One of my favourite Fall/Winter foods is Bigos, aka Polish Hunters Stew. Oh how I adore the rich sauce, the sweet and savory combination, & the easily varied ingredients. Whatever is freshest or on hand can go into the pot, tho' there are a few ingredients that form the framework of this lovely dish: paprika, onions, garlic, good rich meat of some sort, sausage (I love to use turkey/pork Polska Kielbasa) or bacon, dried or fresh fruit of choice, apples, cabbage, mushrooms, tomato juice &/or fresh tomatoes (but only if you perchance have perfectly ripe, garden-fresh ones) and a simple full bodied red wine (Egri Bikavér [Bull's Blood] from Hungary is far and above my favourite to use as well as one of my favourite reds for drinking). For the sweet paprika, all I ever use is Szeged Hungarian sweet paprika... it has an incredible richness without having any uncomfortable heat.
I made Bigos recently with fresh blackberries that I had on hand. They had looked so lovely when I bought them, but they were far too sour to eat plain. I didn't want the extra carbs that it would have taken to make them edible, so I thought, "Why not put them in a small batch of Bigos?" With the berries as a sort of limiting factor, the batch of stew that I made was only about 3 to 4 servings. Here's the rough recp:
- 1/2 to 3/4 lb of diced pork (beef would be fine but I prefer lamb, venison or elk, if I can get it!!!)
- 1/2 lb of Polska Kielbasa, halved length-wise and cut into 1" lengths (Polish Sausage - Butterball or Eckridge make some of the tastiest, low fat sausage)
- 1 med. sized onion roughly chopped into 1" cubes
- 2 diced cloves of garlic
- 1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced (shiitake are the best, of course, but white mushrooms would be
just fine. Play with this... try some Portobellos, chanterelles, cremini or morels.)
- 2 apples, quartered, cored and cut into 1" cubes
- 1/4 head of cubed cabbage broken apart (or more, if you love it as much as I do)
- 2 TB sweet paprika (yes 2 tablespoons & make sure it is the sweet kind... the hot would be
overwhelming at this strength... if you are going to double this recipe, I'd use only about 3 TB... you'll get a feel for the right amount after a while)
- 1/2 pint of fresh black berries (the recipe I have calls for six quartered prunes... yes prunes
and they are wonderful!)
- 4 to 6 dried apricots, cut into quarters (I've also used used dried cranberries or cherries or
even mixed dried fruit)
- 1/2 to 1 C tasty red wine (if you must use Burgundy, add a tablespoon of brown sugar to cut some of the dryness. I like a very slightly sweet wine. It cuts some of the acid of the tomatoes and still adds an earthy depth of character. I once even used 3 TB of REALLY GOOD balsamic vinegar.)
- 2 large fresh tomatoes, skinned, seeded and quartered or small can of diced tomatoes, drained (I prefer the "no salt added" variety) Tomatoes are optional. It just depends on my mood if I add them or not.
- 6 to 12 oz. of V-8 juice (I use the low salt kind)
3 oz of organic strained babyfood carrots or 2 sliced carrots (I hate slices of cooked carrots, so I add the babyfood at the last second for it's slight sweetness and fabulous nutrition... it's also good in spaghetti sauce)
If you're going to have fresh tomatoes in the stew, plunge them into boiling water for a minute. Peel off the loosened skins, cut them in half crosswise, and over the sink or trash, give them a good squeeze and a firm downward shake. Bingo you have just seeded them and easily removed most of the extra moister from them in one motion. Dice them up and set them aside for now. Brown your meat on medium high heat with a tablespoon of sesame, peanut or olive oil. When browned on all sides, remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Brown the sausage the same way and remove it to the bowl. Turn down to medium. Add a little more oil, if necessary, and sauté onions until well browned. Then add garlic & mushrooms and apples. Sauté them until the mushrooms & apples have given up much of their moisture, taking care not to brown the garlic as it will get bitter. Add the cabbage and sauté it until it begins to soften a bit. Add sliced carrots with cabbage if you're using them. Put the reserved meats back in the pan, along with any juices and add the paprika. Toss it around for a minute or two until it smells fragrant but not burned. It will also thicken the pan juices. Turn up the heat to medium high again and quickly add the wine, making sure to scrape loose any tasty browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Let it bubble a minute and reduce and thicken a bit. Add the tomatoes, if you are using them, the V-8 along with the dried and fresh fruit. Let the fruit & tomatoes heat thru' and soften. Just before you pull the pan off the heat, add the puréed carrots and give a stir to incorporate. Serve hot immediately. This stew, like most, reaches it's peak of flavour when it's left overnight in the fridge and reheated. Nummies!!!!