyster Gumbo
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
3 large onions, chopped (approximately 3 cups)
1 medium red or green bell pepper, chopped (approximately 1 cup)
3 cups chicken broth (vegetable broth may be substituted)
2 teaspoons red pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
1 ½ teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 pint shucked large oysters, undrained, or 2 cans (8 oz. size, whole oysters, undrained)
Hot cooked rice, if desired
Heat 2 tablespoons flour and the oil in Dutch oven over medium heat 5 to 10 minutes, stirring constantly until mixture is dark brown (usually referred to as a roux). Stir in onions and bell pepper and cook uncovered about 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until vegetables are tender. Gradually stir in 2½ cups of the broth. Stir in pepper sauce and thyme. Heat to boiling; reduce heat, cover and simmer 3 minutes. Beat remaining ½ cup broth and 1/3 cup flour with whisk. Stir into broth mixture until smooth. Heat to boiling. Stir in oysters, reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 3 minutes or until oysters are heated through. Serve over hot rice.

For the beef lovers among us (and we are legion), here is a simple beef stew that is easy to put together and does not require long hours of cooking. It can be put together at the end of a busy day and enjoyed by one person or a family of six. I find this one of the easier beef stew recipes, and especially like that it does not require a long cooking time.

Old-Time Beef and Vegetable Stew
1 pound lean beef boneless sirloin
1 bag (16 oz.) frozen stew vegetables, thawed
1 can (15 oz.) chunky garlic and herb tomato sauce
1 can (14 ½ oz.) ready-to-serve beef broth
2 cans (5 ½ oz.) spicy eight-vegetable juice, such as V-8
Remove fat from beef. Cut beef into ½ inch cubes. Spray 10-inch, non-stick skillet with cooking spray (or use 1 tablespoon olive oil) and heat over medium-high heat. Cook beef in skillet, stirring occasionally, until brown. Stir in remaining ingredients. Heat to boiling, reduce heat. Simmer uncovered 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with cornbread for a complete meal.

The “accidental” soup occurred last week when I came home from exercise craving a hot bowl of soup, but thinking there was little in the pantry to make it happen. I looked in the freezer and there I spied a gallon Baggie that held about 1 cup of collard greens in 1 quart of stock that remained from a large pot of the vegetable I had cooked earlier. I had saved it, not knowing what I might use it for. Who ever heard of collard stock for a soup base? I thawed it. Then I cooked celery, carrots and onions in a tablespoon of olive oil, adding chopped garlic and ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper toward the end of sautéing. I added the collards and stock, two white potatoes, 1 can diced tomatoes, ¼ cup barley, 2 tablespoons rice, 1 cup of chicken stock, a handful of frozen English peas, two thin slices of baked ham I found in the freezer and two large bay leaves. In 30 minutes I had as good a soup as I had ever made. It was hard for me to believe that collard stock, of all things, could make such a fine base for a vegetable soup. But now that I’ve done it, and it worked, I know I will do it again. Did I mention that almost everything about this soup was healthy? So, save your collard stock. I can almost guarantee you’ll like it in your vegetable soups.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net