Winter Stews for Office Lunches

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The short, cold days of winter often have us craving warm, nourishing meals—the kind we refer to as “comfort food” for good reason. I’m a big fan of large-batch winter cooking: making soups, stews, and chilies for dinner on the weekend, and eating the leftovers for lunch the following week or freezing portions to heat up when I can’t think of what to make.

These three recipes are my favorites, and they’re perfect to take to work for lunch—easy to heat in a microwave and dress up with your favorite toppings. Since my household includes gluten-free and dairy-free dinners, I’ve left those ingredients out here—but the recipes can be modified to include cheese and/or pasta as desired.

Two of the three stews can be made on a stove or in an instapot. I’ve written them for stove, with instapot modifications below. Enjoy!

1. Vegetarian Lentil Stew
Recipe by Pia Hinckle
This is a fast and easy stew—especially using two of Trader Joe’s pre-cooked steamed lentil packs and a mirepoix mix (chopped carrot, onion, and celery)—though I prefer to chop mine fresh. Serve with your choice of sausage or garlic-rubbed toast with olive oil for a bigger meal; garnish with grated cheese; or spice it up with a sprinkle of cayenne or chili powder.

INGREDIENTS
2 lbs pre-cooked lentils*
3 large carrots, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 small onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Water or broth as needed
Salt and pepper to taste

PREPARATION

  • Rinse all vegetables in cool water before preparing.
  • Heat olive oil in a medium-sized stew pot and add veggies with a pinch of salt to help them sweat.
  • Sauté on medium heat until softened, about 5-10 minutes. Instapot: Use sauté setting until softened.
  • Add lentils and stir to combine.
  • Add just enough hot water or broth to cover the lentils and bring to a gentle boil, adding more as needed. Lower heat and simmer on low, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes. (The longer it simmers, the deeper the flavors will be.) Instapot: Switch to simmer to eat within 20 minutes or use slow cook LOW for 2 hours.
  • Add water or broth to reduce thickness, if desired. Use an immersion blender if you prefer a smooth lentil soup to a stew.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Keep in refrigerator for up to 7 days; freeze for up to 60 days.

Serves 8–10. Prep time, 30 minutes.

2. Minestrone
This is my mother’s hearty minestrone recipe, which she makes every year on Christmas Eve. I’ve omitted the little pasta shells that she adds to the soup. Beyond being gluten-free, I find the soup freezes better without the pasta. This makes a big batch—plenty to last for a week of lunches.

INGREDIENTS
2 bunches kale, dino or green, chopped into thin strips
4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 large carrots, cut into 1-inch rounds
6 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup (or 1 can) cooked cannellini or great northern beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
Water or broth as needed
Salt and pepper to taste

PREPARATION

  • Rinse all vegetables in cool water before preparing, and remove the ribs from the kale.
  • If you’re using dried beans, soak them overnight and simmer in plenty of water until tender (about 2 hours). Instapot: Use pressure cooker to cook dried beans following machine instructions (about 30 minutes).
  • Heat olive oil in a large stew or stock pot, and add carrot, onion, celery, and garlic. Add a couple generous pinches of salt to help sweat the veggies.
  • Sauté on medium flame until softened. Instapot: Use sauté setting until softened.
  • Add the potatoes and kale. Stir to combine. Add the cooked dried beans. Note: If using canned beans, wait until stew is cooked before adding, or they might disintegrate.
  • Add just enough hot water or broth to cover the stew and bring to a gentle boil, adding more as needed. Lower flame and simmer on low, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour, or until potatoes and beans are tender. (The longer it simmers the deeper the flavors will be.) Instapot: To eat soon, use pressure cook mode for 4 minutes; OR, use slow cook on high setting for 2 hours.
  • Add water to reduce thickness, if desired.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Keep in refrigerator for up to 7 days; freeze for up to 60 days.

Serves 10. Prep time, 2 hours.

3. Chasen’s Famous Chili
This is another recipe from my mother. The recipe clipping she had told the story of how Chasen’s, a now-defunct Beverly Hills restaurant famous for its Hollywood clientele, flew frozen chili to Elizabeth Taylor in Rome when she was filming Cleopatra in 1962.

This recipe is full of meat, fat (in the form of butter), and beans. Note: I modify it to omit the butter for my dairy-free people, and it still tastes great—but I’ve included the original version for those who want to go for it. It’s a big batch that freezes well. I haven’t made it in the instapot yet, so I’ve omitted that cooking option here. This is a great weekend project, as it does take time.

INGREDIENTS
½ pound (1 cup) dried pinto beans (or 3 cups canned/precooked beans)
2 cans (16-oz) tomatoes
1 pound green peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
1½ pounds yellow onions, coarsely chopped
1½ tablespoons vegetable oil (Note: 4 tablespoons if omitting the butter)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ cup parsley, finely chopped (stems removed)
½ cup butter (omit for dairy-free)
2½ pounds ground chuck beef
1 pound ground lean pork
⅓ cup chili powder (Note: add less for less spicy—I use 3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons salt
1½ teaspoons pepper
1½ teaspoons ground cumin

PREPARATION

  • Rinse all vegetables in cool water before preparing.
  • Rinse and soak dried beans overnight, then simmer in plenty of water until tender (about 2 hours) in a pot large enough for all ingredients. Note: If using canned beans, please read through remaining instructions before proceeding.
  • Add tomatoes to the pot with the beans and water, and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • In a large skillet, melt the butter (or add half of the vegetable oil) and sauté the ground beef and pork for about 15 minutes, stirring as needed. Remove meat and set aside.
  • Add remaining vegetable oil to the skillet and sauté the green pepper for about 5 minutes. Add onions and cook until tender, stirring frequently. Add garlic and parsley. (Add tomatoes here if using canned beans.)
  • Add the cooked meat to the onions and green pepper. Stir in the chili powder and cook for 10 minutes.
  • Add the meat mixture to the beans and tomatoes. Season with the salt, pepper and cumin. Simmer covered for 1 hour.
  • Remove lid (add canned beans here if using), and simmer uncovered for an additional 30 minutes.
  • Skim fat off the top before serving.
  • Keep in refrigerator for up to 7 days; freeze for up to 60 days.

Serves 12. Prep time, 3 hours.

Pia Hinckle is publisher at The FruitGuys.

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