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Lately, I’ve noticed something about myself, a sort of strength that has emerged, an unassailable optimism that persists despite so many reasons for it not to. It’s like I’ve cultivated an imaginary force field of balance. It’s not that I don’t feel pressure, pain or am not moved on a daily basis by how precious certain moments are or how casually people treat each other or the marching on of time. Quite the contrary. It’s just that I now have surprising command of my reactions. Much of it comes with age and the ability to recognize false starts before the damage is done. It comes from having good friends, but ultimately it’s coming from some root within myself, something that has been fortifying itself over time, faltering, pushing, rebuilding and settling. Perhaps that’s why I was so drawn to this meal. Chickpeas, butternut squash and carrots are bolstered with three kinds of meat, smoky paprika and a hint of fresh herbs complemented by a fresh and crusty bread. This is the stuff of life. Spice, herbs, heft, meat. It’s reassuring and ancient, like the instinct to persist. It’s built on tradition, but open to modernization.  It connects me to the continuum of humanity, all of our failures and triumphs, mistakes and heroic moments. Simple nourishment. This dish resonated with me in a way that, even I admit, isn’t exactly normal. I had it last night and I was in love. I was in love while making it and while eating it, acknowledging the culture and history behind it and present with the things that drew me to it.

I’ve been dreaming about this meal since I read about it in Saveur. So many cultures have their own version of it and to me it represents comfort, rustic home cooking that warms the gut, revives the spirit and infuses life into the soul. It’s the kind of dish that gets better when simmering on low for hours, emitting fragrances that make the neighbors jealous. But it remains a gem if you throw it together and simmer it like a quick stew. I cut back on some of the cook time for practical purposes and the results were just as strong. You can really taste the different qualities of the meat. Each bite is a surprise. The result: a restorative, flavorful, strong meal with roots in home, friends, family and in Portugal, France and Spain.

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Cozido de Grão adapted from Saveur

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 oz. chorizo sliced 1½” thick
  • 3/4 lb boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1½” pieces
  • 3/4 lb boneless veal shoulder, cut into 1½” pieces (I couldn’t find boneless of either so I ended up doing the butchering. You may need a strong stomach for it. I also eliminated the pork called for in the original recipe because I had chorizo)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp. Spanish smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 4-6 cups chicken stock (I used one carton because I lost all of my stock reserves when my fridge/freezer broke)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into ½” pieces
  • 2 (15-oz.) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • ½ medium butternut squash (about 1 lb.), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1″ pieces
  • ⅓ cup roughly chopped mint
  • crusty rustic country bread, for serving

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Directions:

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sausage and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a bowl; set aside. Season lamb and veal with salt and pepper, and cook meats, turning as needed, until browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to bowl with sausage. Add garlic and onions to pan; cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. Stir in paprika and cayenne; cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Return sausage and meat to pan, along with stock and bay leaves; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, partly covered, until meat is tender, about 10 minutes. Add potatoes, carrots, chickpeas, squash, salt, and pepper; continue to cook until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes more. Discard bay leaves and stir in mint. Ladle stew into bowls; serve with country bread on the side.

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