Sunday, 28 September 2008

Greek comfort food (Γεύμα παρηγoριάς)

Just look at our weather today:

rainy day in hania

There were signs warning of the ominous weather yesterday, despite the sunshine; that was just a ploy to keep the tourist activity alive. People were still walking around in their summer clothes, and we even managed to go to the beach. But the rain couldn't stay away for too long and by all means, it's more than welcome. We've had more than the average rainfall for this time of year.

Of course, I love it. It's cooling, refreshing, cleansing, invigorating, like a battery recharger, unlike the summer's stifling heat, which saps the energy out of you, leaving you with a feeling of suffocation, as if the heat is drowning you. It's still humid, but at least we've cooled down by a few degrees. And we don't need to water the garden any more; the rain does a great job. Maybe it slows down the growth rate, but the coffers are full anyway; there's little more room in the deep freeze. The perfect weather to stay at home. The best weather to cook a hearty meal and still have the stamina to eat it in the midday sun, which was well hidden today amongst the puffy rainclouds.


I found a rather large piece of beef at the butcher's the other day. If you like your meat, then you may have experienced this feeling some time in your own life: its colour (dark red) seemed to be screaming out to me: "I'm fresh, I'm tender, EAT ME!" There were very few marblings in this cut, which means very little fat; a very lean cut of beef, all meat. Greek beef tends to be rather tough to cook and eat, which is why we don't often buy or cook it in our own home (except for minced beef). It was my lucky day. This recipe - beef in tomato sauce with peas and carrots: μοσχάρι κοκκινιστό με αρακά και καρότα - is very popular right around the country, especially in this weather.

You need:
lean beef, approximately 800-1000g, cut in small chunks
1/2 cup oil
4 large onions, cut in medium slices
2 large cloves of garlic (optional), chopped finely
1/2 glass of red wine
4 large tomatoes, pureed (I used my own preserved summer tomato sauce)
1 teaspoon of tomato paste
salt and pepper
500g frozen peas (something we might try growing this winter)
2 large carrots, cut into chunks or sliced into rounds

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and garlic, and coat till they are well oiled. Cook for a few minutes (do not burn), then add the beef chunks. Let them cook till there is no red colour on the meat, turning them over to make sure all sides are coated and cooked in the oil, over a moderate heat. Add the wine, and let the meat cook for another five minutes to soak up the flavour. Then add the tomatoes and seasonings. Turn the heat to very low, place a lid on the pot, and don't open it for at least an hour; if this is Greek beef, it will need at least two hours to cook thoroughly (which is why we often buy French beef from the Carrefour supermarket, or locally raised beef from a nearby village; they are fed and slaughtered differently, creating tastier beef).

After the first hour has passed, take the lid of the pot (everything should be looking creamy and saucy), add the peas and carrots, place the lid on the pot and let the vegetables cook away, until the beef is also tender, according to your taste spectrum. I cooked this beef for two hours; we like it to fall away from the knife. This recipe is an adaptation of stifado; beef can also be cooked in that way, the main difference being the addition of spices and whole onions. Instead of the carrots and peas, a local alternative to vegetables is a handful of green olives, in which case, this red sauce is called kapama (καπαμά).

The traditional way to serve this meal is with fried potatoes and a green salad. A healthier alternative is to present it on a bed of plain steamed rice.

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