While our taste buds were touring around Central and Eastern Europe, our only frustration was that so many countries had similar traditional dishes, mostly based around stewed meat and plenty of stodgy carbs (usually potatoes or a variation on pasta). In an effort to avoid making the same thing every time we reached a new country, we tried to vary what we made, including desserts, baking and even breakfasts in the mix. Understandably, we were pretty excited to have left that region of the world and get to the Mediterranean region (namely Greece), which would give us the opportunity to make a whole new range of meals. We could eat vegetables again! Olives, feta, seafood, fresh herbs! Light, fresh, tangy flavours that we’ve been looking forward to since ‘setting sail’!
So what have we opted for? Beef stifado. In other words, Greek beef stew. Served with pasta. However, this decision is not quite as strange as it may appear. Ash remembers enjoying a beef stifado at a tiny local restaurant whilst on holiday with his parents on the Island of Kalymnos (to the east side of the Aegean Sea near Kos) over 15 years ago, and has been going on about it ever since. The strong-flavoured and melt-in-the-mouth beef and onion stew with spices and a thick gravy was worth one more casserole…
The recipe is slightly adapted from the one in this Corfu travel guide.
1 kg lean beef, cubed
500g baby shallot onions, peeled
1 large onion, chopped
1 large juicy tomato, chopped
2 tbsp tomato puree
Generous grate of nutmeg (original recipe said 1/2 a nutmeg, but we weren’t brave enough to risk that flavour taking over)
1 cinnamon stick
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 vegetable stock cube, crumbled
Two sprigs rosemary
3 small bay leaves
175ml red wine
2 tbsp red wine
Salt and pepper
1. Brown the beef in a large casserole dish on high heat, then set aside.
2. Add olive oil, chopped onion and garlic. Cook on a high heat until the onions have softened.
3. Add beef, wine and vinegar and cook, covered, for another 5 minutes.
4. Add nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, rosemary, stock cube and a good pinch of black pepper. Keep stirring while the ingredients blend, on a moderate heat. Add salt to taste.
5. Keep heating while adding tomatoes and tomato paste.
6. Add 750ml-1 litre of hot water so as to cover the meat. Cook in the oven at 160C for an hour.
7. While waiting, shallow fry the peeled shallots in a little olive oil, until soft, not letting them burn.
8. After the beef has cooked for an hour, add the shallots (but not the oil) and leave in the oven until the meat is thoroughly cooked (soft and tender) – at least another hour. Add water if needed. We cooked for another hour with the lid on, then about 20 minutes without the lid to thicken the sauce.
We served this with Italian riso pasta: we’d originally intended to use orzo but couldn’t get hold of any, but the riso worked nicely. It also sat very happily next to our favourite Italian red wine, Sangiovese.
This was a delicious, aromatic beef stew that was as tender as Ash remembered it. The stewed shallots added a lovely sweetness and thickness to the sauce, whilst at the same time making it seem lighter than a heavy winter stew – just right for the Indian summer we seem to be having this weekend! Having said that, it would also be a lovely winter warmer.
We’re off to Turkey next – and we’ll do our best to choose a dish that isn’t a stew this time!