Zoo Stew

Things to love about fall in Seattle:

1. It’s sweater weather.

2. It’s soup weather.

3. Apple pickin.’ More on that later.

4. The Woodland Park Zoo is, for those glorious weeks after the end of summer vacation and the start of field trips, almost entirely ours.

As much as I love sweaters and soup, I’m giddy about Number 4. For us, no trip to the zoo is complete without a lengthy stop at the flamingo hangout, a visit to all the big cats, and a hello to the bears and otters. On our last visit, we happened to hit the Komodo dragon exhibit at feeding time.

We’re as hungry as the Komodo dragons after we come home from the zoo. So we like to have zoo stew.

Zoo stew does not contain zoo meat. Though you can tell your kids it does if that makes it more appealing to them.

The idea is that you throw this in a crock pot and let it do its business while you’re at the zoo. That way, you educate your children and make a healthy, comforting, homemade meal all in the same day. Go you.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute 1 large chicken breast that’s been cubed. When it’s nearly cooked, add half a large onion that you’ve diced and 1 red or orange pepper, also diced. Add 3-4 cloves of minced garlic a few minutes later. This is also a good time to add 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of chili powder, and 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper to the pan. Stir everything well, and add a little chicken or vegetable stock if your meat and vegetables are sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Then, pour in half a bottle of beer (not that apricot flavored stuff) and 1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock and marvel at how it deglazes the pan and helps create a delicious sauce.

It’s a shame to let that other half a beer go to waste, but you’re about to load the kids into the car. If you absolutely can’t let it go, then make this dish on the stove top when you get home and treat yourself to a little Happy Hour. You’ll have earned it after your field trip.

Transfer the contents of your skillet to a crock pot. Add 2 Yukon Gold potatoes that you’ve peeled and cubed, 1 cup of dried white beans that you’ve soaked overnight or cooked on the stove top until they’re fork tender (or use canned beans), 1 4-ounce can of roasted chiles, 1 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes that you’ve drained, and a couple of bay leaves. Cover and set the crock pot to low heat.

Have fun at the zoo.

Right before you’re ready to serve your Zoo Stew, do something that separates the good moms from the fun moms.

Toss in a handful of spinach, kale, or Swiss chard.

If the kids complain, remind them that you took them to the zoo. Or ask them to imitate how a Komodo dragon eats spinach.

(Komodo dragons don’t really eat spinach. We saw what they eat. And it definitely isn’t spinach.)

Zoo Stew

serves 4


1 large chicken breast, cubed

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

half a large onion, diced

1 red or orange pepper, diced

3-4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4-1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock

half a bottle of beer

1 cup of dried white beans that have been soaked overnight or cooked until they are fork tender

2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 4-ounce can of roasted chiles

1 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained

2 bay leaves

1 cup spinach, kale, or Swiss chard

salt to taste

pepper to taste


1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, then the cubed chicken. Saute for several minutes, stirring often.

2. Add the onion and red or orange pepper. Add the garlic when the onion has become opaque. Add the cumin, chili powder, and cayenne pepper. Add a little water or stock to the pan to prevent sticking.

3. Add the beer and stock and stir well.

4. Pour contents of skillet into a crock pot. Add potatoes, beans, tomatoes, green chiles, and bay leaf. Simmer on low for several hours, or until beans and potatoes are done. Add the greens and continue cooking until they are wilted.

5. Remove bay leaves before serving soup.

6. Pair with a great zoo book. Here are some of Rue’s favorites: A Sick Day for Amos McGee, Class Two at the Zoo, The Dumb Bunnies Go To the Zoo, Life-Size Zoo, Pssst!, Mud City, and Sylvie.

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