Beef short rib stew.
Beef short rib stew.
Image: Supplied

I did not eat stew while I was growing up. My mother used to grill the meat for me and then bathe it in gravy for everyone else. I am not a huge gravy fan. I prefer it if one goes easy on the sauce. As in life, so on my plate I guess.

What changed? Well, I decided to give gravy some grace, for starters. I am a huge fan of food in general and I am keen on trying all food at least once, so why the resistance to stews? I think it started as a kid with the smell of cooking meat, you know when they used to boil meat in the AMC pots? That smell of boiling lamb, cooked with salt, water and that lone onion. Not a smell that says “eat me”.

Pots of stew reminded me of big functions and those large dishes left out in the sun covered in cling film and meat swimming in a mystery sauce. Though, even as a child, I showed a little savoury wisdom and I made allowances for my aunt’s mutton curry for Sunday lunch. I remember her cooking it defiantly, (gown on, rollers in hair), in the morning as she stayed home while the rest of us filed out to morning Mass, to be greeted by the delicious smell of warm spices and tender mutton upon our return.

Cooking a stew is a wonderful way to engage with ingredients. It makes you savour the process and there is a lot to be said for taking your time. Stews do this, they remind you not to rush. Making sure you cut the carrots just right, making sure the celery is super fine and I do not want to happen across a chunk of onion in my meal.

My dearest heckler and feigned reluctant chief taster was on hand to sample my latest foray into short rib. He was craving meat with fat on it a few weeks ago and as I went past my local butcher and they had the best beef short rib with great fat on it, I thought it’s time to try out a new recipe.

I find with beef short rib, it’s best to keep it simple flavour-wise, but you can be quite bold with the flavours. It’s been a while since I dipped into the cumin with gusto and I made sure that I made up for the hiatus. Weary from work and a really brutal dose of 2023, I realised that I have not been in my kitchen as much as I used to be. Load-shedding aside, cooking is really something I do from my soul, so if I’m a little off-centre, I find myself adrift from my favourite place in my house, the kitchen.

Beef short rib.
Beef short rib.
Image: Supplied

I found my mojo again and I was keen for a slow cook and Eskom had allowed me a window of four hours of uninterrupted power (it’s the small joys). So I did it, and it was going into the oven to cook for three hours. The longer and slower something cooks for, the more excited I get imagining tender, fall off the bone meat in a tomato sauce.

My unofficial taster and seemingly less perfunctory eater was at the table feigning disinterest when I served this new stew on a bed of sweet potato mash. He was sure to let me know not to give him too much food as he was not hungry. He let out an involuntary sound of delight and I was questioned on how long I’d cooked the meat, because it was so soft. He takes the long road to a compliment. I loved it. I photographed it immediately and could not believe how good it was on first try. The smell wafting through my apartment as it cooked was so good.

My dear friend, came for seconds, and this time it was Friday lunch and served with rice. Have I mentioned before, that rice is not my forte in the kitchen? He devoured it all, but when I mentioned I’d be writing about it today, he was quick to add: “don’t focus on the rice.”

So, I will not focus on the rice, but I must say I am glad that I have come around to stews and am trying them out more and more. This is one I’ll be coming back to again. I plan to make it for my parents soon. I’m sure my dad will love it and I’m sure it will go well with pap.

A real winter warmer for those frosty days, this is what home cooking and comfort food for the soul is about.

This beef short rib stew is easy to prepare. Try it and serve it with rice, if you dare.


  • 500 grams beef short rib (cut buffalo style, but ask the butcher to cut the buffalo ribs into small squares)
  • 1 red onion — roughly chopped
  • Thumbnail sized piece of ginger (fresh)
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 2 green chillies (seeds and all)
  • 2 star anise
  • 5 cardamom pods — bashed
  • 2 teaspoons of all spice
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 5 large plum tomatoes chopped and then 1 grated
  • 3 cups of baby spinach
  • salt
  • Pinch of white pepper
  • 50ml of olive oil


  • Preheat the oven to 160ºC — convection with fan
  • Put the onion, ginger, garlic and chillies into a food processor and blitz until finely chopped
  • Pat the ribs dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper
  • Heat a pan on medium-high heat and put in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Fry the short ribs in about two batches until well browned on all sides, about 5 minutes, remove and then set aside.
  • Add the onion, garlic, ginger, chilli mixture to the pan, followed by the star anise and cardamom and cook for about 5 minutes until the mixture softens
  • Add the tomato paste, ground spices, chopped tomatoes and grated tomato, and a good sprinkle of salt and a pinch of white pepper and cook until the tomatoes start to break down
  • Put the short ribs back into the pot, followed by about one litre of water, bring to the boil with the lid off and then cover the pot with the lid and transfer to the oven and cook for about 3—3.5 hours, stirring the about 1.5 hours in.
  • When ready, remove from the oven and then gently run a fork through some of the meat to remove it from the bone.
  • Place the spinach into the pot and then squeeze a little lemon over it and allow it to steam with the pot lid closed for about 5 minutes.
  • When done stir it through.

Serve with a sweet potato mash or rice.

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