On the menu: Lemongrass Beef Stew
Shall I address my most recent blogging hiatus?
I read on BraveTart the other day that you should never address a hiatus in blogging because it exposes your lazy disinterest. I’m going to be real: I haven’t written a post in weeks because a) I’m lazy and b) I’ve been disinterested in blogging lately. Remember what I said about reaching my cognitive limit? I don’t want to do anything beyond schoolwork that requires significant brain power. Writing doesn’t come easy to me, therefore I’ve been avoiding it. I’ve sat down a number of times to write, looked at my keyboard for a few minutes, then glanced over to Kevin, sighed, and said “I think I might be done with my blog.” That’s happened. I sit down to write, realize I haven’t read my favorite blogs and commented on their recent posts, read and comment, and then my writing juice is gone. So I don’t write.
Thank goodness that cooking doesn’t require significant brain power. While all my bloggy friends are using their creative brains to make beet and balsamic mustard, thyme-infused pear syrup for cocktails, pineapple upside-down cake with Angostura bitters, chai chia pudding, and a dreamy dill-dijon vinaigrette, I’m using my basic brain to read recipes like this and reproduce them to the best of my ability. And it’s successes like this that motivate me to keep cooking, with hopes that someday I’ll feel like writing something down.
Kevin’s sister sent me Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan of The Slanted Door in San Francisco for Christmas, and it was my bedtime reading for a couple of weeks. Kevin loves Vietnamese cuisine, and we have long lamented the lack of relatable, reliable Vietnamese cookbooks. This book was a revelation. It’s not completely accessible, but it is leaps and bounds further into a fascinating food culture than anything else I’ve come across. Since receiving it, I’ve also become aware of Andrea Nguyen’s book Into the Vietnamese Home Kitchen, another great source for cooking Vietnamese food at home. Add that to my ever growing cookbook wish list.
We’ve made a few recipes from the book so far, but this was the most memorable. Let’s talk about lemongrass. Since Charles Phan told me how to properly prepare it for use in a recipe, I want to put it in everything. Unfortunately, the fresh stuff is nowhere to be found around here–I used stalks that had been in my freezer for about a year and a half. When I bought that lemongrass, I had read that it freezes beautifully. Now I can tell you that is indeed the case. Lemongrass is herbaceous, floral, and punchy with citrus all at the same time. It seems like such a delicate aroma, but it permeated through freaking fish sauce and gave this dish a beautiful brightness that left a lasting impression on my palate. Star anise and tomato paste added depth of flavor; ginger, chiles, and cilantro cut through the beef and vegetables and rounded out the stew.
Warmer weather is upon us (I think–it’s been an absurdly cold Spring), so dishes like this probably won’t come out of my kitchen again until the fall. That’s plenty of time for me to replenish my lemongrass supply.
Lemongrass Beef Stew
adapted from Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan
(the original recipe is published on Serious Eats)
3 pounds boneless beef short ribs, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
4 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups diced yellow onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 cup finely minced lemongrass
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 by 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and smashed
2 whole star anise pods
1 or 2 Thai chiles, stemmed, plus 1 teaspoon minced, for garnish
6 cups beef stock
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths
8 ounces daikon radish, peeled and cut into 1-inch lengths
about 2 tablespoons fish sauce
cilantro, for serving
Place the beef in a bowl. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil, sprinkle with the salt and pepper, and stir to coat. Let stand while you prepare all of the other ingredients. In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil over high heat. When the oil is hot, working in batches, add the beef and cook, turning as needed, for about 8 minutes, until browned on all side. As each batch is ready, transfer it to a rimmed baking sheet.
Decrease the heat to medium and add the onion to the now-empty pot. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the onion is a deep golden brown. Stir in the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds more. Add the lemongrass, tomato paste, ginger, star anise, and whole chile to taste and stir to combine.
Put the beef and any accumulated juices back into the Dutch oven and pour in the stock. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium heat, decrease the heat so the liquid is at a gentle simmer, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 hours, until the meat is just tender.
Add the carrots and daikon, re-cover, and cook for 30 minutes longer, until the vegetables are cooked through and the meat is very tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the fish sauce, 1 tablespoon at a time, to taste. Serve immediately in bowls. Top each serving with some of the basil and minced chile.