cairo rose-beef

Oh. Is it December already?

People ask me if I’m experiencing much culture shock since coming back to the U.S., and the truth is that this time around it’s fairly minimal. Mostly I’m overwhelmed by two things: American undergraduates and the weather. It’s not so much about the cold, it’s the rain. I forgot that when it starts raining here it might rain all day. It might rain more than once a week. The cold on the East Coast is so much wetter and damper than I remembered.

So it seems only appropriate that I present, in honor of a wet and chilly winter, a 13th century Cairene recipe (courtesy, once again, Lilia Zaouali‘s work) whose primary ingredients, according to Hippocratic dietetics, are classified as “dry.”

In classical Greek medicine––starting from the notion that there are four elements (and four bodily humors), each of which features two of the qualities wet, dry, warm, and cold––foodstuffs were classified according to the same categories and prescribed to help balance out whatever was needed in a person’s health and temperament. Roses, beef, and lemons, all featured in this recipe, all qualified as “dry” foods. Sure enough, this recipe yields a well-seasoned beef dish that’s on the dry side; it’s very tasty and fragrant, but I would recommend combining it with a nice butter-based sauce or olive oil-based garnish for serving.

Cairo Rose Beef, adapted from Kanz al-fawa’id fi tanwi al-mawa’id (“Valuable Treasures for a Feast of Pleasures,” as I like to call it) as translated by Lilia Zaouali

You will need:

A half pound of beef, fat trimmed, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 onion, sliced
Juice of one lemon
Heaping tablespoon of dried rosebuds (in the Arab world, your local attar can set you up. In the U.S., spice stores tend to have these on hand, or you can try looking for rosebud tea), crushed with a mortar & pestle
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp of pepper
Vegetable or olive oil

First, blanch the meat by dropping it into boiling water for a minute to ninety seconds and then immediately placing it into a bowl of cold water. Start cooking the onions in a bit of oil, on medium high heat, and after 3-4 minutes, add in the beef and get it hot enough so everything’s frying together. If you’ve got a cast iron pan I highly recommend using it.

Toss well and then add on the pepper, cinnamon, roses, and lemon juice.

After they’ve been frying for ten minutes or so, remove everything from the pan and deglaze it with a liquid of your choice (red wine is my favorite, but a good red wine or pomegranate vinegar would also work well). Deglazing is basically using liquid to dissolve and incorporate what’s been leftover at the bottom of the pan from the cooking into a sauce. See this great overview by The Reluctant Gourmet for more details.

Return the beef & onions to the pan and simmer on medium low heat until the liquid is mostly reduced.


More photos here.

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