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indio.jpgIndio Viejo, the “old Indian” is a rather politically-incorrect name for a dish, but, then again, so is moros y cristianos, the name of the Cuban black-bean version of indio viejo’s accompaniment. For an outsider, indio viejo is full of contrasts and surprises: the beefiest cut of beef served with the bright acidity and sweetness of fruit, a dish that has a great deal in common with warm sweet polenta yet it is full of fresh bright green mint. The first time I made it, my husband asked me how much pineapple was involved; the combination of orange juice and mint had somehow created between them the scent of pineapple.

This version of indio viejo concentrates on these contrasts and surprises. I use no tomato because I think there’s already plenty of acid and sweetness here, although most recipes either include tomato or give instructions for a sweet salsa topping. I use no cumin because it is the mint that fascinates me here, but other cooks may disagree. All the recipes I found did agree that the beef must be treated with a long simmer in liquid, but some recipes went a step further and called for simmering in orange juice, infusing the meat with orange flavour and providing acid to help it tenderize. I have found that this works well, but the orange does dull somewhat in the broth, so an economical way to return a bright orange flavour to the dish is to finish with the juice of one good orange, freshly squeezed. This stew may be thickened with water-softened corn tortilla (a good way to use older ones) or with cornmeal, which I use because it is more likely to be in the cupboard. I also specify coarse rather than fine cornmeal, because my attempt with a finer grind was a pasty gluey mess, whereas the coarser grind thickened like a polenta, was easier to work with and to me had a more pleasing texture in the end. I add mint off heat in order to maintain its brightness. As an final additon the mint will not soften at all, so I do chop the leaves very finely.

Serve with an earthy gallo pinto and perhaps a mild salsa, a good sour cream, and a California chardonnay.

Nicaraguan Beef with Orange and Mint (Indio Viejo)

2 hours 30 minutes, including 2 hours simmering; serves four

1 lb flank or skirt steak
2 onions
4 garlic cloves
2 cups orange juice
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup coarse cornmeal
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 green pepper
1 juicy orange
a small bunch of fresh mint (a half-dozen sprigs or so)

1. Quarter one of the onions and toss it into a saucepan with two of the garlic cloves, and the flank steak. Add the orange juice and then add water to cover. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until the steak is fork-tender, about two hours.
2. Strain the meat, onion and garlic, reserving the broth. Remove the meat from the onion and garlic and leave it to the side to cool a little.
3. Dice the other onion and chop the green pepper. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and sautee the onion over medium heat until soft. Add the pepper and continue to sautee a few minutes more. Mince the two remaining garlic cloves and add them as well.
4. Shred the steak (fingers are most efficient). Add it to the frying pan.
4. Mix the cornmeal with 1 cup of the reserved broth in a bowl, and stir to remove any lumps. Add it to the frying pan and stir as it thickens to prevent it from sticking to the pan.
5. As the cornmeal thickens (like polenta) add the rest of the broth in small amounts to establish a thin-to-medium porridge. It will take about fifteen minutes of constant stirring to cook the rawness out of the cornmeal. If the broth is gone before that point use water. Taste for salt.
6. Remove the mint leaves from the stem and chop them very finely. Squeeze the orange for its juice.
7. Off heat stir in the juice and the mint. Taste for salt agian.

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