A very different but traditional sweet and sour!

The popularity of combing sweet flavours with sour is usually thought of as from Asian countries, most popularly China, but in fact this way of enhancing food with different and opposite tastes is probably traditional across the world! Just think of combining sweet and savoury with roast pork and apple sauce, roast lamb/mutton redcurrant jelly, Christmas diner with Cumberland sauce and so on! In our family when we make onion sauce to go with lamb we add a good dollop of sweet sherry.

Here is a very old and traditional recipe from the Limburg province of the Netherlands:

Sweet and sour beef

  • 2 lbs stewing steak, diced and seasoned well with salt and pepper
  • 4 onions (the recipe doesn’t specify weight so i guess it depends on how oniony you like your dishes!) cut in slices or rings
  • 6½ fl oz apple/white wine vinegar
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves (I would add a few more as I like the flavour and don’t think 3 would make much impact with the quantity of other ingredients)
  • 4 juniper berries (ditto above, but that’s just me)
  • fresh thyme to your taste
  • oil and or butter – as much as you need
  • 1 tbsp black treacle
  • 6 slices of parkin or gingerbread (yes this is where it gets traditional)
  • 1 tbsp blackcurrant jam
  • 2 tbsp apple syrup  (appelstroop) – I guess you could use crab apple jelly, apple sauce,, something like that if you can’t find it in the shops and don’t have a handy Dutch friend to borrow some from!
  • salt and pepper
  1. put meat, vinegar, bay, cloves, juniper berries and thyme, cover and leave in the fridge for at least 8 hours
  2. fry the onions with butter or oil (butter is traditional) and then add the meat and more oil/butter as required (drained and the marinade reserved)
  3. put it in the pot you’re going to serve it in, add treacle, cubed gingerbread/parkin, and the marinade, stir well and leave to simmer on a low heat for about 2 hours. Stir occasionally to check it isn’t sticking, add water if it is too thick
  4. before serving stir in blackcurrant jam
  5. serve with boiled potatoes – or jackets or mash, and cabbage (traditionally it’s sauerkraut and if you like it, then replace the cabbage with it)

I think this would go well wit a nice few glasses of ber – it’s too sweet and heavy for wine!


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