Cape Town - The tail end of the butchery fridge at the local supermarket is a humble place where the thrifty shopper can find a bargain. If the thrifty shopper is also a nifty cook, he can take that bargain home and transform it into a meal that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to serve to a discerning friend.
I love what we call “peasant” dishes, the kind of one-pot wonders that every cuisine has in its arsenal and which invariably are born of hardship.
They’re dishes earned by tired limbs and sweaty brows, to be wolfed down at the home’s hearth with the ones you carry, and who carry you, through a long life. They’re the stuff of the soul.
They’re flavoured with what is plucked from the bush or measured from a jar in the pantry, and what goes into the pot other than meat is uprooted from the ground or snipped off a branch.
When we hit one of those patches when one’s bank manager might well advise one to avoid the expensive cuts at the other end of the fridge, I happily explore the chuck or blade, the cheap pork cut or the liver that most people fear as if it were the carrier of some dread curse. Or I would, if anyone other than myself in my family would eat liver.
The best cheap beef cut, for me, is short rib, which strikes me as being the perfect meat. It contains good layers of lean meat, slim bones, and an edge of fat that is not too thick to be a nuisance and not too thin to be annoying. It’s just right and packs a whack of flavour.
But the even cheaper beef cuts, whether brisket, chuck or blade, are nothing to be embarrassed about as long as you trim away some of the fattier parts.
It may seem a little contradictory that the recipe that is coming up in the next few paragraphs includes saffron – but if the budget is tight, you can wing that one right out and still have a great dish.
For a dish I made this week, I needed apples and raisins, both of which are not going to break the bank, and for the rest, it’s stuff that is likely to be in the larder anyway – some ground spices, an onion, a little honey. If you want to push the boat out a little, you can use some sesame seeds to finish it off, but the dish won’t be harmed if you leave them out. And the dish also uses fresh coriander, but I don’t think it would be harmed by leaving that out either.
Strangely then, this dish was inspired by one I found in Cooking Moroccan, a publication by Murdoch Books, London, which has the curious distinction of not having an author. It was given to me by a friend a year or so ago and I have scoured it from cover to cover in search of someone to blame, and there is none, the only credits being a slew of editorial directors, test kitchens and whatnot. It’s a book by committee.
This is quite different from most meat dishes I cook in that it is both spiced and sweet, but we loved it despite its otherness.
Tagine of beef with apples and raisins
1kg chuck or blade, cut into small pieces
2 tbs olive oil
1 onion, sliced
½ tsp ground ginger
1½ tsps ground cinnamon
¼ tsp saffron threads
375 ml (1½ cups) cold water
1½ tsps salt
Ground black pepper to taste
4 sprigs coriander tied in a bunch
125g/1 cup raisins
3 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled, cut into wedges
1 tbs sesame seeds, toasted
Trim fat off the beef and cut into small cubes, about 2.5cm each. Fry in batches in a mixture of olive oil and butter, and keep aside.
Cook the sliced onion in the same pan for about five minutes until softened but not browned. Add the ground spices and saffron and cook for a minute, stirring.
Add 375ml (1½ cups) cold water, the salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Add the beef and coriander and simmer, covered, on a low heat for an hour and a half.
Then add the raisins and 1 tbs of honey, cover and simmer for another 30 minutes.
Toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan, tossing, and set aside.
Heat remaining butter in the frying pan and cook the apple wedges on both sides until lightly golden, drizzling a little honey over at the end.
Serve with couscous, topping the meat with the apples followed by a scattering of sesame seeds.- Weekend Argus