Beef mole. No, really!

It’s funny what you can end up cooking when you’re looking for inspiration.  What began as a search for a fun chocolate recipe ended as a mini voyage into one of my favourite cuisines; Mexican!

I was looking for some ideas for a recipe that made use of what I already had in the cupboard and I specifically wanted to use some dark chocolate that’s been looking at me for a few weeks now.  Before I knew it, I was reading about mole and beginning to feel inspired.  In Central America, a mole is a thick, often spicy sauce made with numerous ingredients that can include chillies and dark chocolate.  There seemed to be a handful of variations and each of them sounded delightful.  Being a nacho fiend, I was beginning to see a serious dipping opportunity.

Having made the decision to use only what I had in the cupboards and fridge, the mole I made included minced beef.  Mole is especially popular because of its complex flavours and satisfying kick.  I couldn’t wait to experiment with it.  What ensued was an attack on my cupboards as the ingredient list grew and grew.  As always, I’m conscious that the recipe I’m sharing with you today is not necessarily a traditional mole, but one that I came up with over the course of a very hot afternoon.  With that in mind, some of the ingredients may alarm you, but trust me when I say, the taste is not disappointing!  I managed to surprise myself and I hope this recipe surprises you too.

This is one recipe that I’ll be making for years to come and I suspect that I’ll be trying other moles using chicken, pork and all kinds of chilies.  The sauce itself is more like a chilli con carne in consistency and I’m not saying that it can compete with an authentic Oaxacan mole.  It is however, fun to make, delicious and open to all kinds of adaptions.  Get ready then, for something different, something that I wasn’t expecting.  Is it a chocolate recipe?  Well, not exactly, but I hope you love it as much as I do!

Beef mole

400g chopped tomatoes

250g minced beef

200g tinned kidney beans

2 onions (quartered)

2 Chipotles (soaked in water)

1 red pepper (roughly chopped)

4 garlic cloves

1 medium red chili (roughly chopped)

35g dark chocolate

1 tblspoon smoked paprika

2 tspoons coriander seeds

2 tspoons chili flakes

1 tspoon ground allspice powder

1 tspoon garlic salt

1 tspoon dried oregano

2 tspoons mint sauce

1 and a half tablespoons peanut butter

black pepper

1 tbslpoon sunflower oil

olive oil

sea salt

I began by browning the beef mince with plenty of black pepper in a little olive oil and then setting it aside.

Next, I gently toasted the coriander seeds in a dry pan until they began to release their flavour.  I added them to a container with every ingredient except for the beef, Chipotles, kidney beans, chocolate and sea salt.  Using a handblender, I made a puree and then heated it in a heavy based pot for about twenty minutes on a low heat.  During this time, I added the Chipotles and the water they’d been soaking in, the kidney beans and all of the beef.  I also grated the dark chocolate into the mole and stirred it occasionally so that the sauce didn’t stick.  I removed the Chipotles when the sauce was cooked.

Once the mole was thick, I tasted it and seasoned it with sea salt.  I wanted to use the mole as a dip, so I didn’t add too much salt- my tortillas are already salted.  This mole is not very spicy, but you could add more chilies if you want a real kick.  This has just enough fire to make it fun.  Let me know if you make it.  I’d love to hear what you think!

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Pastitsio vs Stifado

“You can’t beat a good stifado” he said, pointing at me and grinning mischievously.  Years later, surrounded by the aroma of tomato and beef infused with cinnamon, I’m tempted to say that the maths teacher was right.

At high school, I had a perfectly friendly maths teacher who did his best to get his pupils to where they should be, but every now and again, a colleague of his would stride into the classroom and on his way in or out, would strike up some friendly banter with me about the merits of various Greek dishes.  His opening line was always the same: “Had any stifado recently?”

Having guessed that my origins were Greek from my name, this chirpy maths teacher (Mr. J) enjoyed sharing his memories of beef stifado and seemed to like hearing about my own affections for pastitsio: a dish that my mum made and that I still make now with a mixture of love and utter glee.  Note to self: must update the recipe to include my own bechamel sauce which has been perfected recently.

The maths teacher and I would continue our faux argument over which dish was champion until it was time for him to let the lesson continue and for me to focus once more on things more likely to help me gain qualifications.  I wished that the stifado enthusiast was my teacher, but he wasn’t and so our conversations rarely moved beyond sauce and seasoning.

