Monday, April 1, 2013

The Tas Kebap

Last week, I was waxing poetic about the arrival of spring and the anticipation of all that it would bring. Well, let me tell you, it has brought many things alright, just not what I was expecting. It brought snow, and cold, and chapped lips, and pairs of boots that need to be thrown away because they have been worn for six months already. I’m not going to tell you that I don’t like this weather; I’m going to tell you that I hate it. Enough is enough!

As it is understandable, this northern European spring is making me crave all kinds of wintry things like stews and soups and warm cocoas. I know for some of you all these may not sound that appealing anymore, but for those of you living in places that spring has forgotten, you get me, I know you do.

So, I give you my version of comfort food. A traditional Greek dish of the Politiki cuisine, the kind of Greek cuisine I grew up with (you can read all about it here). This dish is called Tas Kebap and the name is not Greek but Arabic. It’s a dish that was brought to Greece from Greek refugees leaving Constantinople (Istanbul) and Asia Minor, and it has since become part of the Greek culinary heritage.
You may know of the Turkish version of the dish which is heavier as it uses butter and is made with lamb, whereas the Greek version is made with olive oil and the meat of choice is veal.

When someone hears the word kebap or kebab, what jumps into their mind are images of meat skewers being grilled over an open fire and yes, in some cases this is true, but kebap actually refers to numerous dishes containing cubed meat, and different varieties of kebap can be found around the world.

The Greek Tas Kebap is a hearty stew of cubed veal cooked in a thick and rich tomato sauce flavored with spices and red wine. The meat is cooked slowly over a low heat until succulent and at the end you have a luscious, glistening red sauce with the tangy and sweet taste of tomato and spices warming your soul, comforting you in all the right ways.

This unassuming dish is for me the epitome of comfort food, with all the smells and flavors of my grandmother’s kitchen. It is a dish my mom always made and still makes for me whenever I have meat cravings. A dish I grew up with and one that I love. It is, after all, my favorite meat dish.

Tas kebap is traditionally served with pilaf rice, a simple white rice, or with eggplant purée thus creating the famous hunkar begendi, another dish I grew up with and for which the recipe I need to share with you. In the case of hunkar begendi, I change slightly the recipe for the tas kebap, but I will tell you more about it when the time comes. For now, enjoy a taste of traditional Greek Politiki cuisine and let’s hope that spring will make its way here soon.

Tas Kebap (Greek Veal Stew in a Tomato Sauce)

Greeks always choose veal over beef, we don’t particularly enjoy the mature flavor of beef, but you can use either.

For me, the best accompaniment to this stew is white medium-grain rice that’s cooked al dente to add texture to the dish. Serve the meat on top or next to the stew but make sure to mix it all up as you eat it so that every grain of rice gets coated with the scrumptious sauce; that is the way to eat this dish.
Other options include a potato purée or fried potatoes, which are traditional Greek accompaniments to all kinds of stewed meat in tomato sauce.

Yield: 6 servings

1 kg boneless veal (or beef) stewing steak, like chuck steak
120 ml good quality olive oil
2 medium-sized onions, grated
2 large garlic cloves, mashed
½ heaped tsp ground allspice
½ heaped tsp ground cumin
400 g fresh tomatoes, grated, or canned diced tomatoes, puréed in a food processor
1 heaped Tbsp tomato paste
⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of sugar
50 ml dry red wine
250 ml hot water
2 tsp salt or to taste

Special equipment: box grater or food processor

Take the meat and cut with a knife the large pieces of fat off, leaving a fair amount of fat on in order to flavor the dish. Cut the meat into pieces, about 2cm each. Place them on paper towels and pat them dry. This is an important step because the meat will not brown properly if it's damp.

In a large, deep, heavy-bottomed pan or preferably in a Dutch oven, add the olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. When it starts to shimmer, add enough meat pieces to cover 2/3 of the bottom of the pan (do not overcrowd the pan because the meat will boil rather than brown) and brown the pieces on both sides. Remove the browned pieces from the pan and place them in a bowl. Brown the rest of the meat pieces in the same manner and place them in the bowl.

Add the grated onions and mashed garlic to the pan and sauté on medium heat for about 4 minutes, stirring continuously. Add the ground allspice and cumin and stir continuously for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and stir continuously for 1 minute. Add the browned meat pieces along with the juices accumulated in the bowl you kept them in, stir well and add some freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of sugar. Turn heat up to medium-high and add the wine and the hot water (hot so the cooking process doesn't stop) and stir well. Let it come to the boil, then turn heat down to the lowest setting, put the lid on and let the meat stew for 1 ½ hours or until it is tender. Check the meat every 20 minutes or so, stirring it around a bit so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. When the meat is almost done, season with salt. The reason you're adding the salt now is because if you add it at the beginning of the cooking process, the veal (or beef) will become tough and chewy.

