I recently met a gentleman who was appalled that I had eaten very little from my ethnic food background when growing up. My mother was of Polish decent and my father’s family was German. However, most of the foods that I ate were very middle of the road “American”. Bean soup, meatloaf, pot roast, liver and onions…you know, all the stuff that most people eat every time they pull their chair up to the dinner table. (Well maybe not the liver – I hated the liver, but loved the gravy…but more on that another time…)
By and large, traditional American cooking uses ginger, cinnamon and anise as “sweet” spices. Cookies, cakes and breads – they reflect a certain Northern European sensibility that demands that every spice be kept in it proper place. My house was no different. My mom would have blanched at using cinnamon in a meat sauce or allspice in a barbeque rub… Those spices are for sweet stuff! Heresy!
I will never forget the first time I had cinnamon is a savory dish. When I was a kid, I accidentally grabbed a tin of cinnamon out of the cupboard and sprinkled it over my over easy eggs instead of black pepper. The rule in my house was - you make it, you eat it. With Mom standing over my shoulder, I had to follow the rule. It was freakin’ nasty. I do not recommend it.
Since I have moved out into the wide world, my palate has expanded quite a bit. Indian, Ethiopian, Moroccan – you name it, I like eating it. And being the culinary heretic that I am, the use of “sweet” spices in a savory dish doesn’t bother me in the least. Sorry Mom!
So that being said, my pick for TSIR #2: Sweet or Savory is Cinnamon Beef. I had this dish in Vegas a few years ago, and fell in love with the flavor combination. It is a variation on a “red-cooked” dish from
So here you have it: Cinnamon Beef. The best thing about this dish is that it tastes better every time you heat it up. It freezes well too – if you have any left!
Cinnamon Beef Noodles
1 teaspoon safflower or corn oil
6 scallions, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch sections, and smashed lightly with the flat side of a knife
6 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed lightly with the flat side of a cleaver, and thinly sliced
4 slices fresh ginger (about the size of a quarter), smashed lightly with the flat side of a knife
1 1/2 teaspoons hot chile paste
2 cinnamon sticks
1 small piece star anise
8 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 pounds chuck or beef stew meat, trimmed of fat and gristle, and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
10-ounces spinach, trimmed, rinsed, and drained
1/2 pound flat Chinese wheat-flour noodles, udon, or other flat noodles, such as fettuccine, cooked until just tender, rinsed under warm water, and drained
3 tablespoons minced scallions
1. Heat a large pot or casserole over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat until hot, about 30 seconds. Add the chile-cinnamon seasonings and stir-fry until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add the water and soy sauce and bring to a boil. Add the beef and bring back to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, or until the beef is very tender. Skim the surface to remove any impurities or fat. Remove the ginger slices, anise and cinnamon sticks and discard. Sauté spinach briefly in a small amount of oil with some garlic, until wilted.
2. Divide the noodles among six soup bowls. Ladle the meat and broth over the noodles and top with the sautéed spinach. Sprinkle with the scallions. Serve.