Across time and cultures, the consumption of stew has been very common. For example, there are references to stew-type meat-based dishes from the era of Herodotus, who recorded that Scythians consumed such dishes from the 8th to the 4th Century BC. Historians also suggest that Amazonian tribes made stews 8000 years ago. In the Roman Empire, fish and lamb stews were consumed and the Hungarian goulash is also known since the 9th Century.
The English cuisine also used stews of various ingredients as staple. However, the term “stew” did not appear commonly until the 14th Century as a verb, referring to the preparation method or “vessel for cooking” of stews. The term “stew” as a noun only appeared in 1756 in Devil’s Drive by Byron, in which he mentioned an “Irish stew”.
Over centuries, the dish was mostly referred to as “pottage”, “stewpan” and “hotpot” in England. Nevertheless, the dish was common and mostly it was eaten by necessity, by the poor. They mixed up vegetables and grains and cooked them slowly in liquid to allow flavours to mingle and to achieve a homogenous consistency and a gravy-style sauce. In better times, the vegetables in the dish were supplemented with fish or meat. Wealthier households added spices, almonds and sometimes wine to add variety and flavour to the dish.
When “English stew” is mentioned in gastronomic history, the term tends to refer to a beef-based dish, which includes onions, root vegetables and potatoes. Normally, it is simmered in water or stock slowly and sometimes red wine or beer is added to it.
I found a vegetarian English stew designed by Nigel Slater on BBC Food, which is perfect for vegetarians who want to enjoy typical English flavours without the beef or any other meat component. The dish is rustic and hearty and it is perfect for a substantial, nutrient-rich lunch or dinner. Let’s see how to make it!
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil, plus extra for frying the almonds
- 1 carrot (chopped)
- 1 stalk celery (chopped)
- 1 onion (chopped)
- 1 turnip (chopped)
- 2 garlic cloves (chopped)
- 150 grams of baby button mushrooms (halved)
- 250 grams of green lentils
- 2 litres vegetable stock (home-made or if packaged, use organic)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 4 sprigs of thyme
- handful of almonds
- 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
- 10 cherry tomatoes (quartered)
- Heat the olive oil in a large pan and fry the carrot, celery, onion and turnip until softened. It takes about five minutes.
- Add the garlic and mushrooms. Fry for a further five minutes.
- Add the lentils, pour over the stock and add the herbs. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
- Add the cherry tomatoes to the stew and warm through.
- Just before the stew is ready, fry the almonds in a separate saucepan, in a splash of olive oil with the cinnamon for two minutes. (Be careful as it burns easily.)
- Serve the lentil stew with the almonds on top.