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. Melded together, along with aromatics like onions and garlic, these flavours transport me to warm places I’ve never been.
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.
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.
Bright, eye-opening taste complements the tender beef of this stew. I made couscous with mint and cucumber to accompany it, keeping the profile of the side dish delicate to offset the bolder stew. The combination worked very well, and both times I made the dish it somehow disappeared in a single day.
Middle Eastern-Inspired Beef Stew
This stew is the right size for a small Dutch oven (about 3 quarts in size). Makes 2 ample servings.
- 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.
Cucumber Mint Couscous
Couscous can be prepared in less than 10 minutes and is a nice light side to a substantial 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″ English cucumber, cut into strips and finely sliced
- 2 tsp olive oil
- approx. 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 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.