|Beef Stew takes a Mediterranean Holiday - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
Is it weird to say you're taking food on a vacation? Perhaps. A friend and her husband took a romantic trip to Greece a while back, and it was super sweet and romantic-like. So there must be something about the Mediterranean region that just makes everything better. That would include the flavors and spices of the region, which include wonderful things like turmeric, cardamom or sumac. Smoky, spicy, aromatic and a playground for the tastebuds, as they all lend unique layers to a dish. I'm sure you're familiar with those spices because they're the ones you buy a whole jar of for one random, exotic dish and you're stuck looking at them with silent wonder, pondering what the heck you're going to make with the rest. Don't lie, you've lived in the house where you wind up with four jars of cumin because you think you don't have it, buy a fresh jar and come home to find two or three half-used jars of cumin staring back at you.
So my challenge was twofold: to make beef stew a little more interesting and make better use of the Island of Misfit Spices congregating in my pantry. I got to mixing up some dried herbs and spices, coming up with a basic mix that's easy to combine in bulk and just keep for later use, as it could be used as a dry rub or mixed as a flavoring in hearty soups. Scroll below to see the spice mix, if you're curious. Aside from making use of your leftover spices, it's quite pretty -- don't you think??
|The Spice must flow... into my dinner, and oh yeah, don't forget dessert - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
As to how the stew was constructed, it was similar to the original beef stew: cubes of about a pound or so of beef shoulder meat seasoned in salt and pepper, lightly dusted in flour and seared for a caramelized surface; deglaze the pot with some stock (skip the wine for this stew) and throw in some chopped root vegetables like carrots, potatoes (sweet potatoes are extra y-u-m), and plenty of onions before putting the meat back in. Sprinkle about a quarter cup of the spice mix, depending on how large your pot is and how strong you want the flavor to be. Let everything cook down and in the last hour of slow cooking, throw in some raisins and chickpeas to give it a more Mediterranean feel. You can serve it over rice, couscous, quinoa, even pasta. When I made this, I had a wealth of eggplant, so I made this side that has the best name, like, ever: Silky Eggplant, from Epicurious. It's one half of the whole dish called Sultan's Delight, another awesome name for food. I was very much inspired by this recipe as a whole, getting the idea for the spice mix, I just modified based on what I had in the pantry -- I admit, I have an unusually large stockpile of spices from a lovely aunt whose in-laws are Persian and I get tons of good stuff from them.
|Cold, chilly evening equals rich, hearty food - this math is sound! - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
The Silky Eggplant (I'm just going to say that all day) took a few extra steps, but the result did not disappoint. It's super-rich and, like the name promises, silky. *Insert Catwoman purr here* Definitely an indulgence, as there's an astonishing amount of cream and butter in the recipe, but if you don't want to fuss with it, don't bother. The stew is perfectly fine on its own. And using the slow cooker gives you extra time to make something extra special, like little fruit pies, which I did with some extra pie dough and random fruit. Don't look at me like dessert is so complicated -- pies, especially fruit ones, are as easy as... well, pie. We're in a constant state of whittling down our supply of extra fruit from our CSA box. Sure, we could just eat the fruit like normal people, but that wouldn't be as enjoyable.
But on to the nitty-gritty, if you would like to make your own Moroccan/Mediterranean-inspired seasoning mix for a beef stew, this was my combo. It will make enough for one large pot of stew, or double it if you want to keep some for later. Note, I don't include any salt or pepper in this -- I like to keep the spice mix pepper and sodium-free so you can add based on your personal taste or health needs.
No-More-Boring Beef Stew Spice Mix
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp dried mint leaves
1 tbsp ground sumac (this gives it a sour/citrus flavor; if you don't have it, just add fresh citrus to stew)
2 tsp ground cumin
1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp dried marjoram leaves
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix to incorporate. If you're making an extra large batch and saving some for later, pour the remainder in a resealable jar and store in a dry place.