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  • Writer's pictureSARAH


It's the wrong end of January and now that the mercury has dipped again I am left wondering if I could legitimately fashion a duvet into a stylish two-piece trouser suit and matching hat.

I am sitting here swathed in several layers of thermal clothing and wearing a rather fetching pair of compression demi-gloves. These marvels are supposed to keep my fingers free of fabric while remaining warm and mobile enough to type. They don't, I'm not and I can't feel my toes!

In an effort to install some personal central heating, I've been revisiting many of our family's favourite soups, stews, braises and casseroles but with a slant on healthier eating and calorie reduction while still maintaining the flavour and insulating properties. Let's face it, unless one is in the Bahamas, a salad for dinner is just not going to cut it!

We eat a LOT of chicken in our house as it is low in calories, versatile and quick to cook but it can get a bit - dare I say it- boring? When I think of casserole or stew I immediately think of beef with its full flavour and rich sauce; often helped along by a bottle of stout or porter to deepen the savoury goodness and served alongside a heaping mound of mashed or boiled potatoes. Not very diet friendly or slenderising I think you'll agree.

In the recipe below I've endeavoured to cut the calories without sacrificing the magnificent rich beefy flavour using red wine instead of beer (lots of polyphenols (antioxidants to you and me) and and replaced the mash with new potatoes. For the wine, use any dry red (Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc that's inexpensive but still good enough to drink.

You can reduce the calories even more by nixing the tatties and making some cauliflower rice to sop up the sauce or perhaps some protein rich quinoa. Make sure the cut of beef you use has plenty of marbling and fat, you can use Chuck , Short Rib, Shin or Flap but make sure there's some fat running through it. Lean beef will never tenderise in a stew and will lack the flavour that you are aiming for. If you are worried about saturated fat; cook the stew and allow it to go cold so that you can spoon off the fat that rises to the surface. I always make a double batch of anything like this and then freeze half (without the potatoes as they don't freeze well) so that there is a ready made meal for late mid-week when I'm too tired to cook but don't want to indulge in a calorific takeaway. Simply take it out of the freezer the day before and allow it 24 hours in the fridge to defrost before giving it 45-60 minutes in a medium oven. Boil in the bag rice or some boiled new potatoes with a head of shredded cabbage in the steamer above them means there's only one pan on the hob and less clearing up. A win-win for everyone! BEEF STEW WITH CARROTS & POTATOES 1.5 KG (3LB) well-marbled beef, cut into 3cm/1.5 inch pieces

Salt & Pepper for seasoning 3 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions sliced

7 cloves garlic peeled and smashed

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1-1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

2-3 tablespoons flour

600ml (16 fl oz ) dry red wine - doesn't need to be the best but make sure it's drinkable!

600ml (16 fl oz) beef stock

500ml (12 fl oz) water

1-2 bay leaves

Small bunch fresh thyme Parsley stalks 1.5 teaspoons sugar-

4 large carrots, peeled and cut into one-inch chunks on a diagonal

500g (1lb) pound small new potatoes cut in half

Fresh chopped parsley, for serving (optional)


Preheat the oven to 325°F 170c gas 4-5.

Pat the beef dry and season with the salt and pepper. In a large casserole or stock pot heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering. I usually use a Le Creuset or one of my many Le Creuset 'knock offs' from Sainsbury or TK Maxx. If you find cast iron pans too heavy then use a thick bottomed frying pan and transfer the meat to an earthenware, glass or lighter weight casserole dish with a well fitting lid. A recent innovation is the cast aluminium pans from Lakeland or John Lewis that you can buy online or in-store. They are every bit as effective as cast iron and about a quarter of the weight. I can actually pick up the large pan and lid with one hand! I have included two links below if you're curious.

Brown the meat in 3 batches, turning with tongs, for about 5 minutes per batch and add one tablespoon of oil to the pan for each batch. To sear the meat properly, do not crowd the pan and let the meat develop a nice brown crust before turning with tongs.

Transfer the meat to a large plate and set aside. Add the onions, garlic and balsamic vinegar to the pan and cook stirring with a wooden spoon and scraping up the brown bits from bottom of the pan, for around 5 minutes. The vinegar might make your eyes smart a little but it adds so much to the flavour and colour. The liquid will loosen all the little crispy nuggets of flavour from the fried beef and will enrich the sauce.

Dollop in the tomato paste and cook for a minute more. Add the beef with its juices back in to the pan and sprinkle with the flour. Stir it well with wooden spoon until the flour is evenly distributed . Pour in the wine, beef stock, water, bay leaf, thyme, parsley stalks and sugar. I like to tie the herbs up in a bunch so they are easier to fish out of the pan rather than chasing all the twiggy bits and soggy leaves around and invariably missing some!

Give it all a final good stir and bring to a boil. Cover the pot with the lid and transfer to the preheated oven. Give it around 2 hours and then remove the pot from the oven and add the carrots and potatoes. Cover and place back in oven for about an hour more, or until the vegetables are cooked, the sauce is thickened, and the meat is tender. Fish out the herbs and discard, taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Allow to sit out of the oven for 10-15 minutes and then garnish with parsley and serve. Alternatively, let it come to room temperature and then store in the refrigerator overnight or until ready to serve. This stew improves in flavour if made at least a day ahead. If you find that the potatoes and carrots have soaked up the sauce, add half a pint of Bisto powder and water. Reheat until piping hot all the way through and then garnish with the parsley. Cook's note: If you are short on time, you can combine ALL the ingredients in a deep casserole or slow cooker and just cook it. It won't look very appealing raw but it will yield a tasty stew albeit a bit pinky-grey in colour and not as 'rich' in depth as the frying method. This would make an ideal Shabbat lunch dish cooked this way. Just add some extra liquid to prevent the stew from drying out and then a good sprinkling of chopped parsley to enhance the appearance at table.


Cauliflower rice is super easy and quick to prepare. Just take a head of cauliflower, cut into quarters and remove the core. Break into small florets and blitz in a food processor for about 30 seconds until it resembles rice grains. Do not over-stuff the food processor or you will end up with mush. If you can't be bothered with a food processor you can grate the cauliflower onto a plate. There are a myriad ways to cook it but here are three that have yielded good results depending on how low-cal you want to go. 100g of steamed microwaved cauliflower rice contains just 25 calories.

Microwaving By far the easiest way to cook your cauliflower rice, and as you don’t need to add any fat, the healthiest too. Microwave fresh cauliflower rice in a heatproof bowl, covered with cling film or a lid for three minutes on High. Give it a stir at around 90 seconds. If you find it too 'wet' simply spread it on a plate and give it another blast in the microwave for around 20 seconds.

Stir-frying Add a scant tablespoon of olive oil to a deep saute pan that has a lid. Stir-fry the cauliflower for around 1-2 minutes; add a small splash of water and then cover and steam for 5-8m minutes until tender.

Roasting Sprinkle the cauliflower with a drizzle of olive oil and toss it about to coat. Spread the cauliflower rice in a thin even layer over the base of a parchment lined baking sheet. Roast for around 10-12 minutes, giving it a stir half way through. This is my preferred method as it gives the 'rice' a light fluffy texture and reduces the risk of any sogginess.

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