When it comes to hearty winter stews and braises, meat tends to be the main ingredient of this warming meal, but that doesn't mean you should discount vegetables. Not only do they complement and balance the meatiness of stews and chilis, but it's a wonderful way to pack more (and more!) vegetables into your comfort food.
Whether the recipe calls for it or not, every stew can use another serving of veggies. Here are seven vegetables you should be adding to stews and braises right now.
1. Hearty Greens
Give your stew the gift of greens. While delicate greens like arugula, spinach, and lettuces won't hold up to the heat, their more hearty counterparts are up to the task and can help stretch a stew low on meat to feed the whole family. Reach for tough winter greens, like kale, Swiss chard, collard, mustard, beet, or turnip greens to bring freshness to the pot. Be sure to add them toward the end of cooking so they retain some of their texture.
Get inspired: Braised Chicken, Greens, and Beans
A medley of mixed mushrooms (like cremini, shiitake, and oyster) add meatiness, both in flavor and texture. Despite the long cook time of stews and braises, these earthy additions soften up and absorb the flavorful liquid, but manage to hold their shape. Almost any beef stew can host a handful or two of mushrooms with ease.
Get inspired: Slow-Cooker Beef and Barley Stew
3. Root Vegetables
Sturdy root vegetables are a classic addition to stews and braises. They really bring more substance and body to these dishes and turn velvety and soft as they cook. Carrots are a go-to for stews and braises, but look beyond them to parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, celeriac, and sweet potatoes. Be sure cut them on the larger size so they don't dissolve into mush.
Get inspired: Sweet Potato and Tempeh Stew
4. Winter Squash
Like root vegetables, all varieties of winter squash make a welcome addition to slow-cooked stews and braises. Butternut, kabocha, acorn, and buttercup squashes work particularly well, adding a subtle sweetness and starchiness that thickens the saucy base.
Get inspired: Pork, Poblano, and Pumpkin Stew
If you haven't considered adding fennel to a stew or braise, now is the time to give it a try. It will grow soft and tender, and brings with it a cool licorice aroma that will lightly perfume your meal.
Get inspired: Braised Fennel and Shallots with Parsley and Orange Zest
Despite our love for cauliflower, it's not the vegetable that's at the front of our minds when making stew — but it should be. After being quickly blanched in boiling water, these small, milky florets can make a wonderful substitution for beans.
Get inspired: Braised Beef with Semolina Dumplings
Come winter, stews and braises are where eggplant really excels. After a long simmer, the eggplant's flesh is transformed into a velvety-smooth texture that tastes totally luxurious. If you're forgoing meat, eggplant is the vegetable that can still deliver a stew or braise with a hearty, meaty texture.
Add eggplant to this recipe: White Bean & Chicken Sausage Stew
Do you have a favorite vegetable to add to stews?