Remembered Tastes

We have had a wonderful few days with the Ireton-Simpkins family. We have thoroughly explored New York and I have shopped till I dropped. I can honestly say that I have never bought so many things in such a short space of time. I also know why I really don’t like going shopping unless I have a specific need. The frightening thing was that even though I was dropping with exhaustion, it was clear that Jackie and Edie could have gone on for ever! Jackie had a wish list of things to do, visit and try and we managed to do all of them. One particular wish was to have a Long Island Iced Tea. She had last tasted one when we were in Hong Kong and wanted to have another. Dad, John and Jackie went to the Campbell Apartment on Friday evening and Jackie indeed ordered a Long Island Iced Tea. She enjoyed it, but wasn’t sure that it was as good as the one in Hong Kong. Dad and I gently suggested that our taste bud memories fade after 20+ years!

I have definitely found this to be true. I have specific memories of favourite sweeties eaten when I was young, which I was delighted to find on sale again, and then discovered that they were far too sweet for adult me. I have found this too with much-loved recipes. My tastes have changed as I grow up (or should that be ‘grow older’ because I’m not entirely sure that I have grown up). Apart from the oft-mentioned introduction of vegetables, I now opt for Asian or Asian-inspired flavours, and I really enjoy spiced food. Unlike many of my peers, my childhood diet was very varied, with Grandma cooking dishes from many different cuisines, but as I wrote before it is much easier nowadays to buy the correct spices and herbs. Whether this is because the Brits have been travelling more and so have wanted to recreate dishes at home, or whether it’s a result of immigration I don’t know. I do know that it’s very welcome.

When Dad and I took Bapu to Cyprus in May 2011, it was with the intention of going to Rizokarpasso (many different spellings, but this is how it’s written on Bapu’s passport). Bapu hadn’t been there since 1947 when he left for London. Now of course it’s part of Turkish Northern Cyprus, but since the borders have been relaxed it is easy to travel around and Bapu wanted to see his village again. It was a great privilege to be part of this trip and to hear stories and see places which had meant so much to him. The family home was long gone, but the almond tree that Bapu had planted was still thriving in what had been the family garden. It became clear as Bapu told his stories that life had been tough for him and for his family. He never complained, indeed he said that whilst he may have gone to school hungry sometimes, he had had a very happy childhood, and he wouldn’t have changed it for anything. He talked of walking over the hills to the beaches where he swam, often on his own, but sometimes with one of his brothers. We saw the stretch of beach where he almost drowned – an event not unsurprisingly etched forever on his memory. He talked of hunting with his father, shooting and trapping, and foraging for snails, greens and fishing. I asked him what his favourite dish had been, and he licked his lips before laughing and saying ‘Hare stifado’. His father used to make it and it was really, really good. Now I have never seen hare on sale at Waitrose, indeed I’ve never seen hare on a menu anywhere and I haven’t tasted it. Stifado on the other hand, I have made many times. For me, it’s an evolution from the brown stews and casseroles that Grandma made and which warmed me on many a winter’s day. For me, it’s a more grown up stew, the addition of cinnamon making it slightly exotic. For Bapu, it’s the evocation of a happy childhood in north Cyprus, of a place gone forever.

Vodhino Stifado – Rich Beef Stew with Onions – Ingredients

  • 1 kg / 2 lbs braising or stewing steak, cut into largish chunks
  • 1 kg / 2 lbs very small (pickling) onions, peeled
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 6 large ripe tomatoes, peeled and grated
  • 2 bay leaves (in the garden)
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 200 ml / 1 glass red wine
  • Salt and pepper

Method

Heat the oil in a heavy-based casserole and fry the onions until browned all over. Remove with slotted spoon. Add the meat a few chunks at a time and seal on all sides. Don’t overload the pan with the meat or it won’t fry properly.

Put all the meat back into the pan and add the vinegar and garlic. Bring to the boil. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, cinnamon, salt and wine. Bring back to the boil. Cover and turn to a simmer. Simmer for about two hours. Check seasoning.

Add the browned onions. If the stifado looks too dry, add some water. Cook for another 30 mins.

The idea is to have a thick gravy with the meat, so if the sauce is too watery, bring back to the boil and reduce the gravy.

Cyprus potatoes are some of the best in the world and there this would usually be served with very chunky chips. I used to make olive oil mashed potatoes.

Enjoy!

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