Every now and then I like to cook dishes that have been passed down to me from various family members or friends. I like to call them Heirloom Recipes because like most heirlooms that are cherished generation after generation I believe recipes can have the same quality. Today I would like to share with you a recipe that was passed down to me by my Dad’s sister, my Aunt Aggeliki; Kokkinisto me Meltzanes – Beef with Eggplant in red Sauce. The first time I ate this comforting dish was back almost 20 years ago. During one of my visits to my Dad’s village, Kouvouklia, Kozani, Aunt Aggeliki was preparing for our big family lunches. As I walked up the large bank of stairs I could smell delicious aromas sipping out from the large, oak door leading into the house. Immediately I could detect stewing beef in savoury red sauce we call kokkinisto but I could not make out the other scents. Aunt Aggeliki was putting the finished touches when I entered her tiny kitchen. As I peered over Theia’s shoulder I asked her, “Theia what are those pulpy things in with the meat?” Aunt Aggeliki answered in her usual way, “Of course you don’t know about Greek vegetables because you are Canadian. These are called Meltzanes (eggplant).” I didn’t want to be rude (of course I knew what eggplant was) so I just smiled and nodded. While I was helping Theia set the table by laying out the salad, bread and cheese platter, my stomach was crumbling so loudly that the cat kept on waking up and giving me an evil stare. Eventually, when everyone was gathered at the dining table we sat down to enjoy this lovely dish of stewed beef and eggplants in a warm, savoury red sauce that hugged you from the inside out.
Here’s how I have recreated that sensation from many years ago. This dish must be prepared in two steps otherwise the eggplant will become too mushy.
Step One – Stewing the Beef
2 lbs of stewing beef
3 to 4 bay leaves
1 tbsp cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp mint
1 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup red wine
1. Place the stewing beef in a large roasting pan. Toss in olive oil, cumin, cinnamon, mint and paprika. Throw in the bay leaves and pour the wine in the bottom on the pan.
2. Cover and cook for 30 minutes at a 425 F oven.
Step Two – Adding the Eggplant
2 large eggplants or 4 small eggplants
1 large onion, diced
3 to 4 garlic cloves, diced
1 cup of tomato pulp
1/2 cup of water
1. Cut the eggplant into 1 inch cubes and toss in a bowl with a splash of vinegar and salt. This removes some of the iodine from the eggplant which allows its sweetness to come through in the cooking process.
2. After the beef is done stewing, remove the pieces and set aside.
3. Add the diced eggplant, onions and garlic to the pan and gently mix into the stewing juices.
4. Pour in the tomato pulp and water. Gently mix together again and return the beef to the pan. Gently press down on the pieces of beef to submerge slightly in with the vegetables.
5. Cover and continue cooking for 45 minute at 400 F oven.
6. After 45 minutes of cooking there should be a lot of stewing juices. This is a good thing. Remove the lid and allow for the liquid to evaporate for 15 to 20 minutes at the same temperature.
This dish is best enjoyed with crusty bread, a crisp Greek Salad and a plate of Feta Cheese.