Bison and Bean Stew with Root Vegetables and Wilted Swiss Chard
Cold winter days cry out for cozy, comforting soups and stews. I love to have a pot bubbling on the back burner or braising away in the oven. The aroma of garlic and vegetables wafts throughout the house, steaming up the windows. Taking the time to chop vegetables and sear meat is a fine way to occupy a lazy Sunday afternoon. And you don’t have to deal with icy roads and windchill!
I could have made a beef stew, but after visiting my local farmers’ market in Saskatoon, I was inspired by the bison. Nutritionally, it's a powerhouse. Lean, with less fat and fewer calories than other red meat, plus it contains more protein and iron. Bison is also super high in Omega 3 essential fatty acids. Because there is virtually no marbling in the meat, bison cooks faster than beef, thus you have to be a bit gentler when cooking with it. It’s the perfect choice of meat for a slow braise.
I got my hands on a small roast, as I prefer to cut the meat this way rather than buy stewing meat. The cubes of meat are dusted with flour and seared in a pot. Those brown bits that remain on the bottom are flavour bombs and you’ll want to scrape them up when the liquid is added. I used the last of the red wine lingering in the back of the fridge, but white would work just as well. The acidity in the wine will tenderize the meat and it complements the richness of the stewed bison without overpowering the natural flavours of the meat.
White beans are a natural fit in this stew as they soak up all the earthy flavours of the meat and vegetables. I like using dried beans as they hold their shape better in the stew, but you can use about 2-3 cups (500 mL - 750 mL) of canned white beans instead, just add them during the last 30 minutes of cooking time.
This stew is rich and earthy, like a good stew should be. Fragrant with wine and herbs, the smell in your house will be something else, so don’t be surprised if you have people wandering into the kitchen, asking when dinner will be ready. The bison meat falls apart into succulent morsels and the beans soak up all the wonderful flavours, too. The root vegetables are tender, tantalizing those taste buds, and I quite enjoy the addition of chard at the end. It adds a splash of colour, and its bitterness is the balance you wouldn’t think the stew needs, but I can’t imagine it without. Served with chunks of hot buttered garlic toast, this is comfort food at its best. The stew tastes even better a day or two after the flavours have gotten to know each other a little better.