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Belgian Beef Stew

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The closest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. As silly as this cliché sounds, I still fell for it.

My husband and I started dating when at the same time I finally decided to seriously learn how to cook. As I was looking for eager souls who can try out the dishes I’d prepare, one day I nonchalantly invited him for a weekend dinner.

So I began to ask, “What’s Belgian cuisine that you miss the most now?”

He grinned and quickly replied, “Belgian beef stew.”

I stared blankly at him as he began describing how this beef stew is prepared and how it tastes like. By the time my potential guinea pig left, I started to seek what this Belgian dish is all about.

Also known as carbonade flamande in French, or in Flemish stoverij or stoofvlees, this hearty, slow-cooked Flemish beef stew recipe is a national dish in Belgium. This Belgian dish has close resemblance with beef bourguignon in the south of France, since the term carbonade may also refer to certain beef stews cooked with red wine. This traditional Belgian sweet-sour beef and onion stew on the other hand, is made with beer, which is the signature element to achieve its distinct flavor. It uses a specific kind of Belgian-style ale and oftentimes a beer with a bitter or hoppy taste is preferred. If a true Belgian beer is not available, it is recommended to use a flavorful brown beer and for some, they suggest an “old stout” or thick beer.

My first cooking attempt of Flemish beef stew was considerably more authentic and traditional, or should we say a grandma’s approach to cooking carbonades. Apart from the beef, dark Belgian beer and tons of onions, I also included other flavor ingredients. I used black cherries jam and vinegar to accentuate the sour flavor; and flour coat for the beef chunks and mustard evenly spread out onto the white breads to thicken the sauce.

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Then as its side dish, I served pomme frites. Or in English it’s fried potatoes, but we commonly we call it in the Philippines as French fries, which is incorrect to say so since these potato fries historically originated from Belgium. Upon hearing about it, I refrained from using that colloquial term again. It’s fried potatoes or potato fries, or simply, fries!

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A year after the delicious Belgian beef stew I made that somehow captured my then-boyfriend’s heart, we got happily married. What an interesting coincidence as well that winter’s about to arrive when surprisingly I started craving for this warm beef stew. Now his wife, I told him what I was about to prepare for dinner and from there, I saw his familiar grin again. Oh he must have been always so hungry whenever he hears I’m cooking his favorite Belgian dish!

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