Sunday, September 25, 2011

Green Tomato Beef Stew with Jamaican Spices

I spent last week in New York City moving my father out of his apartment.  The week was supposed to end with the sale of his apartment and him moving to Vermont to live in a retirement home.  I spent a week sorting through vast piles of books covered in dust, throwing out clothing that was not even good enough to be used as a rag, and throwing away mattress after mattress.  A the end of the week the apartment was miraculously empty, most of the clothing we were keeping was being shipped to Vermont, and the closing on the apartment did not happen.  So when he flew here to Burlington it was not to move in to a retirement community, instead he has been staying with a really good friend of mine who lives 15 miles away.  Every day when she drives in to work she has been dropping him off at my house for "daddy daycare".  Then she comes to my house after work and we all have dinner before they drive back to Jericho.  However guests for dinner every night does not mean I stay away from experiments in the kitchen, instead there are more tasters for new dishes.

At this time of the year I look at the green tomatoes on the vines thinking about ways to use them.  I could just can several batches of green tomato salsa and be done, but I enjoy the challenge of discovering how different flavors can be used.  One friend stays away from most green tomato recipes, saying they all smack of end of the garden desperation.  However I think green tomatoes have a role in the kitchen, one that works to highlight and balance their flavor instead of using them in an attempt to mask their presence and use them up.  Used correctly they are as much end of the garden desperation as rhubarb recipes are end of the winter desperation for something, anything, fresh. (I am not saying there are no desperation recipes for both vegetables).

When I first went in the kitchen I was planning on doing a stew with the last of the rhubarb that would be a riff on Molly Stevens' Pot Roasted Brisket with Rhubarb and Honey from All About Braising.  As I rubbed the beef with freshly ground allspice, coriander, pepper and salt I realized I could substitute green tomatoes for the rhubarb as an early fall substitution.  I used maple syrup instead of honey and added garlic and fresh thyme as my usual alterations to the regular recipe.  I replaced the golden raisins with dried apricots because they were the only dried fruit I had.  Now dried Califonia apricots will be my go-to in this recipe, any other dried fruit will be a substitution, because their tangy, sour, sweetness added just the right note.

This stew was enjoyed by all 6 people at the dinner table, from age 6 to 81.  My children even clamored over how good it was.  All the flavors came together as a cohesive whole, not a touch of end of the garden desperation, instead a new use for a unique vegetable.  It was tasty enough I think I won't wait to the end of the season to make it next year, instead I will pick some green tomatoes in the late spring.

Everyone was eating the stew so fast I couldn't get a good photo!

Green Tomato Beef Stew with Jamaican Spices
Serves 6
Serve this stew with mashed potatoes.  The amount of meat in this dish was enough to serve 6 with plenty of mashed potatoes and carrots on the side.  I prefer to serve a modest amount of meat but you can easily increase the amount of meat to suit your preferences.

1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1/4 tsp black peppercorns
1/8+ tsp allspice berries
1/2 tsp kosher salt or other coarse salt

1 1/4 lbs beef stew meat (you can change the quantity as you like, if you go up to 2 lbs I would double everything else)

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 small onions or 1 medium one Chop the onion into 1/2 inch pieces or slice thinly (I did a mix because slicing was easier and both were fine in the final dish.  Next time I will slice all of them).
2 large garlic cloves or 3 to 4 small ones chopped finely
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 - 2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger (I used about 1 Tbsp)
1/3 cup California Dried Apricots, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces (sorry, the California ones really are that much better!)
1 cup riesling or other favorite white wine
1 cup water
1 lb green tomatoes, cored and chopped into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces (do not peel)
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
1 small bunch of thyme with the leaves stripped off (about 1/2 tsp leaves)
1 Tbsp pure maple syrup (I used Grade B)

Grind the coriander, peppercorns, allspice, and salt in a coffee grinder until finely ground.  You will have to stop and shake the spices down in the grinder a few times because this is a minimal amount.  Dry the stew meat with paper towels before rubbing the spice mixture on the meat.  Set aside while you prep the other ingredients.

In a medium sized dutch oven or heavy lidded pot heat the oil over medium high heat and add then onions.  Cook the onions, stirring frequently until they are softened and starting to caramelize (while they were cooking I prepped the ginger, apricots and tomatoes).  Add the garlic, salt and pepper, ginger and chopped apricots.  Saute for about one minute until the ginger is fragrant.

Remove the onions and other aromatics from the pan and return to medium high heat.  There should still be a thin layer of oil in the bottom of the pan, if it is not enough to keep the meat from sticking add a little more oil and then brown the meat in small batches on all sides.  As the meat is browned add it to the onions.

Once all the meat is browned set the meat and aromatics aside and add the white wine to the pan.  Cook over high heat for about 5 minutes until the volume is decreased by three quarters, while it is cooking scrape the sides to remove all the flavorful caramelized drippings from the beef and aromatics..  Once the wine is reduced add the water,green tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme leaves, and 1 Tbsp maple syrup.  Bring to a boil and allow to boil for a minute or 2 before adding the meat and onion mixture back to the pan.

Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cook, covered, at a slow simmer until the meat is tender and the green tomatoes have mostly slumped into the sauce, (about 1 1/2 to 2 hours).   After about 5 minutes check the stew to make sure the stew is simmering quietly.  If it is too vigorous use a heat tamer under the pan.

Once the meat is tender remove the lid, increase the heat to medium high and reduce the sauce (however I suggest you do not go to check email while reducing the sauce.  If you do not listen and become distracted you may need to add some water to the pan because you reduced it too much).


  1. I bet this was fragrant and amazing. I hope your father's transition goes ok. Say hello to Vermont for me from the Big city.

  2. This looks like a great dish. I never had this till now, but when reading your post I feel like I should try this. Hope everything goes well with the move.