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Milk Street: A Taste of Crete (Ep 516)

Braised Beef with Dried Figs and Quick-Pickled Cabbage Start to finish: 31⁄4 hours (11⁄4 hours active)
Servings: 4 to 6

For this rich, warming beef braise, adapted from a recipe in “Aegean” by Marianna
Leivaditaki, London chef and native of Crete, we use bone-in beef shanks, braise them
until meltingly tender, pluck the meat off the bones and return it to the flavorful
braising liquid. Dried figs and orange zest lend sweetness that balances the meatiness
of the shanks and perfume the dish with the essence of the Mediterranean, while ground juniper berries add piney, resinous notes. Leivaditaki serves the braise with a quick-
pickled salad that brightens the flavors and counters the beef’s silkiness with a little crunch.

Don’t use Calimyrna (Smyrna) figs, which are brownish-tan. The seeds have an
especially crunchy, gritty texture that doesn’t soften with cooking. Small black mission figs, which are widely available, are the better choice.

For the braise:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 pounds beef shanks, patted dry
28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
1 quart low-sodium beef broth or water
4 teaspoons juniper berries, finely ground
1 cup dried mission figs, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1⁄2-inch pieces
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
Kosher salt and ground black pepper

For the quick-pickled cabbage:
1 pound green cabbage, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded on the large holes of a box
3⁄4 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon white sugar
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1⁄4 cup finely chopped fresh mint

To make the braise, in a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat the oil until barely smoking. Add the shanks and cook, occasionally turning them, until well browned on both sides, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes with juices, the broth, juniper and figs, then bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Cover, reduce to medium-low and simmer until a skewer inserted into the meat meets no resistance, about 2 hours; stir once about halfway through.

While the beef is cooking, make the pickled cabbage. In a large bowl, stir together the cabbage, carrots, vinegar, sugar and 3⁄4 teaspoon salt. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Transfer the shanks to a large bowl; set aside to cool. Tilt the pot to pool the cooking liquid to one side, then use a wide spoon to skim off and discard as much fat as possible from the surface. Add the carrots, bring to a simmer over medium and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the carrots are tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, shred the meat into bite-size pieces, discarding the fat, bone and gristle. When the carrots are tender, return the meat to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through. Off heat, stir in the orange zest, then taste and season with salt and pepper.

Stir the mint into the pickled cabbage, then taste and season with salt and pepper.

Shrimp, Orzo and Zucchini with Ouzo and Mint
Start to finish: 1 hour 25 minutes (30 minutes active)
Servings: 4

In her acclaimed cookbook “Aegean,” Crete-born London chef Marianna Leivaditaki coaxes orzo pasta to a rich, creamy texture, as if making risotto. A fragrant broth of brandy, aromatic vegetables and shrimp shells is the cooking liquid for the orzo, infusing the dish with richness and subtle sweetness. The shrimp themselves are added only after the orzo is al dente so they remain plump and tender. Our adaptation of her recipe takes a simpler approach to the cooking and calls for fewer ingredients but retains the delicious, bracing flavors of Leivaditaki’s creation. Ouzo is a Greek anise-flavored spirit; it’s added at the very end of cooking to accentuate the licorice notes of the fennel seed.
Don’t choose large zucchini for this recipe. Look for small to medium squash (ones that weigh 6 to 8 ounces each), as they have fewer seeds to remove. To seed the zucchini, use a small spoon to scrape along the center of each half. Also, when simmering the shrimp broth, don’t allow it to boil or simmer vigorously or the liquid will evaporate too quickly and the finished volume will be too slight.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound extra-large (21/25 per pound) shrimp, peeled (tails removed) and deveined, shells reserved
3 medium celery stalks, roughly chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
3 bay leaves
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1⁄4 cup brandy
1 cup orzo
2 medium zucchini (about 1 pound total), halved lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced crosswise
1 pound ripe plum or cocktail tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ouzo
11⁄2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1⁄2 cup lightly packed fresh mint, chopped

In a large pot over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of oil until shimmering. Add the shrimp shells and cook, stirring just once or twice, until bright pink and dry, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the celery, bell pepper, onion, bay and 1⁄4 teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to release moisture, 2 to 4 minutes. Add the brandy and scrape up any browned bits. Add 4 cups water, bring to a boil, then reduce to medium and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

Cool for about 10 minutes, then strain through a fine mesh sieve set over a 1-quart liquid measuring cup or medium bowl; press on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible (discard the solids). You should have about 3 cups strained broth.

Season the shrimp with salt and pepper; set aside. In a 12-inch skillet over medium, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add the orzo and stir to coat. Add the zucchini, tomatoes, fennel seeds, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes begin to release their liquid, 3 to 5 minutes. Add 11⁄2 cups shrimp broth and bring to a simmer over medium-high. Cook, uncovered and stirring often, until most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 6 minutes; reduce the heat as the mixture thickens.

Add another 1 cup broth and cook, stirring vigorously and adjusting the heat to maintain a simmer, until the orzo is tender and the consistency is slightly soupy, 3 to 6 minutes. Add the shrimp and another 1⁄4 cup broth, then cook over medium, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are opaque throughout, about 3 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat. Remove and discard the bay, then stir in the ouzo and lemon zest. If desired, thin the consistency by stirring in additional broth, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the mint.

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To see other recipes from Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street and other shows, visit  Cooking with WSKG.