Friday, 20 January 2012

Cheap 'n' Greek 'n' frugal: Stifado (Οικονομικό στιφάδο)

Prices are in euro (valid in Hania). All ingredients are Greek or locally sourced; those marked with * are considered frugal here because they are cheap and/or people have their own supplies. 

Making a beef stifado in Greece illustrates how one country's frugal meals may actually form another country's luxury meals. Meat is quite expensive these days, especially beef which now costs over 10 euro a kilo for Greek-raised beef, and about the same for French beef (and a little more than that for Dutch beef), so I wouldn't call a beef dish frugal in Greek terms. Since we aren't vegetarians, we still indulge in the classic meat-based meal for Sunday lunch. The trick to making a frugal meal out of expensive meat is to find ways to stretch the dish and keep it filling and tasty.

Classic Greek stifado is basically a stew made from chunks of (usually) beef or rabbit, slow-cooked in a light tomato/wine sauce, with spices and lots of onions. I usually make this dish with rabbit, which I'm given every now and then by farming folk living in the area... but I haven't been given one in a while. I made stifado recently with some Greek beef, which takes a long time to stew to make it very tender. You can use a pressure cooker if you have one; I let my stifado slow-cook for about three hours on the element, just checking it constantly to make sure there are enough liquids in the pot.

To make stifado frugal, I cook a bit more than I need for a Sunday meal, so I can have some leftovers to use in a more frugal meal the next day (serves 4-6)
1 large onion, finely chopped* 
1-2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped*
a few glugs of olive oil*
1kg beef cut up into golfball-sized chunks (~11 euro)
half a wineglass of home-brewed wine*
~150g tomato sauce* (a third of a store-bought tin costs about ~30 cents)

2 bay leaves*
1 teaspoon of allspice berries*
salt and pepper*
20 small onions (~50 cents)

Pour some oil into a shallow heavy-based pan, and cook the large onion and garlic till translucent. Add the beef chunks and brown them well all over. Then pour in the wine, and let the beef cook in that (uncovered) for about 20 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, spices and seasonings, together with a cup of water and turn the heat down to the lowest point. Cover the pot and let the beef cook for about 45 minutes. It will need to be checked at this point, and you will add more water to it, but never too much: I added two more cups of water at regular intervals. If you add the water altogether, it will feel like the beef was boiled rather than stewed. Test the beef for doneness by checking if a knife goes through a chunk without too much trouble. As soon as you think you are nearing this point, add the small onions (peeled, with a small cross incised on their root side) and let them sit on top of the meat, half soaking in water. Close the lid and allow the beef to continue to cook until it is done.

Stifado is traditionally served with fries in Greece, but only with freshly-cut potatoes - don't use pre-cooked ones because you'll ruin the taste. You'll need about 4-5 medium-sized potatoes, cut into French fries and (~70 cents for the potatoes) some olive oil for frying.*

Serve 3-5 pieces of beef and a 3-4 onions per person, sitting in a good amount of sauce on the plate, and place a few French fries next to the meat. Serve the stifado with a plain green salad. Keep about 3-4 chunks of meat (with sauce and onions) for tomorrow's frugal meal...

Total cost of meal: about 13 euro; 2.50-3 euro per person.

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