A few bites of beef

Healthy meals can include meat - just don't forget to serve plenty of veggies, too.

veal stew 88 (photo credit: )
veal stew 88
(photo credit: )
At my friend's Shabbat dinner last week, the menu was wholesome - baked fish, rice and lots of vegetables - but the standout dish was a beef stew. A few bites of the fork-tender beef and a spoonful of its savory sauce to moisten the rice were all that most guests needed in order to feel they had enjoyed the taste of meat. This meal persuasively illustrated that a healthy menu can include meat - you simply prepare your favorite meat main course and serve it in small amounts, and fill the rest of your plate with vegetables. Making good use of small amounts of meat is a well-known Asian culinary custom. In Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat (Delacorte, 2005) authors Naomi Moriyama and William Doyle note that in Japan, when meat is served, it is served sparingly. They describe beef over rice as "a perfect example of how Japanese home cooks create a delicious and filling beef dish with very small portions of beef." The dish combines thinly sliced beef and vegetables in a sweet soy broth ladled over cooked rice, and they find that the "hot nutty rice saturated with the sweet beef juices" is the best part. Nina Simonds, author of A Spoonful of Ginger: Irresistible, Health-Giving Recipes from Asian Kitchens (Knopf, 1999), also thinks that meat has a place in healthy cooking. The Chinese believe that "beef and lamb are warming foods, usually reserved for the cold weather" and are good for yin conditions, increasing your energy when you feel sluggish. She notes that Asians consume meat "in small quantities with plenty of vegetables and a staple such as rice, noodles, or bread. Vegetables such as leafy greens or cabbage and broccoli are often paired with meat since they help in the digestion of the protein." And I always thought the Chinese specialty, beef with broccoli, was created simply because it tastes good! In Simonds's recipe there's as much broccoli as beef - four ounces of each per serving. At meals I had in Filipino restaurants I noticed a method for using tiny amounts of meat in sautes. Several times I've ordered sauteed bean sprouts. The first time I ate them, only after I finished nearly half the plate of sprouts mixed with strips of carrot, red pepper and green beans did I notice a few strips of meat. They were practically hidden, but they contributed a good taste and texture to the dish. Pancit, or Filipino noodles, were prepared the same way - mixed with colorful vegetables and a few strips of sauteed meat. These principles also work in dishes closer to home. Many Middle Eastern and North African recipes allow only four ounces of meat per person. According to Klementine Konstantini, author of Traditions Culinaires de Tunisie (in French; Konstantini, 2000), cooks in Tunisia make stews with more vegetables than meat. One tasty example calls for cooking veal with twice its weight in onions, along with chickpeas, tomatoes, paprika and ground coriander. Jennifer Abadi, the author of A Fistful of Lentils (Harvard Common Press, 2002), learned from her Syrian-Jewish grandmother how to make sweet and sour beef stew with eggplant, potatoes, sweet potatoes and prunes. Persians make stews of lamb or veal with eggplant, tomatoes and saffron that include plenty of eggplant and not much meat. Some people declare they never eat meat, as proof that they are conscientiously following their healthy diets. Many say this with regret, feeling they have no other choice. Yet health conscious people can have the pleasure of eating meat as long as they do so in moderation. Basically, there are three ways to include meat in healthful menus: 1. Change the proportions of the ingredients in your stews, sautes and braised dishes to include more vegetables and less meat 2. Make your favorite recipes the usual way so they have the flavor you like, but serve smaller portions. You might like to serve stews over brown rice or whole wheat noodles 3. Try new dishes that include just a little meat Meat contributes a unique flavor to sauces, and adds a rich taste and contrasting texture to noodle medleys and vegetable stews. Fortunately, a little goes a long way. MOROCCAN VEAL STEW WITH SAFFRON AND CAULIFLOWER Serve this aromatic dish with brown rice or couscous. A grilled pepper and tomato salad makes a good starter. To substitute beef for the veal, double the cooking time in the first paragraph. Thoroughly trim the meat of visible fat before cooking. 2 tbsp. olive oil 2 onions, sliced 3 garlic cloves, chopped 900 grams (2 pounds) veal stew meat, cut in 2.5-cm (1-inch) pieces salt and pepper to taste 1 tsp. ground ginger large pinch of saffron threads (about 1/8 teaspoon) 1 large or 2 small cauliflowers (900 grams or 2 pounds), divided in medium florets 2 tsp. paprika 1/2 tsp. ground cumin 4 tbsp. chopped fresh coriander or parsley hot red pepper (cayenne) to taste (optional) Heat oil in a large, heavy casserole, add onions and garlic and cook over low heat, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add veal, salt, pepper, ginger and saffron and mix well. Pour in enough water to barely cover veal, about 2 1/2 to 3 cups. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, boil cauliflower uncovered for 2 minutes. Drain it immediately in a colander. Stir paprika, cumin, and half the coriander into stew. Add cauliflower and stir gently; be sure stems are immersed in liquid. Cover and simmer over low heat without stirring for 20 minutes, or until veal and cauliflower are tender but cauliflower is not falling apart. Transfer veal and cauliflower with a slotted spoon to a heated deep serving plate, leaving most of onions in casserole. Cover veal and cauliflower. Boil sauce, including onions, stirring occasionally, until it thickens. Add cayenne; taste for seasoning. Spoon sauce over veal and cauliflower. Serve sprinkled with remaining coriander. Makes 8 servings. Faye Levy is the author of Feast from the Mideast (HarperCollins).
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