There are some things you never expect to go together; a good balsamic vinegar and cheesecake, grape jelly and meatballs. They somehow seem wrong or don’t fit.
I suppose it is because our mind gets use to the idea of pairings and comfortably places things in their little cubby holes. That is where they belong, that is their niche. Our minds automatically shy away from putting what is comfortable and familiar in the “wrong” niche.
But these are missed opportunities. Especially in cooking. It is precisely in these slightly uncomfortable areas where the bold, fearless chefs dwell blazing the trail for the rest of us.
But you need not be a trailblazer to play with these boundaries.
Even with what is common in the pantry you can stretch your culinary prowess and unearth a treasure.
I knew from the moment I saw that recipe in Barbara’s blog that I had to try it. Barbara is often an inspiration to me even though I have never made one of her recipes as written… Ok I have probably NEVER made a recipe as written, but that is besides the point. Barbara specializes in the areas of cooking where I am weakest. And though she makes it seem effortless with her detailed, breezy descriptions, I know that I could never duplicate the results.
For one I don’t have a wok and for two, I don’t have a burner powerful enough to produce wok hey. But the recipes themselves are always inspirations. From them I gather ideas to push me out of my little ruts. Break down the walls between my little cubicles and mix it up a little.
I am not a stranger to interesting spices. I have a pantry full of the most fascinating spices one can imagine; long pepper, Sichuan peppercorns, black cardamom, cubeb, galingale, peppers of every variety, true cinnamon, spice combinations from all over the world. I use all of these spices, loving them for their individual characteristics. The unique quality that they bring to a dish. And while these seem exotic, I have carefully combined them in my mind into specific mixtures. Spice A always goes with spice B. I get into a sort of routine, digging little furrow in my head that seem to deepen with every use.
Barbara’s recipes have a way of breaking me out of that. Getting me to think differently.
The ingredients for this recipe are not so unusual, soy sauce, cumin, a bit of hot pepper and ginger; the kinds of things that are a part of my every day pantry. But never in a million years would I have thought of adding cumin to soy sauce and then using it on beef.
Cumin is among my favorite spices. The trick of combining cumin and coriander was one I picked up ages ago from an Indian Cook book. It was one of the many curry mixes. Cumin with its earthy dusty spiciness is fantastic on chicken and shrimp. Combined with lemon and a little bit of garlic it is my standard marinade. I also use it to season rice, tying it together with the meat with a common spice thread.
But oddly, I have never thought to use it with beef. Just didn’t seem to fit.
I was gladly proven wrong.
Cumin pairs incredibly well with beef coaxing forth a meaty, grassy quality. It was as if it put back the flavor that commercialization removed.
I admit that when I put the marinade together I had my doubts. It smelled odd. Even odder once the meat was inside and I could smell the interaction between the soy sauce and the meat fibers. But by the time the meat hit the grill a little over an hour later all doubts had vanished.
The scent coming off my grill was mesmerizing. It beckoned beguilingly tempting and whispering sweet promises of exotic delights.
Cooked medium rare and sliced across the grain the top round (London Broil) was very tender. And as I sliced it I could not resist licking the marinade off my fingers.
It was even better the next day once the meat had a chance to luxuriate in the cooking juices and absorb even more of the marinade. It paired incredibly well with my favorite feta, lemon, garlic dressing.
Because I have no wok, I did have to modify the recipe a great deal from the original but I believe that the flavors held true and were wonderful just the same.
I will definitely be playing with this recipe again.
Beef with Cumin
Adapted from Barbara’s adaptation from Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook
2 pounds beef top round (London Broil), fat removed
3 tablespoons Mirin or Chinese rice wine
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
¼ cup dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon cumin
1 ½ teaspoon coriander
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 – 3 fresh chilies, diced or
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Combine all but the beef in a sealable plastic bag. Mush together to blend well. Add the beef. If the meat is too unwieldy in one piece, slice in half. Seal the bag, removing as much air as possible.
Marinate for 1-4 hours, turning every 15 minutes to make sure the meat is evenly coated.
Preheat you grill on its highest setting.
Once the grill is hot, lower the setting to medium high and put the steak on the grill. The grill should maintain a temperature of 400 degrees. Adjust the flame as necessary. Grill until medium-rare to medium, about 8-10 minutes per side.
Remove and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes. Slice thin across the grain and serve.
Feta and Lemon Dressing
Juice of 1 large or 2 small lemons
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 ounce good quality feta, crumbled
1 teaspoon good quality olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Combine all of the ingredients and stir well to incorporate. Allow to stand for 20 minutes.
Drizzle over dark leafy greens.