Vegetable stew recipe (pot-au-feu)
Whenever I eat vegetable stew (aka pot-au-feu) I am taken back to my childhood in Quebec eating Sunday brunch at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother was a great cook who knew classic French recipes like the back of her hand and rolled them out every weekend without fail. It was the same routine every Sunday; church in the morning followed by brunch and a very boring afternoon of sitting in the living room, listening to adults catch up on the week’s events. I can still see myself sitting on the floor playing with ceramic statues of dogs while my brother repeatedly flicked crystal drops hanging from one of the table lamps, listening to the tic toc of the grandfather clock until it was finally time to leave. Once we kissed grandma and grandpa goodbye, my brother and I sauntered back home, all smiles and happy to be free again.
My grandmother was no Marie Barone; she loved sharing all of her secret tricks and best recipes with my Japanese mother who knew next to nothing about French food (this was the 70s after all; a long time before the explosion of cookbooks and wide selections of foreign ingredients). Making pot-au-feu was one of the first dishes she learned to cook because of its simplicity and ease. Made with beef and vegetables (such as cabbage, onions and carrots), pot-au-feu is considered THE quintessential French dish – “soul food for socialists” as Anthony Bourdain puts it.
My favorite part of the stew were the vegetables, especially the green beans and potatoes I so enjoyed mashing together. I wanted pot-au-feu to be a vegetable stew since I didn’t care about the meat part. And so I began campaigning for vegetable stew: Who needs meat when the veggies are the best part of the dish! As the years went on, the ratio of meat vs vegetables eventually leaned in my favor; an extra handful of green beans was added just to shut me up. Victory!
Nowadays, my pot-au-feu is 100% aux légumes! A delicious vegetable stew with very clean flavors filled with rustic goodness. It makes a light and healthy appetizer to meat courses (such as bifteck hache a la Lyonnaise) or as an accompaniment to sandwiches.
But you can surely add beef to this recipe if you prefer to. As you can see, we all have different versions of pot-au-feu; the most important part is falling in love with it because once you do, it’s for life.