Meat and potatoes

Perhaps the most satisfying way to cook meat with potatoes is to turn them into a stew.

meat potatoe stew 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
meat potatoe stew 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A caterer friend of mine likes to poke fun at her husband, a meat-and-potatoes man who doesn’t like much of anything else. Yet during this cold season, his favorite food is what many people crave.
Perhaps the most satisfying way to cook meat with potatoes is to turn them into a stew, which Israelis often call a goulash, whether or not it’s Hungarian.
Varda Shilo, author of Kurdistani Cooking (in Hebrew), has a whole chapter on “gulashim.” Her meat-and-potato Kurdish “goulash” is frugal, with twice the weight of potatoes as meat. For many palates, this easy-to-make stew, flavored simply with salt, pepper and fried onions, is just perfect.
Tomato paste is a popular addition to Middle Eastern stews; it not only flavors the sauce but thickens it as well.
Levana Zamir, author of Cooking from the Nile’s Land (in Hebrew), uses tomato paste in her meat-and-potato stew called yakhni, which has hard-boiled eggs and which she describes as a sort of hamin (cholent). To make a stew called the grand humous, she cooks the beef and potatoes with chickpeas and seasons the dish with turmeric.
At the other end of the Mediterranean, cooks often pour wine into their stew pans. When Janet Mendel, author of My Kitchen in Spain, prepares Andalusian beefand- potato stew, she simmers the meat in dry sherry and water. In addition to onion, she flavors her stew with green pepper strips, diced tomatoes, roasted garlic and several seasonings – saffron, bay leaves, cloves and cinnamon.
Along with the potatoes, she adds sliced carrots.
She does not thicken the sauce and therefore recommends serving the stew in soup plates with crusty bread.
Sam Choy, author of Sam Choy’s Island Flavors, a book on Hawaiian cooking, likes his “local boy beef stew” thick. He flours the beef cubes before browning them with garlic, onion and chopped celery leaves, and then cooks the meat and potatoes with beef stock and a lot of tomato paste, as well as carrot and celery chunks. Last, he thickens the sauce with glutinous rice flour mixed with a little water, a technique he calls one of his secrets to a thick, rich stew. Other cooks use dissolved cornstarch, potato starch or all-purpose flour the same way.
While some cooks keep their flavorings subtle, others prefer their stews pungent.
A favorite Thai stew of mine is massaman curry, which Jennifer Brennan, author of The Cuisines of Asia, portrays as a “hybrid curry of mixed Indian and Thai ancestry.” She cooks this beef and potato stew in coconut milk with roasted peanuts, and flavors it with a spice paste of sauteed garlic and shallots ground with sweet spices and cayenne pepper. For a sweetand- sour note, she finishes the sauce with molasses, brown sugar and lime juice.
Since potatoes are native to their land, Peruvians like to use them in their meat stews and, like Thai cooks, season the sauce with hot peppers. For a favorite Peruvian meatand- potato entree, Clifford A. Wright, author of Some Like It Hot, fries his potatoes like French fries before adding them to the cooked beef. He flavors the sauce with chilies, garlic, cumin, tomatoes and fresh coriander.
There’s soy sauce, too. Wright notes that the dish “may very well have originated with the 19th-century Chinese immigrants to Peru.”
Meat and potatoes become glamorous in the hands of chef Laurent Tourondel, author of Fresh from the Market.
To make beef shank stew, he marinates the beef overnight in dry red wine and port with aromatic vegetables and herbs. After sauteing the meat, he browns a roux (mixture of flour and fat) with tomato paste; the roux thickens and enriches the stew. The beef cooks with its marinade and veal stock and is enhanced with baby potatoes, celery root, turnips and parsnips. For an extra burst of flavor, Tourondel finishes the sauce with sauteed garlic, capers and fresh tarragon.
Makes 8 servings
I learned how to prepare this easy Shabbat dish from my mother-in-law, Rachel Levy. The beef and potatoes bake slowly with tomatoes, garlic and generous amounts of cumin and turmeric, and the resulting sauce is delicious.
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil 2 large onions, chopped 6 large garlic cloves, chopped 1 to 2 Tbsp. ground cumin, to taste 3⁄4 to 1 1⁄2 tsp. turmeric, to taste 1⁄4 tsp. cayenne pepper, or more to taste 1 Tbsp. tomato paste 11⁄2 cups water 350 gr. ripe tomatoes, chopped, or a 400-gr. can diced tomatoes, with their juice 1⁄4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro (fresh coriander) or parsley 1.5 kg. lean beef shoulder, cut in 2.5-cm. to 3.75-cm. cubes 8 medium boiling potatoes, peeled (about 900 gr.) Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 150º. Heat oil in a large deep heavy stew pan. Add onions and saute over medium-low heat, stirring often, about 10 minutes or until golden. Remove from heat. Stir in garlic, cumin, turmeric, cayenne pepper, tomato paste and 1 cup water and mix well. Stir in tomatoes and most of cilantro. Last, add beef and potatoes and mix well. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
Cover tightly and bake about 3 hours or until beef is very tender. Check occasionally and add more water if necessary, so there is just a little sauce but meat does not get dry. Taste sauce and adjust seasoning. Serve hot, sprinkled with remaining cilantro.
Makes about 4 servings
I have translated and adapted this recipe from Levana Zamir’s book. The stew was popular among Egyptian Jews for the Shabbat midday meal. Zamir notes that this dish should have a generous amount of thick, reddish sauce.
Instead of adding hard-boiled eggs at the end, you can simmer eggs in their shells in the stew after you have rinsed them thoroughly. Zamir recommends letting the eggs come to room temperature before adding them to the pan to prevent the shells from cracking.
500 gr. beef shoulder, cut in 8 pieces 4 or 5 large onions, coarsely chopped 4 Tbsp. vegetable oil Water to cover 5 medium potatoes 1 Tbsp. tomato paste Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 6 hard boiled eggs, shelled
Rinse and drain meat. In a heavy stew pan, saute onions in hot oil until they begin to turn golden. Add meat and continue to saute, stirring lightly, until mixture is well browned.
Add enough water to cover the meat. Bring to a boil, cover and cook over low heat for 2 hours or until beef is tender, adding a little water if sauce becomes too thick.
Peel potatoes and cut them into small dice. When meat is tender, add potatoes, tomato paste, 2 more cups water, salt and pepper. Mix well. Cook for 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. If the sauce is too thin, simmer stew uncovered for a few minutes to thicken it. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Serve hot, adding hard-boiled eggs at the last minute.
Faye Levy is the author of Feast from the Mideast.