Tamarind-Aji Beef Stew with Potatoes, Quinoa and Carrots
December 10, 2011 § 2 Comments
My sister is currently finishing a semester in Ecuador. While I have only left the US to visit Toronto and Montreal, this is my (little) sister’s second time staying in the country. She is a budding world traveler. She is pretty cool.
When Gina was younger, she was the pickiest eater in the family. And by a lot, because my brothers and I were barely picky at all. I think she became a better eater when she started college and had to cook for herself. Now that she is staying in another country with very foreign cuisine, I am very impressed with her ability to adapt and enjoy what is placed in front of her by her host family. She has taken to telling me all about her favorite dishes with, probably because she isn’t cooking for herself right now, the expectation that I will recreate them and blog about them. She has also taken to sending me ingredients from the open-air markets that she visits to make those recreations a bit easier.
The quinoa I use here is one of those items. Some say the quinoa coming out of Ecuador is more nutritious than quinoa from elsewhere (Peru and Bolivia); higher in fiber and protein. I don’t have any specific nutritional information about the quinoa I used, but I do know that it has a deep earthy flavor without the metallic taste quinoa can have. I also used ground red aji from Ecuador, which is a deep and mildly smoky chili. There are several varieties of aji available in the US, such as black and yellow in addition the red. I have found yellow aji to be the easiest to find and the chilies are more often sold whole.
While I used traditional stewing principles to create a thick and flavorful stew featuring fork-tender beef, I took advice from my sister on the spices and aromatics. With carrots and potatoes, the main ingredients of the stew are exactly what is expected from an American beef stew. The small bites of quinoa that coat the beef, potatoes and carrots add really interesting texture to these tender components. The use of cumin, turmeric, aji and cayenne add a different kind of spice than what is expected, but the tamarind is what really shakes things up. It creates the prominent sweet and sour flavor which works perfectly with the other ingredients. If you prefer a less noticeable sour profile, you could substitute half of the tamarind paste with tomato paste and use it in the same way. Matt preferred it made this way when I first made it a couple of months ago (the two trials were spaced so far apart because I was waiting for good stewing cut of meat to go on sale), but I prefer the bold, citrusy tamarind.
What may stick out most, though, is the garnish. I toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish, another ingredient sent to me from my sister. It is always best to toast nuts and seeds, but I find that pumpkin seeds especially need to be toasted for the best texture (they can have an unpleasant stale, woody taste when left completely raw). The more interesting garnish, however, is the popcorn. Apparently freshly popped, un-buttered popcorn is a traditional garnish in Ecuador, so I decided to buy kernels and actually pop the corn myself. I just heated a couple of tablespoons of oil in a medium-sized saucepan and covered the bottom in popcorn kernels, covered the saucepan and lightly shook over the stovetop while the kernels popped. I honestly thought you needed a special apparatus to make popcorn, but it could not be easier. And, as a lover of all things butter(ed), I am surprised to say that I absolutely flavor of the popcorn without any butter, oil or seasonings, freshly popped.
Tamarind-Aji Beef Stew with Potatoes, Quinoa and Carrots:
I used basic stewing principles for this recipe, but my sister directed me on what seasonings to use, how to garnish, etc. In addition to the popcorn and pumpkin seed, cilantro makes a great garnish if it is available.
– 1/3 cup flour
– 1 lb beef chuck roast, cut into 2″ pieces
– 1 onion, diced
– 4 tbsp tamarind paste (substitute half or all with tomato paste if desired)
– 2 tsp ground cumin
– 2 tsp ground turmeric
– 1 tsp ground aji rojo
– 1/4 tsp ground cayenne
– 6 cups stock
– 1 lb yukon gold potatoes, med. dice
– 1/2 lb carrots, med. dice
– 1 cup quinoa, rinsed thoroughly
– popcorn for garnish
– pumpkin seeds, toasted, for garnish
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed, oven-safe pot (ie, dutch oven). Dredge beef chuck in flour, reserve remaining flour and sear beef on all sides. Remove beef from pot and set aside. Saute onion in oil/residual fat. Add reserved flour and stir to incorporate, then add tamarind paste (and/or tomato paste, if desired). Stir in cumin, turmeric, aji and cayenne until fragrant. Add stock and return beef to the pot. Bring to a boil and place uncovered in the oven, checking occasionally to add more liquid if necessary. The beef should become fork tender. Remove the pot from the oven and return to the stove after one hour to add the potatoes and cook at a heavy simmer until potatoes are tender. Continuing at a heavy simmer, add carrots and quinoa and cook until both are tender. Garnish with popcorn and toasted pumpkin seeds.