A warm spiced stew that’s pure comfort food, or-zo they say

You should cook this with quality stewing beef and simmer it slowly, so the meat is tender

Beef stifado with orzo

Beef stifado with orzo

 

Greek food is one of my favourite cuisines. I fell in love with it a few years ago when we spent a glorious fortnight on Hydra. The island is surrounded by turquoise-blue waters and the only transport is the odd moped and donkeys pulling carts. Fishing boats sell their catch to locals at the pier and restaurant owners wander over with crates and pick what they need and bring it back to the kitchen.

Mornings started with thick, creamy yogurt for breakfast, with toasted almonds and a drizzle of golden honey or cherries. Then it was salad for lunch, and lamb koftas with garlic-laced tzatziki for dinner. I ate tzatziki every day as I love thick Greek yogurt, roughly grated cucumber and lots of dill or mint. It’s still one of my favourite summer sides.

One night at dinner in a small taverna, the owner came out and invited us to come into the kitchen to choose what we wanted. We were greeted by a glowing open grill with lamb chops cooking over the flames, huge earthenware dishes of moussaka and bubbling pots of beef stifado. The smells were amazing.

Meltingly tender

I chose the beef stifado with orzo and it’s a dish I’ve been trying to re-create ever since I first tasted it. It’s a rich, red wine and tomato-based stew, fragrant with cinnamon. Stifado is traditionally made using rabbit or hare meat for a more gamey flavour, but beef is more widely available. Ideally you should cook this stew with quality stewing beef and simmer it slowly, so the meat becomes meltingly tender and the sauce thickens. The dash of vinegar provides a piquancy that is balanced nicely by the sweet shallots.

The stew can be served with rice, pasta or orzo. If you have not yet come across orzo, it is little rice-shaped pieces of pasta that cook quickly and are great in salads or served with a rich stew such as this. Irish company Bunalun make a lovely organic orzo that’s widely available. The texture is so pleasing and it is divine with a little butter and freshly chopped parsley.

This stew with orzo is one of the most popular dishes I’ve cooked for my kids since they were little. The onions are so sweet and saturated in the sauce that they consume them with gusto along with the tender beef. Although not traditional, I sometimes add carrots or sweet potatoes to the stew with great results.

Recipe: Beef stifado

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