Food + Wine

Central Asian Beef and Lentil Stew over Coconut Barley

We were out of town most of last week to celebrate my birthday.  It was a great trip to Wrightsville Beach with my family and maybe one of these days I’ll write about it.  But for now I’m still playing catch up.
I didn’t go to the grocery store over the weekend so when I woke up Monday morning and realized I was back on duty and solely in charge of feeding my family, I had a big decision to make:
Go shopping OR create something using whatever I had in my kitchen.
I did not go shopping.

This is mainly due to the fact that I dropped am unopened bottle of Champagne on my big toe Sunday and broke it.  The bottle, however remained unscathed.
I looked around at what I had in my freezer, fridge and pantry and this is what I came up with.  It’s killer.  Like…really super super fantastic.  It’s a beef stew flavored with curry and garam masala, cinnamon and bay then slow cooked until tender and served over barley cooked in coconut milk.  Di-Vine.  Developing the recipe reminded me of why I started this blog in the first place, over 6 years ago.  We were pretty broke, had just had our oldest son, were living in a tiny apartment, and were trying to stay afloat on a single income.  So we cut back on our spending and it became my job to keep the food cost down.  I began buying whatever was on sale at the store every week and then would make dinner out of it, even if there were no good protein or fresh produce sales that week.  And I came up with some of my best recipes that way.  It’s amazing what you’re capable of doing when you’re desperate.  I’m my most creative when I have very little to work with.  So that’s what this felt like to me.  Now, with our two kids, one in school and the other constantly by my side, I get to teach my youngest all the things I taught my son when it was just the two of us.  He learned how to crack an egg at 2, use electric beaters at 18 months and knew what an artichoke was by the time he could speak.  I always have my kids with me in the kitchen.  One reason is so I can keep an eye on them (and I’m always in the kitchen), and the other is because I feel it’s highly important to show them what they’re eating.  My 2 year old daughter helped me make this meal yesterday and she felt so powerful being able to pour or throw things into the pot!

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. When you get your kids to help you cook, they will want to eat it more. They will feel a sense of ownership and pride in that meal and it opens up the conversation that I feel our society is lacking at this point.  Food education.  Let’s educate our kids on what food is; real, honest to goodness food, and give them the power to make wise decisions as they grow.

This meal was a perfect way to start off the new Fall season. It’s my favorite time of year, where I get to cook and wear all things warm and cozy.  (Boots, jackets and stews, oh my!!)  And eating this delicious stew around the dining room table, in the house we worked so very hard to get, surrounded by my 3 favorite people, felt so very warm and cozy.



serves about 6 

Cut 3 lbs. of chuck into large cubes (or if you need to save time, use a 3 lb. pack of lean stew meat.)

Pat the meat dry with paper towels and place in a gallon sized freezer safe zip bag. Add in 3 TB tapioca or corn starch, 1 TB kosher salt, 1 TB light brown sugar, 1 TB yellow curry powder and 1 TB garam masala (I make my own curry powder and garam masala and the recipe links are at the bottom of the page)
Seal the bag but leave some air inside, and shake it to evenly distribute the seasoning over the beef pieces.
Reseal the bag to remove the air and place it inside a bowl (in case of a leakage).  Refrigerate for a couple hours or overnight, massaging/shaking the bag whenever you think about it.
When you’re ready to cook, allow the bag of beef to come up to room temperature first.
Preheat a large dutch oven or soup pot on medium-high heat with some canola oil. When the oil is shimmering a bit, it’s hot enough. Carefully place just enough pieces of beef in the pan so you get an even layer. Do not overlap or crowd the pan or you won’t get them good and browned!

Once the beef has turned a dark brown color and developed a crust on the bottom, flip to sear the other side/s in the same manner. Remove and place on a plate or bowl (I just use the bowl the bag was in inside the fridge) and sear the rest of the beef until all your meat has been browned and removed.

-Next, in the same hot pan, add the following vegetables…
6 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks 
2 celery stalks, minced
1 large onion, minced 
1 head of garlic, cloves removed and peeled but kept whole
Once the veggies are in, season liberally with kosher salt and don’t stir them until you develop some color on the bottom pieces. Then stir to cook some more. Add another good sprinkling of kosher salt.
Once you’ve gotten a bit of color on the veggies, pour in a good splash of apple cider vinegar. Stir from the bottom to release any bits that were stuck.
Add 2 cups of beef stock, then refill that stock container to add 2 cups of water, then 1 small (6 oz) can of tomato paste. Stir well to incorporate the tomato paste into the liquids.
Add 2 bay leaves. (Or maybe just one if your bay happens to grow as if on steroids like these mammers from the Wrightsville Beach garden…)
…2 cinnamon sticks, a few more pinches of kosher salt, 2 TB more of light brown sugar and 1/2 TB each of more yellow curry powder and garam masala.
See my little helper?!

It should be known that she kept pronouncing Garam Masala as Carrot Asnaya.

Bring to a bubble and add back in the seared beef.

Cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer lightly for at least 2 hours, covered. Longer is also OK and sometimes I’ll let this go all afternoon on a really low temperature if I have the time!
Then 30-45 minutes before you’re ready to eat, remove the lid and stir in 1 cup of lentils.  Any variety is fine… the red are especially beautiful in this.  The French lentils will hold their shape more if you prefer that, but the good ole cheap green ones are still great!

At this point the liquid should be thick and the beef and veggies softened. Taste to check your seasoning, adding more salt if necessary.

Replace the lid and simmer for another 30-45 minutes, or until the lentils are done to your liking while you make your coconut barley…. It takes the same amount of time to cook as the lentils do!

C O C O N U T   B A R L E Y

In a medium saucepan, add 1 cup of pearled barley, a 1 inch piece of fresh ginger root, 1 (13.5 oz) can of full fat coconut milk, the zest of 1 lime (save the lime for juicing later) and a couple pinches of kosher salt. Stir well.
Bring to a boil, cover, then reduce to low and cook, uncovered for 30 minutes. (Check after 25 just to be safe.)
Stir in the juice of half a lime. And reserve the other half for juicing over the finished plates.

Serve under or beside your stew.

Garnish the dish with fresh cilantro leaves and a squirting of that reserved lime half.

And now that your child helped you make dinner, she’ll be more inclined to eat dinner.

Even if she can’t pronounce it.

Proud Chef!!

Here’s the link to my Yellow Curry Powder recipe.

And here’s the link to my Garam Masala recipe.

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