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 pound beef, pork or other game, cut into bite sized pieces
- 1-2 pounds pearl onions
- ¾ cup olive oil
- 2 cups spicy tomato juice
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 medium tomatoes, diced
- (or a 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes)
- 1 (10-ounce) can of tomato sauce
- 3-4 tablespoons dried oregano
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5 garlic cloves, sliced
- 3 tablespoons pickling spice
- Fresh oregano or parsley for garnish
- Water, if needed (I prefer, instead, to keep adding more tomato juice, wine or oil)
- Cheesecloth and twine for the pickling spices
- Use a paring knife to trim the stem ends and peel away the skins from the pearl onions. Slice the garlic, and cut the meat of choice into bite-sized pieces.
- Cut a thick 4” square of cheesecloth, pour the pickling spice into the middle of the cheesecloth, fold the corners and tightly tie together with twine. This is your spice bag. You’ll remove it later.
- Place a pot on medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Add the meat and season lightly with salt, pepper and oregano. Brown the meat on all sides
- Add the wine, onions and garlic.
- Add spicy tomato juice, diced tomato, and tomato sauce, cinnamon stick, more oregano, and the spice bag to the pot. The stew should be covered with liquid, so add more oil, wine or water if needed.
- Cover pot, reduce the heat and simmer the stew slowly for about 2-3 hours. Be sure to stir the pot occasionally and continually season to taste.
- Cook until meat and onions are tender and the sauce has thickened. You can keep the stifado on a very low heat until serving time. Remove the spice bag.
- Garnish with fresh oregano and serve.