If I need to describe the dish Vinen Kebap (“Wine Kebap”) in one short sentence it will be: A slow-cooked, comforting dish that is well worth the wait. Kebap in Bulgarian is a generic term used for dishes made of pieces of meat, sauce and spices. It could be cooked from pork, beef and even chicken, and there are hundred and one recipes for a kebap. The most famous one is probably Vinen Kebap (“Wine Kebap”) which uses red wine as a base for the sauce. It somewhat reminds of a beef bourguignon, and it’s like a simpler version of it. And like the old fashion French classic Wine Kebap dish is now slowly coming out of oblivion.
Cooking with red wine is an old tradition in Bulgaria – historians say we inherited that from the ancient Thracians who lived in these lands many centuries ago. Wine was so important to the Thracians they actually had their own god in charge of it. They called him Sabazios, who is believed to be the predecessor of the Greek God Dionysus.
Coming back to the Wine Kebap, I remember that being one of the first recipes my mom taught me to cook a long ago, and I even remember that the main challenge for me at that time was to learn how to dissolve the flour without leaving any lumps in the sauce. Now, having developed some cooking skills (and confidence) my attention has moved to the choice of meat cuts and wine, as they are extremely important to the final result.
Serves: 4 big or 6 smaller
Prep and cooking time: 60-80 minutes
700-800g (1,5 pounds) beef shin (braising or chuck steak), cut into byte size cubes
3 tbsp oil
3 medium onions, finely chopped
1 tbsp flour
200ml of red wine (good quality, full-bodied)
2 cups beef stock (or homemade vegetable stock)
2 bay leaf
¼ tsp all spice
¼ tsp ground mix of peppers
2 tbsp grated celeriac
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 or 2 tbsp tomato paste
In a large heavy based saucepan heat the vegetable oil over medium to high heat. Meanwhile pat dry and flavour with some salt and ground peppers the meat. Cut it in a bite sized cubs and seal the meat in the hot saucepan. It will need around 10 minutes browning (while stirring from time to time), so whole the cubes are well sealed form all sides. Larger saucepan will allow you to do that properly, but if you don’t have it use a large frying pan, and then transfer the meat into a saucepan.
When the meat cubes are sealed add chopped onions, roughly grated carrot and celeriac, if you decide to use it. Give the mixture a nice stir, reduce the heat and cover for around 5-10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Pour the hot stock (enough to cover the meat). If you decide to use tomato paste, dilute it in the stock and add them both.
Add the bay leaves, all spice, a small pinch of salt and sweet paprika and leave to simmer on low for at least 40 minutes. Check if the meat is ready, and if necessary add some more stock and leave it to cook for few more minutes.
When the meat is done, uncover the saucepan and allow the remaining water to evaporate. Meantime blend together wine and flour until smooth pinkish liquid. The sauce in the saucepan should be clear and mostly oil, when adding the flour mix. Leave to simmer for 10 more minutes, uncovered. From the moment you added the flour stir rather often.
Serve hot, sprinkled with some roughly chopped parsley over rice or potato mash.