You heard me. It was 6:10 a.m., and I was up and eager to get cooking. There was stew beef just waiting for its curtain call, and me without an idea. Thanks to Mother Nature’s dreary, overcast morning, there was nary a cough, grunt or yawn from the kids. It was clear they were hibernating. Time to get cracking in the kitchen!
Now, what to make…Chili? Soup? Stew? No beef broth in the house posed a challenge. Similar to my desperate need to match belts with shoes, I like the broth to agree with the meat. But, then I came across a Cooking Light recipe that looked very promising, a beef and vegetable soup with strong Mexican influences that used chicken broth. Hmmm. Perusing the ingredient list, I came across a potential deal-breaker: the first ingredient was “achiote paste. ” Enter letters WTH. What the heck is achiote paste??
Twenty minutes later, after an exhaustive Google search, I had my answer: achiote paste is made by grinding the annatto seed and mixing it with spices like cumin, cloves, and garlic, along with vinegar. It is apparently a staple in Mayan-style dishes, packing a lot of flavor without too much heat. Not having any on hand (go figure) I found a decent substitute recipe and went to work putting this together.
Mexican Beef and Vegetable Stew
adapted from All-New Complete Cooking Light Cookbook, copyright 2006
2 T. achiote paste substitute (recipe below)
2 t. chili powder
1-1/2 t. salt
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. olive oil
2 t. chopped garlic
1-1/2 pounds lean stew beef
1 T. olive oil
3 c. chopped onion
32 oz. chicken broth
1 (14.5 oz.) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained (like Hunt’s)
3 c. peeled, cubed summer squash or zucchini
3 c. peeled, cubed sweet potato
1 c. cubed Yukon gold potatoes
2 c. carrots, sliced thick
1) Make achiote paste substitute (adapted from http://www.foodgeeks.com/recipes/21032) Mix into a paste the following: 2 T. vinegar, 3 T. paprika, 1 1/2 t. dry oregano leaves, 1 t. chopped garlic, 1/2 t. ground cumin, 1 t. ground cloves, and a pinch of salt. Set aside 2 T. for this recipe and store the rest in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
2) Mix together the first 6 ingredients (achiote paste substitute through garlic). Rub about 1 T. over the pieces of meat, setting the rest of the mixture aside to add to the pot.
3) Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add seasoned beef, browning on all sides, about 2 minutes. Remove beef from pan. Add onions, and saute for about 3 minutes. Add remaining achiote paste mixture, and cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
4) Return beef to pan. Stir in broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 35 minutes.
5) Add potatoes, summer squash, and carrot. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes more.