A sumptuous beef winter stew, famously associated with a beautiful historic city called Ohrid in North Macedonia. Ohrid is one of the oldest settlements in Europe which is also known as the Jerusalem of the Balkans.
Variations of this stew are made across the Balkans (Serbia, Albania and Bulgaria). More contemporary versions include root vegetables, but I adore the simplicity of just meat with onions, garlic and vinegar because it reflects the origins of the dish which I imagine to be having very little meat to use paired with the some of the relatively few “fresh” vegetables available mid-winter – garlic and onion.
“Chomlek” is the Turkish word for an earthenware pot. This stew is cooked in exactly that, and would be traditionally sealed with dough then slow-baked in a wood-fired oven.
It is brutally simple to put together. All you need is patience to allow it to cook slowly. Do invest in good quality stewing beef (or even beef short ribs for a more indulgent stew) as it will be melt-in-the-mouth worth it. It sounds like a ridiculous amount of garlic, but trust me. I would also highly recommend using whole heads of garlic to cook in the stew – you can squeeze out the succulent garlic cooked in the stewing juices and spread on delicious accompanying bread. Simple, delicious, perfectly comforting.
500 g beef (any stewing – chuck steak, shank, rump, short ribs)
500 g small shallots
3-4 heads of garlic
2 tbsp sunflower or olive oil
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 – 2 tbsp plain flour (optional)
1-2 bay leaves (dry or fresh)
500 ml beef or vegetable stock
125 ml red wine vinegar (or balsamic vinegar)
125 ml red wine (optional)
Salt + black pepper to taste
Handful of chopped parsley (for serving, optional)
- Cut your beef in large cubes. Peel the baby shallots (keep whole). Peel cloves from 1-2 heads of garlic. Keep 1-2 heads of garlic – they will go in whole.
- Heat oil in large oven proof casserole. Add your beef with a splash of water and seal (don’t brown). Add ground black pepper, then sweet paprika. If you want the sauce a little thicker, at this point you can also add the flour – but not necessary. Gently sauté but be careful not to burn the sweet paprika. Loosen with a little of the stock if you need to.
- Then add the baby shallots, peeled cloves of garlic, whole heads of garlic, bay leaves, stock, vinegar, and wine (if using).
- Transfer to oven, cover and cook slowly for 3-4 hours at 180C / 360F in a fan oven. Check the water level, and add a little if necessary. When the juices are thick and the meat is falling apart, it is ready!
- Check your seasoning and serve with fresh chopped parsley if using. This recipe serves 4 (as a main).