As adaptable as the English language is, it has not evolved to meet the needs of the modern world — specifically when it comes to modern relationships. It's only in the last three weeks that DPaul and I have finally been liberated from the highly unromantic moniker of "partners" for the mantle of "husbands," a word that still feels weird, like a pair of shoes that need breaking in. But what of the other people to whom we are connected through non-traditional means?
Case in point: We just had a dinner guest, Sylvia. She was my father's fourth and final wife, and now his widow. She's too young to be my stepmother, not that I called wives two or three by that title either. Plus, as I was in my mid-thirties when they married, I felt too old to gain an extra mother.
Sylvia and I get along famously. The only problem is when I begin a sentence in which I am referring to her. These sentences invariably begin, "My …" at which point the words fail me, and I have to pause and deliver the full backstory to explain who this person is. And if I want to refer to her delightful parents, there's sure as heck no concise combination of words to explain that connection.
Anyway, speaking of language, the dish we made comes from a cookbook given to us by our downstairs neighbors. One half of the couple hails from the Azores, a cluster of Portuguese-held islands in the Atlantic off the African coast. On return from a visit there last year, she brought us a cookbook, "Azorean Cuisine" by Zita Lima. The book is peppered with charmingly clunky translations, such as a recipe for "Broth of Turnips from the Land" (as opposed to, what, sea turnips?) and one dish simply, gloriously titled, "Rump." Mmm. Rump.
The one recipe that came most strongly recommended, and the only one we've made to date, is called "molha à la mode de Pico." (Fun fact: The mountain on the island Pico, also named Pico, is the highest mountain in Portugal.) The word molha, pronounced MOLE-yah, derives from the same root as the Spanish molé, and the similarities do not stop there. Molha is beef chuck stewed in spices like cumin, cinnamon and allspice, with a little piri-piri for kick. The combination of spices meld and mellow into a warming braise without ever lapsing into Christmas potpourri territory. It's muito bom.
Molha à la mode de Pico
Adapted from "Azorean Cuisine" by Zita Lima
The biggest adaptation here was to use our new favorite toy, the pressure cooker. We just got the Fagor 3-in-1 Electric Multi-Cooker and have already embarked upon a love affair. It reduces the cooking time drastically. But, if you do not have a pressure cooker, simply simmer the meat for a couple hours, until it is cooked through and begins to break down. But in the pressure cooker, the meat turns out tender as butter.
Piri-piri, or malaguetta, is a very spicy varietal of birdseye pepper. I've subbed in red pepper flake to good effect, offering just enough burn to keep it interesting, but not so much as to scare off company. Our neighbor says in her family they don't use any pepper, and a little more cinnamon, so feel free to tinker with the spicing.
Want a copy of this book? Well, you'd better get your own Azorean neighbor then, cuz they don't sell it on Amazon.
2 lbs chuck, cut into bite-size cubes
5-6 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
1 Tbsp red pepper flake
2 Tbsp Kosher salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1-2 c. white wine and/or stock
1 tsp allspice
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp cumin
1 cinnamon stick
Toss the meat, garlic, pepper flake and salt in a large bowl, combine well and let rest in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. The meat will turn a brilliant shade of red.
Sauté the onions and garlic in the bottom of the pressure cooker until golden. Add the tomato paste and cook another minute or so, then add the wine and spices. Add the meat, close up the pressure cooker and cook on high heat for 20 minutes. Allow pressure to drop normally; rapid-releasing pressure will toughen meat. When pressure has fully released, open the cooker. Skim off fat that has risen to the top. Bring remaining sauce back to the boil if you want to thicken or reduce it.
According to the cookbook, molha is traditionally served with boiled potatoes. We served it over buttered noodles and some roasted romanesco, and that was very nice indeed.