So there I am, leafing through some notes and quotes of a very dog-eared exercise book, looking to be inspired by romantic love and the celebration of Saint Valentine’s day. I find myself very drawn to the Persian sultriness of the 11th and 73rd verses of “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” … there is mention of food and wine and there is mention of things not being quite as we would like them and of yearning for perfection. And then I happen upon good old Shakespeare (who never lets you down when it comes to quotes) in his Sonnet no. 116 being convinced that love, true love, is all about being steadfast and loyal, no matter what imperfections life may hurl at you. Allow me to quote both.
“The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” Verse no. 11
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Loaf of Bread – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness.
And Wilderness is Paradise enow!
Verse no. 73
Ah Love! Could Thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would we not shatter it to bits – and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!
Shakespeare’s Sonnet no. 116
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! It is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come.
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
It this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, not no man ever loved.
So, yes … I am all for striving for an ideal and wanting to get things re-moulded to my heart’s desire ‘just so’ in the kitchen – but guess what? My loved ones just have to take me as I am and bear it out even to the edge of culinary imperfection. And today I was so caught up being busy in other spheres that when it came to thinking of preparing something ‘special’ for St Valentine’s … all I could come up with was a stew with a vaguely Mexican hint to it.
Now … does that sound romantic and exciting or ‘special’ ? Not really. But this is, I promise, a really ‘different’ sort of meat-in-a-pot concoction which is best served with rice. I chose it precisely because I was in a hurry and it is a very low-maintenance dish to prepare. However, it is chock full of ingredients that are exceedingly good for one’s health and which boast of aphrodisiacal qualities appropriate for today. Chocolate, chilli, tomato, cinnamon, onion, garlic, spring onion, pepper, cloves, beef and olive oil … all good stuff, all stuff that is good for you and good for love …
Here are the ingredients … including a bar of very dark chocolate and peeled walnuts. A large onion has been roughly chopped and is sweating in some olive oil.
A closer view … use 6 pepper corns and 6 cloves and a good hanful of walnuts. A large can of plum tomatoes and about 3 spring onions.
ground cinnamon … two teaspoons.
Blend the tomatoes with the walnuts …
Brown the meat … add the cloves, pepper corns, and cinnamon …
Add the blended tomatoes and walnuts …
Add 3-4 large squares of the chocolate. If you do not have any chocolate handy (is that possible?), then use good-quality cocoa poweder, about 2 tablespoons. If you like your stew hot, now is the time to add some chilli as well as salt and pepper. Cover with a lid and cook on a low heat until the meat is tender (about one and a half hours). Do keep an eye on it, however … checking to see whether it is drying out too much in which case add a little bit of hot water or beef stock if you have any. And give it a stir every 20 minutes or so.
And this is how it should like when it’s done … it has thickened so much that a wooden spoon can stay upright in it … and look at the colour and the way it glistens invitingly!
Chop the spring onions and add them to the stew …
Stir gently before serving
Serve it with some plain rice, boiled with a cinnamon stick
Buon San Valentino !