Stifado is essentially pieces of meat cooked slowly in tomatoes and red wine with baby onions.  I like beef stifado, but it can also be made with rabbit.  It’s a wonderfully warming dish with a rich sauce and satisfying flavour.  I wonder what Mr. J would make of my version of the classic Greek dish?  I dare say he’d prefer it to my first attempts at high school maths.

Beef stifado

500g best braising beef

500g baby onions

1 glass red wine

2 tins chopped tomatoes

half cup olive oil

4 cloves garlic

2 tspoons ground cinnamon

1 tblspoon dried oregano

If you want to marinate the beef in red wine and garlic overnight, be my guest.  It does help.  If you don’t have that kinda time or forethought, then begin by shallow frying the peeled baby onions until golden.  Remove from the oil and set aside.

Next, brown the beef in the onion oil and add the cinnamon and oregano.  Pour in the chopped tomatoes and bring to the boil.  Add the red wine and boil for a minute or so to burn off the alcohol.  Drop some cloves of garlic into the pot.  I usually give them a quick bash with the back of my knife so that they release their flavour during cooking.

Simmer with the lid on for an hour.  Keep the heat low enough not to burn everything in the pot, but just high enough to keep everything on a gentle simmer.

After an hour, add as much black pepper as you dare and plenty of salt to taste.  Tip the onions in and cook uncovered for at least another hour until the beef is very tender and the sauce thick.  If the sauce reduces too much, just top up with water or stock.  Eventually, you’ll end up with a nice thick sauce, melt-in-your-mouth beef and beautifully flavoured baby onions.

Stifado goes well with potatoes and I sometimes have a fresh cabbage salad on the side because it has quite a rich sauce.  You’ll certainly need plenty of your favourite bread to mop it all up!

Deeply spiced, deeply missed.

I’ve spent all day wishing that I was back in bed.  I’m not well and all I’ve thought about at work is being snug in my cosy bed.  Arriving home, my wife told me to go straight to bed and get some rest.  Now I don’t want to go to bed.  It’s too early.  There’s only one thing that I want and I can’t have it, so I want it more than anything else!

Chilli con carne.  No wait, come back!  I’m not talking about any old chilli con carne.  I’m not talking about the minced-up slop that gets dolloped onto baked potatoes, or the stuff that comes in tins and might as well be dog food.  What my ailing physical shell is crying out for is some deeply spiced, meaty chilli with plenty of satisfying mouthfuls of flavour and comfort.  What I want is my beloved chunky chilli con carne, and sadly, there’s no chance of me having that wish fulfilled.

I made the chilli last week and thoroughly enjoyed it because I don’t make it often.  There are some things that I can make quickly, but chilli con carne is not one of them.  I really take my time, slow things right down to snail pace.  We’re talking seriously slow food.

The night before I make it, I cover the beef in spices and garlic and put it in the fridge.  The next day, I pile up the flavour and give the chilli lots of depth and a long, slow cook.  By the time it’s ready to eat, the meat is tender, full of flavour and so good that it can be served alone.  As it is, my preference is to pair it with some beautifully buttery mashed potato.  This is by no means a traditional partner to chilli con carne, but it’s something I remember from my childhood and it’s such a perfect way to make sure that every last drop of chilli is mopped up.  The chilli and mash combo is so comforting and hearty that it’s no wonder my immune system is calling out for it.  A shame then, that all I have is the memory of last week and a recipe for my ultimate chilli con carne that may just knock your socks off.

My ultimate chunky chilli con carne

400g stewing beef (roughly chopped)

1 tin chopped tomatoes (400g)

1 tin red kidney bins (400g)

1 red onion (sliced)

1 Spanish onion (sliced)

3 cloves garlic

4 tblspoons dried oregano

2 tblspoons chilli flakes

2 chipotle chillis

1 red chilli (sliced)

2 tblspoons coriander seeds

2 tblspoons cumin seeds

2 tblspoons cumin powder

1 bunch fresh coriander

1 tblspoon tomato puree

1 tspoon cinnamon

olive oil

sea salt

Put the beef into a plastic container ready to go into the fridge.  Add the cinnamon, two tablespoons of oregano, two tablespoons of dried chilli flakes, two roughly chopped garlic cloves and a teaspoon of cumin powder.  Mix thoroughly and then seal the container.  Leave in the fridge overnight if possible.  A few hours will do if you don’t have the time.

