If you need a little extra warmth this winter, let eintopf be your go-to.
There are as many versions of eintopf, a hearty German stew, as there are people who love it. A traditional eintopf may include bratwurst and sauerkraut, but how it is cooked (eintopf translates to “one pot”) is more important than what goes in the pot. As long as you have meat and vegetables, you have the basis for eintopf.
I first got to know eintopf as a child. My parents moved us back to Lagos after completing graduate school in Berlin, and they shared eintopf with me and my siblings. They didn’t have a singular approach to it, and I don’t either. It’s a dish I am constantly refining and most likely always will be.
That’s because eintopf is as generous as it is brilliant for how well it takes to substitutions. Any root vegetable you have combination on hand will work, and any of two or three works best: Carrots, parsnips, beets, Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes are just some options. Spicy greens, hearty greens or cabbages are ideal for finishing the stew, adding a bit of crunch.
This recipe highlights bone-in short ribs, which, like other tough but flavorful cuts of meat, will need time to break down, but they’ll eventually reach a point where the bones, juices and fat all make indiscernible contributions to the broth. The coconut milk provides a finish that suits me — an avoider of dairy — but you can add heavy cream or any other ingredient that thickens quickly without watering down the dish.
Once it’s out of the oven, you can then separate what you’ll save for the days ahead. To the portions I’ll be serving right away, I add kale, followed by a toss of reserved fennel fronds. At this point, the broth holds a certain brightness, but, if after tasting, a lime wedge or a quick zest of another citrus peel suits you, that would be lovely, too.
I’m a tireless devotee of one-pot meals. From them, I’ve learned new techniques, and about cuisines and ingredients that are unfamiliar to me. But my favorite one-pot meals are the ones that get better in the days after the cooking is done. By the second or third day, all the flavors you’ve developed have had time to get to know one another.
It’s the kind of cooking my parents did as students: building something in a single pot for a week’s worth of meals. For them, and now for me, there is comfort in returning to a good meal, especially one that holds as much warmth and memory as this cozy one-pot dish.
Eintopf (braised short ribs with fennel, squash and sweet potato)
Total time: 4 hours
Serves: 6 to 8
Eintopf simply means “one pot” in German and, in practice, it is an adaptable stew of meat and vegetables. This particular recipe, made with bone-in short ribs, is braised until the meat melts off the bone. Fennel — fresh bulb and dried seeds — stars in the braise, while the fronds are sliced for garnishing. Every bite of this stew bursts with flavor, and, as is the case with so many one-pot meals, this dish will only improve with time as all the ingredients sit and mingle. Serve this hot off the stove, with some warm crusty bread for dipping. If you plan to save it for later, reserve the fresh greens for stirring in right before serving.
1.8kg meaty, bone-in short ribs, cut into single-bone portions
1 tbsp neutral oil, such as grapeseed, canola or vegetable oil
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped (about 90g), top with fronds separated from bulb and thinly sliced
6 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 (790g) can whole peeled tomatoes
950ml chicken stock
1 white sweet potato, such as Japanese sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 5cm pieces, or use an orange sweet potato
1/2 small butternut squash (about 540g), seeds removed, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 (430g) can full-fat coconut milk
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 (25mm) piece fresh ginger, scrubbed and grated
70g torn or cut fresh greens, such as kale, mature spinach, mustard greens or dandelion greens
Warm crusty bread, per serving
1. Season the short ribs with a sprinkle of salt on all sides. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven set over medium-high. Working in batches if necessary, brown the tops and sides of short ribs, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a large plate and repeat the browning process with the remaining ribs.
2. Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pot. Add the chopped fennel bulb, (reserve the top and fronds for garnish), shallots and garlic to the pot, season with salt, and toss to coat in the pan drippings. Sauté over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until softened, 3 minutes. Add the fennel seeds and turmeric, and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and break apart the whole pieces with a wooden spoon or other cooking utensil. Cook until the tomato juices are thickened, about 6 minutes. Return the browned short ribs, bone side up, to the pot along with any drippings from the plate. Pour in the chicken stock and bring up to a simmer. Cover and transfer pot to the oven. Braise until the meat is tender, but not falling off the bone, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
3. Increase the oven temperature to 190 degrees Celsius. Transfer the cooked short ribs to a plate. Using a colander or sieve set over a bowl, drain out the vegetable solids from the pot and discard, reserving the liquid broth. Skim off and discard as much oil as you can from the surface of the liquid using a spoon or a ladle. (You should have about 710 to 950 millilitres of broth.) Return the broth to the pot, add the potato and squash, and pour in the coconut milk. Season to taste with salt and the 1 teaspoon black pepper. Add the ginger and return the short ribs to the pot, nestling the pieces between the vegetables so that the meat is mostly submerged in the liquid. Return the pot to the oven and braise uncovered until the potato and squash are tender, the meat is falling off the bone, and the liquid is slightly reduced, 50 minutes to 1 hour.
4. On the stovetop but off heat, stir in the greens: The heat from the stew should gently wilt the leaves. Top with the thinly sliced fennel top and fronds. Serve hot in bowls with warm crusty bread for dipping.
And to Drink …
I think of this dish as a hearty beef stew, though one ingredient, coconut milk, makes for a trickier pairing. Coconut milk often turns up in Asian seafood or poultry preparations and curries, dishes I would reflexively pair with a white, but with this rendition of eintopf I emphatically want a generous red. The coconut milk will add richness, but the dominant flavors will best be complemented by reds. My reflex is to pick a savory syrah, either from the Northern Rhône, Australia or the West Coast of the United States. A grenache from the Southern Rhône, Spain or the West Coast would be delicious, too. Other options? A Loire Valley cabernet franc, a Douro red from Portugal and maybe an aglianico from Campania.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.