Bright, tangy flavour never used to immediately come to mind when I thought of beef stew. But that’s changed since I developed this recipe for Middle Eastern-Inspired Beef Stew. Delicate Cucumber Mint Couscous is the perfect accompaniment to complement it. [First published April 2013]
Middle Eastern-Inspired Flavours
Ever since I made Chicken with Sumac, Za’atar and Lemon earlier this year I’ve had a yearning to re-experience the exotic dreaminess of its Middle Eastern flavours.
I’ve always been drawn to citrusy tartness, and sumac imparts its own “refreshing fruity sourness” according to Ian Hemphill, author of The Spice and Herb Bible: A Cook’s Guide. Complementing the lemon and sumac are cinnamon and allspice, spices that I used to associate only with sweet dishes, and za’atar. Melded together, along with aromatics like onions and garlic, these flavours transport me to warm places I’ve never been.
Middle Eastern-Inspired Beef Stew
Instead of making the chicken dish again, I wanted to see if could make these bright and complex seasonings work in a beef dish of my own devising. I’ve yet to acquire a deft hand with Middle Eastern spices, so I’m learning by doing. I like to develop my own savoury dishes, but it takes practice to work intuitively with spices from different cuisines. I’m not there yet, but I’m enjoying the journey
The bright, eye-opening flavours of the lemon and sumac and the subtle sweetness of the spices complement the tender beef in this Middle Eastern-Inspired Beef Stew.
The Evolution of a Recipe
I drew inspiration from my earlier chicken dish, which I adapted from Cooking-Spree who in turn adapted it from Ottolenghi. As a piece of glass is buffeted by the waves and worn by the sand of a constantly moving lake, emerging miles and time away, recognizably a piece of glass yet different, so too do recipes transform as they are passed from cook to cook around the world.
Cucumber Mint Couscous
To accompany the stew, I made couscous with mint and cucumber. The delicate profile of the side dish offsets the bolder stew. The combination worked very well, and both times I made the dish it somehow disappeared in a single day.
- 1 lb. blade steak cut into 1″x2″ chunks (or stewing beef)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 medium onions coarsely chopped (or 3 small)
- 2 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp allspice
- 1 tbsp ground sumac
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper or to taste
- 1 tsp salt or to taste
- 1 lb Roma tomatoes coarsely chopped
- 1 small lemon sliced about 1/4″ thick
- handful flat leaf parsley chopped, plus more for garnish
- 1 tbsp za’atar
Heat the olive oil over medium high heat and brown the beef on all sides, working in batches if necessary. Lower heat to medium and stir in the onions and garlic. Add the cinnamon, allspice, sumac, pepper, salt and za’atar. Stir well and cook for a couple of minutes, enjoying the heady fragrance of the spices.
Stir in the tomato pieces and turn heat to low. Cover the pot and cook for 10 minutes or so until the tomatoes have rendered their juices. Add the chopped parsley and distribute the lemon slices around the pot. Cover and simmer for up to 3 hours over very low heat, stirring occasionally and taking care to be gentle with the lemon slices.
When serving, garnish with additional parsley and one of the cooked lemon slices.
Couscous can be prepared in less than 10 minutes and is a nice light side to a substantial dish like our Middle Eastern-Inspired Beef Stew. Since the stew has tangy notes from the lemon and sumac, the use of lemon juice is somewhat restrained in this couscous.
- 3/4 cup whole wheat couscous
- 1 cup boiling water
- small handful flat leaf parsley finely chopped
- 8 leaves mint finely chopped
- about 2-inch length English cucumber cut into strips and finely sliced
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (approximately)
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- salt to taste
Place the couscous in a medium-sized heatproof bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for five minutes.
Tenderly fluff the couscous with a fork, then gently stir in the rest of the ingredients and taste. Adjust the lemon juice, pepper and salt to suit your taste.
Looking for More Beef Stew Ideas?
Beef stew is a great vehicle for travelling through a world of flavour profiles. Here are a few cases in point: Ginger Orange Beef Stew with Chinese Five Spice, Beef Stew with Red Wine, and Beef Curry with Potatoes, Red Pepper and Spinach.
First published 2013 04
Republished 2019 03 12