In the end you will have tender, melt-in-the-mouth meat with a rich, thick tomato sauce.

While the meat is cooking, prepare your rice, your potatoes or whatever your accompaniment to the dish is.

Serve and enjoy with some good crusty bread and feta cheese (you know it goes with everything!).

Tas Kebap will taste even better on the second day.


  1. This looks so homey and comforting. Very similar to Iranian meat stews.

  2. Spring shall return soon, perhaps masked as summer! But stews like this should see you through.....delicious as they look!

  3. I totally get you Magda...Snow from my backyard just melted today (East Midlands-UK).
    I usually bring μπαχάρι (allspice) from Greece for this recipe which became my housemate's favourite! I will add the cumin as per your version next sounds interesting and yummy :-)

  4. First it was the manti, exactly as my grandmohter used to cook it! A unique recipe among the many different mantis I have tried in my life... And now my father's tas kebab! I have no words...

  5. I liked the spice combinations, very familiar. We make several beans dishes with similar spicing. comfort food for winter and rains. No all spice, no wine and the addition of ginger would be a simple everyday meat/ beans curry!:-)

  6. Bring it on: it certainly doesn't feel like spring here yet either! I could use a plate of this.

  7. Love the Greek politiki kouzina dishes! I've actually never had this but my dad makes something similar with ground meat and always serves with rice! Keep the politiki kouzina dishes rolling!

  8. We understand the draw of comfort food in endless winter. When we left the 10-month-a-year gloom of the Atlantic coast of Maine, and moved to the almost unceasing sunshine of the Sonoran Desert, we found that we had far too many cold-weather comfort food recipes in our repertoire, and far too few refreshing warm-weather recipes! Still, when we get the occasional three-day stretch of winter rain, we rush to old favorites that warm both the kitchen and ourselves, and eat them by the fireside.

  9. ahu — I suppose this type of cooking has many similarities with Middle Eastern food. I'm glad you like it!

    Kitchen Butterfly — thank you!

    ifigeneia — the cumin is not overpowering and it does add another flavor dimension to the dish. Do let me know how you liked it if you try it.

    maria nostra — all these traditional recipes are more or less the same, give or take a spice or herb. Exactly the same though? I'm surprised as well! :)

    Shri — it's amazing how dishes from different cultures share similar ingredients and methods of cooking. Everyone needs to be comforted by food!

    Nuts about food — :)

    Banana Wonder — I hope you give it a try once Lent is over. I know you're fasting so this must be very tempting for you :)

    Anonymous — I hope this dish manages to sneak in the next time you feel the need to warm yourselves up with a good stew. :)

  10. Magda, your stew looks heavenly. I have a question for you... my daughter is a huge fan of stiffado and I'm dying to make some for her. Your Tas Kebap looks very similar to the stiffados we ate on Folegrandros. Can you share some of your Greek cooking wisdom with me.
    Wishing you better weather soon..

  11. I like this spice combination. Interesting note from Shri, too. Thanks, Magda.

  12. I've never heard of tas kebap, but it looks & sounds like one of the most comforting meals ever! I'm definitely going to have to give this one a try. :)

  13. A wonderfuly comforting stew! It bet it tastes really good.



  14. Oh, Magda - this looks divine! Even though we are heading into our hot season, I will have to make this. And the dishes are beautiful, too!

  15. Erin — tas kebab is very different to stifado. Stifado is made with different spices and lots of onions. I will have to share the recipe soon! :)

    Denise — thanks!

    Eileen — I hope you enjoy it!

    Rosa — it does! Thanks!

    David — thank you!

  16. Ah thank you for this, it's as far as I can go during Nisteia ;)
    I added a bit of cinnamon while cooking this in my head.
    Spring greetings from back home!

  17. I hate the cold too.. Here in Australia we are approaching the cooler months but I will be off to Greece mid-year to avoid our winter.

    I am a vegetarian but I love the challenge of turning a Greek meat dish into something that's just as tasty, but without the meat. The sauce in your recipe would go really well with tofu or tempeh so I am going to try this soon. I especially love the combination of spices and red wine in this sauce.

  18. That's what I was looking for: real Greek food by someone from Greece.
    Question: what kind of red wine would you recommend in that sauce? Thanks

  19. This is one beautiful dish. I am so attracted to the deep reddish brown of the sauce, chunks of meat and that perfectly cooked rice. I do not eat much veal, but I would like to try this dish with pork. Your sauce would be lovely with pork as well I think.

  20. We've made this many times and it is wonderful. Thank you from my family

    1. I'm so happy to hear that Stacey. Thank you for trying it! :)

  21. I made this dish and it was delicious. How do you change the recipe for χουνκιαρ μπεγιεντι?