Beef & Eggplant: A Prelude to a Greek Summer

During the weeks leading up to my family’s departure to Greece every summer, I’m always inspired to cook dishes which will leave my home with those familiar aromas I so enjoy while I’m in that beautiful Mediterranean country.  One of my favorite aspects of the Greek cuisine is that it is very seasonal. For example, typical salads served during the summer months, like horiatiki, most commonly known as “Greek” salad, are replaced with salads like raw cabbage with carrots during the winter months.

Eggplant is abundantly available during the summer months, and it is incorporated into numerous Greek dishes. One of my favorite dishes to make, which incorporates this bulbous, perennial fruit, is a slow-cooked combination with chunks of beef, tomato, and parsley. Although this dish takes a few hours to complete, it really doesn’t require much labor on your part. You only need to plan ahead, allowing enough time to complete the meal before stomachs begin to growl, or at my home, howl.

This dish melts in your mouth, and it is a fabulous choice to serve for a dinner party. Pair it with a simple salad, or a summer vegetable side dish, such as broad beans or zucchini. I tend to eat this dish with slices of freshly baked bread and some feta cheese, but you could always make a side of rice or orzo pasta. It’s really up to you and the depth of bellies you must fill. Enjoy! And Viva Summer!!!

Yield: 4 main course meals

1- 1.5 lbs. organic beef stew meat, left in large chunks
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, smashed
20 oz. fire roasted crushed tomatoes (like Muir Glen brand)
appx. 1 c. water
1/2 c. chopped parsley
1/4 c. olive oil

1 lg. eggplant (or 4-5 small eggplants), peeled, ends removed, and chopped in 2″ pieces
1 Tbl. sugar
1/2 c. olive oil (you may need slightly less or more)

Heat half the oil (1/8 c.) on medium-high heat in a large, oven-proof sauté pan. When hot, add the meat. (Be sure to season the raw meat slightly with salt and pepper, rubbing it in, which will aid in optimal seasoning.) Brown the meat on both sides, then add the chopped onion and garlic. Pour in the other 1/8 c. of olive oil, and give a good couple of twists of salt and pepper. Allow the onions to cook until translucent (about 3-4 minutes), then add the tomatoes, water,  and chopped parsley. Give it a good stir, cover, and allow to stew on very low heat for about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, in another pan, on very low heat, add 1/2 c. oil and the eggplant pieces. Toss to coat the eggplant with the oil, sprinkle in the sugar, then cover and allow to cook slowly. Do not move the pieces too much or the eggplant with fall apart. You want the pieces to stay intact as much as possible. Allow to cook through, about 1 hour. Set aside.

About 30 minutes prior to the meat finishing on the stove top, preheat your oven to about 400°F. Place the eggplant pieces gently into the meat sauce. Place the pan on the lower third of the oven, uncovered, and allow to continue cooking for another 30 minutes. Remember that pan handle will be hot after the oven! I recommend placing an oven mitt over the handle once you remove the pan from the oven. (I can’t tell you how many times I have forgotten just how hot that handle was before I grasped it!)

MEAT

This season, on ABC’s hit show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,”  Jamie is attempting to overhaul a local L.A. fast food joint’s menu to include healthier ingredients, such as ground beef that has been raised organically and slaughtered  humanely, as opposed to the “mystery meat” that comes from factory farms. (If you haven’t had the chance to watch “Food Revolution” yet, please do. I think it’s a wonderful way to see first-hand, the terrible mis-education of America’s population in regards to food and health. It’s definitely family friendly, so check your local TV listings, sit down with your children, and begin a food discussion!)

I often hear that the price of meat, and I mean meat raised and slaughtered to my standards, which includes an animal being fed its natural diet (usually foraging on grass), given space to freely roam, and slaughtered humanely, is too expensive. But meat should be expensive, shouldn’t it? It is, after all, a living animal that needs space, food, and the opportunity to live a good life. Of course meat from factory farms is less expensive. But I don’t know too many people who, given the financial opportunity and basic knowledge of the tragedies surrounding factory farms, would opt for a large, unnatural chicken breast to consume for 50¢ over a chicken that was raised the way God intended, and sells for about $20 in its entirety. How much, truly, is a living being’s life worth?

From a purely economic standpoint, a majority of the U.S. population is unable to afford organic food prices, and therefore, unable to make the decision to eat a healthier diet. In fact, many don’t earn enough to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. Sadly, it is cheaper to order a low-quality fast food meal than it is to buy a few apples or grapes! Not only is consuming meat expensive, by many recent studies have indicated that it is not all that good for your body either. However, statistically, most of us consume meat at least once a day. So when the cost of quality meat becomes an issue, perhaps our health and finances could both benefit by cutting back to eating meat just two times a week and consuming more vegetables.

Currently, there is an interesting documentary playing across the country entitled, “Forks Over Knives.” This film documents two scientists and their claims relating to the culprits of the most fatal diseases afflicting society today. They claim that meat-based and processed diets are the leading causes of degenerative diseases currently afflicting us, and that following a more plant-based diet has numerous health benefits, such as the reversal of Type-2 diabetes. To see if “Forks Over Knives” is playing near you, click here.

As an omnivore, I truly believe that when I consume an animal, I am consuming its energy. It only makes sense to consume animals that have been raised and slaughtered the way nature intended, if you choose to eat the meat at all. It certainly costs more to buy meat from a local farmer, but the benefits are great, so if you are fortunate enough to have access to naturally-raised, high-quality meat, try fitting it into your budget by consuming less of a good thing. Your body (and wallet) will thank you for it!