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This bright take on hearty, slow-cooked beef stew employs harissa flavors and lemon yogurt. [Photograph: Jennifer Olvera]

It's hard to find fault with a basic beef stew. Better, though, is one that riffs on the standby. And while it's a time-consuming endeavor to get it right, fortunately using the slow cooker means very little of that time is hands-on.

Here, a fragrant mix of harissa spices—paprika, chile, cinnamon, coriander, mint, and caraway—lends nuance. Pickled peperoncini and Worcestershire sauce are key additions that help lend depth. Taking the time to brown the beef is important, as it builds flavor from the onset and prevents the dish from tasting one-note. The stew is bolstered by tiny potatoes and carrots, but feel free to add in other veggies or legumes at your discretion: sweet peppers and chickpeas work well.

While the lemon yogurt that finishes the dish is not requisite, the creamy tang is a welcome way to offset the heady spices.

Note: Feel free to make the stew up to two days in advance, as the flavors will improve in the refrigerator. It freezes beautifully, too.

About the author: Jennifer Olvera is a veteran food and travel writer and author of "Food Lovers' Guide to Chicago." Follow her on Twitter @olverajennifer.

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