Kokkinisto – Lamb and red wine

Kokkinisto means ‘reddened’ and describes a dish that has been slowly cooked in a red wine and tomato sauce. It is one of the most traditional Greek dishes, more at home on the family dinner table or in a low-key local eatery than in a fancy tourist restaurant. It deserves to be better known though, as kokkinisto is delicious, and offers an intriguingly complex flavour, especially when cooked with cinnamon and cloves.

The complexity of its flavour is entirely due to the interaction between fine and fresh ingredients; there is nothing complex or difficult in the preparation. The most frequently used meats are lamb or beef, but chicken or pork can also be used.

As the meat needs to be marinated in half a bottle of red wine, this may be the ideal pretext for trying one (or several) of the ‘New Greek wines’, the innovative and delicious results of a revolution in Greek wine production that has taken place over the last two decades. For this recipe, a dry red from Nemea in the Peloponnese, or Naoussa in Northern Greece, would be appropriate.

Kokkinisto thickens when cooled down, and can also be enjoyed cold. It thus makes a delightful picnic dish or part of a light summer meal, but can also be served piping hot as the centrepiece of a full dinner in the colder seasons.

Ingredients (serves: 6):

1 kg lamb, chopped into large pieces (lean beef is a good alternative)
Half a bottle of dry red wine
3 large onions, chopped
2-3 large tasty tomatoes, peeled and chopped. If no good tomatoes are available, add a little tomato paste
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Water
Salt
Pepper
Garlic (chopped)
1-2 bay leaves
Oregano

Optional:
A pinch of cinnamon
3-6 cloves
1 small glass Mavrodaphne or aromatic red dessert wine (e.g. a good ruby port)

Preparation:

Cut the meat into large chunks. Place them in a bowl with the wine and a little salt, and let them marinate overnight (or for at least 3 hours). When that process is complete, take out the meat and reserve the wine for later.

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the meat and brown it quickly over a medium to high temperature, stirring as necessary. Remove the meat, and reduce the temperature. Fry the onion and garlic in the oil and meat juices until the onion begins to turn transparent. At this point, add the wine that was used for marinating the meat, the chopped tomatoes (and tomato paste), as well as the seasonings (including the cinnamon and cloves, if you choose to use them), and stir well. Now, return the meat to the pan, add half a litre of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the Kokkinisto for at least 90 minutes, or until the meat is very tender, adding water if necessary to make sure it doesn’t burn or boil dry. Add the dessert wine towards the end, and season to taste.

Kokkinisto can be served immediately, but in Greece people tend to let it cool down a while. As with so many dishes of this type, it benefits greatly from reheating, as the flavours mingle and the sauce thickens if left to stand overnight (in fact, if you serve it immediately after cooking, you may want to stir in a teaspoon of flour), so make sure you make enough to have leftovers!

Kokkinisto is best enjoyed with a green salad and a glass or two of red wine. It should also be accompanied by something that is capable of absorbing the delicious red sauce, such as roast or fried potatoes, rice or some variety of small pasta. If none of these are available, fresh crusty bread is a wonderful accompaniment.