My friend Vera, a superlative cook, served this spicy slow-cooked veal dish on the occasion of her husband’s birthday last year. It was summer, and the birthday dinner was in the garden of their country house in Provence. There were many guests and many speeches, much wine and much merriment. Cheery lanterns hung from a mulberry tree over trestle tables festooned with patterned cloths. I loved it all, but what blew me away was the food.
Veau braisé aux épices / Slow-cooked veal with spices
Vera must have served ten dishes that evening, including another meat dish and many sides. It was a spectacular meal. I asked her for the veal recipe the next morning, but it took me all this time to get around to making it. It’s not exactly everyday cooking, as it takes … three days. And you need to have a crowd to consume it. But the effort is worth it.
How did she come up with this recipe? Vera is a multi-culti, multi-lingual person whose culinary knowledge spans the world. Born in Czechoslovakia, she came to France for university, and when the Russians invaded Prague in 1968 she decided to stay. That’s when she met her husband, a Canadian who became a TV correspondent for the CBC. His career took them to Beijing, Montreal, Jerusalem, Paris, Moscow (where we met), Berlin and London. From these cities, Vera traveled to other spots in the region, from the farflung outposts of China to Georgia, Uzbekistan and Iran. In each of these places, she picked up and elaborated on the local cuisine, adding her own personal touch.
She tends to favor rich, spicy dishes, and indeed uses many spices in this recipe: cumin, coriander, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, fennel seeds, curry powder and saffron. Instead of using store-bought ground spices, she smashes the whole spices with a hammer! She swears this produces better results than a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Besides, she says, ‘C’est plus jouissif’. Loose translation: ‘It’s more fun.’
Serving the veal is a pleasure, since everything is done in advance, including slicing, and it merely needs to be heated through before coming to the table. But what to serve alongside? I would recommend seasonal veggies and grains. As it’s autumn, I served the veal with a purée of pumpkin with parmesan, braised finocchio and spicy lentils with onions. The starter was a salad of tender leaves with red grape halves and walnuts, dressed with a mixture of olive oil, walnut oil, balsamic vinegar and garlic. For dessert we had ricotta with lavender and figs. My guests did not complain.
For my next post, I will return to a simpler style of cooking. But even everyday French chefs branch out from time to time. I hope you will try this recipe and enjoy it.