The next day, let the meat come back to room temperature before cooking it.  Dry fry the cumin and coriander seeds in a hot pan, but don’t allow them to burn.  Toasting them will release their flavour.  Grind them to a powder and set aside.

Brown the beef in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and then add both of the onions.  Tip the ground coriander and cumin seeds into the pot, add another clove of garlic and stir.  Allow the onions to soften and cook through without burning.  Add another couple of tablespoons of oregano and the red chilli.

Next tip the tomatoes in and stir.  Allow to cook for five or six minutes and then stir in the kidney beans and the tomato puree.  Add another teaspoon of cumin powder.  Finally, pour in just enough water to cover the beef and add the chipotles.  Make sure that everything is well mixed together.  Cover and cook on a low heat for an hour or so, stirring every now and again so that nothing sticks or burns.

The beef needs to cook slowly and become soft.  Once it is tender, take the lid off the pan and cook the chilli for another hour to allow the sauce to reduce and thicken.  If you’re into coriander like I am, chop a bunch and stir it into the chilli just before serving.  Don’t forget to remove the chipotles before tucking in.

Don’t risk it, brisket.

I’m not sure if it’s the value for money or the wonderful results that are currently making brisket my go-to cut of beef.  There’s something about brisket that screams, “Weekend treat!” and I guess it’s the amount of cooking time involved.

I first used brisket in a Tuscan recipe from Jill Norman.  The beef was slowly braised for three hours in a combination of red wine, carrots, celery and tomatoes to achieve a rustic and altogether delicious dish.  Despite the success of that first attempt, I wasn’t too excited about the recipe itself because of how predictable it was.  “Next time,” I thought, “I’ll do something very different.”

The wind began to drive against the windows and the sunny morning disappeared behind a gloomy veil of the North Wests’ finest rain.  It was time to bring the beef up to room temperature.  My father-in-law is a massive fan of beef with ginger and spring onions and he makes a bee-line for the local Chinese as soon as he arrives from France.  It’s the combination of tender beef and serious amounts of ginger that really make it for him.  I thought that perhaps brisket would lend itself to these Asian flavours if it was cooked for long enough and given strong ingredients.

Brisket with ginger and spring onions

1-1.5kg rolled beef brisket

12 spring onions (chopped)

2 medium white onions quartered

3 stalks lemon grass (finely chopped)

Copious amounts of fresh root ginger (finely chopped)

2 large cloves garlic (1 chopped, 1 crushed)

1 glass white wine

1 red chilli

butter

olive oil

pepper

salt

How much ginger? That much.

I started by rolling the brisket in a mixture of sea salt flakes and cracked black pepper.  Once coated, I threw a knob of butter into a 20cm casserole with a little oil and browned the meat on all sides on a high heat.  I removed the meat and prepared the vegetables.  I got half way through grating the ginger and decided to chop the rest.  The rain had stopped and I needed to walk the dog.  I added all of the vegetables including the chilli which I left whole.  These cooked gently on a low heat until soft, but not brown.  I added a little hot water if the mix got too dry.

Butter, oil and a satisfying sizzle.

A good stir and it was time to return the meat to the casserole.  At this point, I added the wine and then topped it up with water until the meat was almost covered, but not quite.  A hard boil for 2 minutes got things going before I turned the heat down to the lowest setting and put the lid on.  It’s important that the meat fits snugly into whatever you cook it in and that the lid is on firmly.  You don’t want the liquid to reduce and leave you with tough meat sitting in a salty puddle.

Lots of flavour.

That was it!  Done.  I just had to find something to do for three hours.  I turned the meat over occasionally and I basted it when I got restless, but it really does take care of itself.  Today I used a cut weighing 846g so it only needed two hours of cooking to be really tender.  I rested it for twenty minutes before carving into thick slices.

The beef has a rest next to the spring greens.

Seasonal food is always a treat and this was no exception.  I’d already used plenty of spring onions and to serve the beef I boiled some Jersey Royals and quickly fried some spring greens in a little butter.  Since the sauce was so punchy, I didn’t need any other strong flavours on the plate.  A nice glass of the same white that went into the beef sauce and you’re laughing!  I can’t wait to make this for my father-in-law.  C’est magnifique!

Beef brisket with ginger & spring onions served with Jersey Royals and spring greens.