I decided several weeks ago that I was going to dedicate one week to preparing Mexican meals for Cinco de Mayo. Not only do I like to challenge myself in the kitchen, but more so I like to do things that take me away from my Asian roots. It makes me feel like I’m moving out of my comfort zone, which can be a good thing towards personal development. I’ll admit that I’m not incredibly familiar with Mexican food, nor can I recall the last time I went dining at a Mexican restaurant. I’m not intimidated by Mexican food or Mexican culture; it’s just something I haven’t experienced too often. After all, the only solid connection I have is that I do speak Spanish.
This month came fast after a busy April, and I didn’t want to miss my opportunity to create at least a couple recipes for Cinco de Mayo. Last week I made Mexican churros. This time, I wanted to do something that challenged me a little rather than defaulting to tacos or burritos. That was when I remembered hearing about Mexican beef stew, where the secret weapon is chocolate. It’s truly a brilliant culinary idea, and also one of the few dishes where you can see beef and chocolate listed together on the ingredients. How irresistible is that?
Some like it hot, some like it not. At the risk of disappointing over half of my readers, I must admit that I don’t like spicy foods because I don’t enjoy the heat. But I still appreciate chili peppers as a fine ingredient, and I have cooked with them before to entertain some insatiable appetites for spicy foods.
Now I will offer an accommodation of different preferences here: If you like it spicy, you can add my suggested combination of chilies to make it resemble the great Mexican celebration dish “Mole”, which is known for its combination of chilies and chocolate.
I was proud of myself for creating a dish that was so different in flavor from my mainstream recipes. I truly do enjoy catering to a wider audience. I have to say that I didn’t know I liked Mexican beef stew until now! Colorful and richly flavored, this stew is somewhat time consuming, but well worth the effort.
3 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped into strips
2 large hot house tomatoes
1 large onion, trimmed, peeled, and quartered
75 g Callebaut dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves
3 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 lbs lean braising steak, diced
1 1/2 cups beef bouillon stock
2 cinnamon sticks
4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro, to garnish
Optional ingredients to make it spicy
3 mulato chilies
3 mild ancho chilies
5 New Mexican chilies
1/8 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp coriander
Preheat the oven to 475oF with a rack in the middle.
Arrange the red bell peppers on a heavy baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until the skins have blackened and are beginning to blister. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Cut a cross in the skin on the bottom of the tomatoes. Put them in a saucier, cover them with boiling water and let stand for 1 minute.
Remove the tomatoes from the water, then peel them. Remove the seeds by scooping them out with a spoon.
Dice the tomatoes, and put them into a food processor. When the red peppers are cool enough to handle, chop them and add them to the food processor with the tomatoes. Add the onion, dark chocolate, garlic, and vinegar. Process the ingredients to form a paste.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or a flameproof casserole. Add the diced steak, working in batches if necessary, and cook over medium heat until browned on all sides. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add the tomato-chocolate mixture and the beef bouillon. Stir in the cloves and the cinnamon sticks.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, uncovered. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 1/4 hours. Enjoy the wonderful aroma of the stew as it fills your kitchen.
Add the carrots and potatoes, stir well and simmer for another 30 minutes. Remove and discard the cinnamon. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Garnish with the fresh cilantro and serve immediately with cooked green vegetables or over a bed of rice.