The spice route

This is the story of a meal that started out as one thing, and ended up somewhere else entirely – on a whole other continent. It’s not too unusual in my kitchen, though it might look chaotic to anyone else. (It often does to me, too.)

The starting point was, once again, The New Nordic cookbook. I was cruising through, looking for inspiration for a Friday night dinner for friends. The recipe said: beef brisket, spiced wine and cauliflower steaks. It looked delicious, and I had a hankering for something casserole-ish – something I could let cook while I worked at the computer all afternoon.

Cooking away happily for four hours.
Cooking away happily for four hours.

I went to Obelix and Co, a lovely supplier of good quality, ethically produced meats and other goodies. Some beef cheeks had just come in, and that seemed a good fit. By the time I got home and prepared, I would have close to four hours of cooking time, which seemed like just enough.

The recipe asked for a cup of mulled or spiced wine. I didn’t have any of that, so I took a cup of red and thought about what spices I might used in spiced wine – I grabbed 3 cloves, I stick of cassia bark, a star anise, 2 pimentos and a couple of pieces of mace.  It’s not a lot – I would typically use a lot more than that – but it is enough to have those lovely warm, spicy flavours gently infuse the whole dish. I also added some white peppercorns, though that was just because it was a casserole, and not a cup of mulled wine.

It started me thinking that the spices felt a bit Moroccan or Middle Eastern.

And maybe that was just because I wanted it to. For a day or two I’d also had a hankering for chick peas, and had put some in a bowl to soak the day before, and had randomly spent a few minutes here and there slipping the outer skins off.  Just in case.

So I started.

I browned the meat in avocado oil (I no longer use any seed oils for cooking or salads, and avocado oil is my general go-to if the cooking temp might be reasonably high) and removed it from the pot. I heated up some more oil and gently cooked a chopped onion. I added a cup of wine and let it fizz for a moment and then added the spices. I added in a tin of chopped tomatoes and another 1/2 cup of tomato passata (definitely not part of the original recipe). I added a couple of bay leaves and several sprigs of thyme.

A couple of days later we had the leftovers – even more delicious now –  with carrots and red cabbage. Not sure if that made sense, but the colours were very pleasing.

I added the meat back in, added a little stock to make sure the meat was covered by liquid. I brought it back to the boil and then dropped it back to a simmer. I left it uncovered.

I stirred it every half hour or so. About an hour and a half before I was serving, I added in the chick peas.

Total cooking time in the end was four hours, and the pieces of beef cheek were perfectly soft and tender.

I served it with the browned cauliflower steaks, couscous and some fresh green peas and beans.

It wasn’t much like the original recipe, and perhaps didn’t look that pretty, but it was absolutely delicious and every plate was scraped clean.


Corinna Hente


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