Beef stew is a hearty dish that is prepared with chunky cuts of vegetables and chunks of beef. Cooked to a thicker consistency than most soups, it makes a simple but filling meal that is ideal for cold weather or rainy days. It is not unusual for this stew to cook slowly for several hours, allowing the broth to thicken and allow time for the flavors of all the ingredients to intermingle.
One of the characteristics that tends to distinguish beef stew from vegetable soup is that the ingredients are cut into larger pieces for the stew. Potatoes are a staple in this stew and help to provide some of the starch that helps to thicken the broth so it clings to all the chunky vegetables. The most simplistic recipe calls for nothing more than chunks of beef roast, potatoes, carrots and English peas. However, there is a wide range of ingredients used in different recipes for beef stew.
Beans are sometimes added to beef stew as a way of adding one more element of texture and color. Chunks of tomatoes may also be included along with the potatoes and carrots. It is not unusual for green beans to also find their way into a simmering pot of beef stew in some areas of the world.
One of the advantages of beef stew is that is can be prepared using leftovers. By combining various vegetables into the pot and using remnants of a beef roast to provide a meaty texture and flavor to the dish, it is possible to make efficient use of any leftover food that could not be reasonably served in its original presentation one more time. Combining the ingredients into a thickened stew and serving it along with chunks of bread and a small salad create a meal that does not seem to be leftovers but something new.
One of the more popular ways to enjoy beef stew when in a restaurant is to order the stew in a bread bowl. A bread bowl is simply a large rounded loaf of bread that has a thick crust. The top area of the bread is cut open and a section of the interior removed to create an edible bowl. The top crust and the section removed to create the bowl can be consumed along with the stew. As the stew slowly permeates the body of the bread bowl, section can be torn off and consumed.