If you’ve had any luck in life, you’ve had the good fortune to visit Vancouver, British Columbia. It’s a city that’s got it all. They say you can sail and ski on the same day. Surrounded by water and a little over an hour from the slopes at Whistler, that sounds highly possible. Yes, it has that Pacific Northwest climate with a few more rainy days than I’d find ideal, but it’s blessedly warmer than the rest of Canada in winter and temperate all summer. And Vancouver is a foodie’s delight. In fact, Mimi Sheraton thinks the best Asian cuisine in North America is found there. I’d add that the best South Asian food in Vancouver is served at Vij’s, Vikram Vij’s no reservation restaurant at 1480 West 11th Street in the South Granville area of the city. And I wouldn’t be alone. The New York Times called Vij’s “Easily among the finest Indian restaurants in the world.”
Granville Island and beyond South Granville, home to Vij's Restaurant
Vikram Vij arrived in Vancouver in 1993. What he has done is to employ the very best Canadian ingredients with Indian cooking techniques and a deft hand with signature Indian spice combinations. This is truly locavore cooking and the crowds that line up to open the place at 5:30 pm wind all the way up the street by 6 o’clock. If you're thinking of visiting Vij's during the upcoming Olympics, you might want to line up now.
One of the most intriguing combinations-- something that absolutely would never find its way onto an Indian menu anywhere near India-- is Vij’s recipe for Short Ribs in Cinnamon and Red Wine Sauce. This combination boosts the richness of the beef into the stratosphere and the play of Indian spices adds to the warmth and depth of flavor of the dish. Like all braises, it’s basically a breeze to cook, requires little tending and once you’ve done the mise-en-place your work is basically done until the beef is beyond tender and you reduce the sauce down to a hearty consistency. As the cold weather closes in again in our part of the country, this is ideal for this weekend.
To no regular reader’s surprise, I got my ribs at Costco. They were boneless and excellent although Vij’s recipe calls for the more readily available bone-in short ribs. I don’t think you’ll have any problem finding the spices, they are pretty widely available. As to the ghee, if you have an South Asian market near you, you’ll find it there. It’s a great thing to have in your pantry because you can use it as clarified butter that’s an ingredient in so many non-Indian recipes. But I wouldn’t get crazy if I just used regular unsalted butter. So here it is:
Recipe for Short Ribs with Cinnamon and Red Wine Sauce
8 large short rib of beef, bone in with excess fat trimmed off.
1/4 cup grapeseed oil or canola oil
2 tablespoons ghee (or clarified butter)
1 large onion, very finely chopped (approximately 1 cup)
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic, more to taste
1 15 ounce can of Diced Tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
4 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock *
1 tablespoon cumin seed
1 piece cinnamon bark (approximately 3 inches long)
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek, more to taste
1 tablespoon cumin powder, more to taste
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder, more to taste (preferably Mexican)
*I use a mixture of both.
1. In a large, heavy saucepan with fitted lid, melt the ghee on medium to high heat. Add the cooking oil and the cumin seeds. Let the seeds sizzle for 30 seconds. Add the cinnamon and the onions and sauté until the onions are medium brown in colour.
2. Smell for the cinnamon throughout the cooking process. You should smell a mild cinnamon flavour instead of a strong one. If cinnamon is the only spice you smell, take out the bark and continue cooking the curry.
3. Add the garlic and continue to sauté until garlic is golden brown and onions are a darker brown.The darker you sauté the onions without letting them burn, the richer the onion flavour will be in this dish. Temporarily lower the heat and add the tomatoes and all of the remaining spices. Once you stir the powdered spices in the tomatoes, increase the heat back to medium.
4. Stir regularly and continue cooking the spices until the oil/ghee separates from the tomatoes. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes. If at any time the onions or tomato spice mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the pan or looks like it’s about to burn, either lower the heat or add 1 tablespoon of oil or ghee. Do not add water. This is meant to be a rich curry.
5. Stir in the stock and red wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low.
6. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the oil/ghee separates from the stock and rises to the top, stirring occasionally.
7. Add the short ribs and stir well. (There is no browning in this recipe and it doesn’t seem at all necessary.) Bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer the short ribs until the meat completely separates from the bone. This will take approximately 4 hours and you will need to stir occasionally.