At the Salt Lake City Greek festival, almost every family plays a role, often with specialties they claim as their own and which they work on for months before the festival. My good friend John Timothy and his entire Pappas family are always on tyropites (cheese pie) duty. Another friend, Jeff Chipian and his family are the ones to thank for the loukoumades (honey donuts) that are promised to leave your hands sticky and stomach begging for more. My big brother, Pete and his crew, somehow keep their composure cool all weekend long while working nonstop in the ovens, popping out warm pastitsio and spanakopita on order. By the way, it would be wrong not to mention the sweet Philoptochos women who bake and cook the pastitsio and spanakopita all summer long.
For as long as I can remember, the Saltas family and our cousins, the Kastanis’ have made the stifado (beef stew). Stifado is a Greek stew teeming with flavors of garlic, onion, cinnamon, wine, bay leaf, and other spices. In the United States, the base of stew is most often beef or venison. In Greece, you’ll more often find stifado made with rabbit. Octopus stifado isn’t unheard of either. Whatever base you prefer, just be sure the onions equal the weight of the main ingredient. It’s not just any onion used, they are small pearl onions which make the stew easily recognizable.
With any stifado, the trick is creating a flavorful sauce that you’ll want to savor every last drop of. The sauce can be easily modified to your taste preference, like adding more or fewer spices, or varying the amount of wine, even using tomato paste instead of tomato sauce. Just try different combinations until you strike the ones that work for you. At home, my dad adds spicy V8 juice in his, it may be odd to see that in the ingredients, but just give it a try and you’ll be surprised by the wonderful outcome. You may even want to book a flight to our next Greek Festival to get a bowlful of our stifado. You’re definitely welcome.
- 1 lbs beef, pork or other game, cut in pieces
- 1 lb pearl onions (frozen works)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 cup spicy V8 juice
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 medium tomato, diced (or a 15 oz can of diced tomatoes)
- 1 10 oz can tomato sauce
- 1 Tablespoon oregano
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1.5 oz pickling spice
- water, if needed
- Peel the pearl onions, slice the garlic, and cut the meat of choice into bite sized pieces.
- Cut a thick square of cheesecloth and pour the pickling spice into the middle of the cheesecloth and tightly tie together cheesecloth with twine. This is your spice bag you’ll remove later so you don’t get chunks of spice into your stew.
- Place a pot over medium high heat and add the olive oil. Add the meat and season lightly with salt and pepper and brown the meat on all sides (about 5 minutes).
- Add the wine and when evaporated, add the onions and garlic.
- Add V8 juice, diced tomato, and tomato sauce, cinnamon stick, oregano, and pickling spice bag. The stew should be covered with liquid, so add more wine or water if not.
- Cover with a lid, reduce the heat and simmer the stew slowly. This will take about 1 ½ to 2 hours. Be sure to occasionally stir the pot and season to taste.
- Cook until meat and onions are tender and the sauce has thickened. Remove the spice bag.
- Garnish with oregano and serve with sliced bread.