Have you ever tried using Pink Peppercorns? It is a spice that is not commonly used in the US but it is quite popular in French cuisine. Contrary to what the name indicates, it’s actually not a pepper at all (that is, it is not related to the Black, White or Green Peppercorns). It is the berry of a tree that was originally found in South America (most likely Peru and Brazil). The berry, when dried is the size and shape of a peppercorn and it has a fragrance that is similar to traditional kinds of pepper but a lot stronger in intensity. The fragrance from the pink variety is a lot sharper than the other kinds of peppercorns and it packs no heat to it (you don’t feel the zing on the tongue). Recently, I found out that due to its unique flavor and strong aroma, it is often used as an ingredient in spicy perfumes!
I discovered this wonderful spice about a decade ago when I was traveling in southern France. The open-air Farmer’s markets in each little town that I visited had a spice stall. I was familiar with most of the spices and spice blends that these vendors sold but this was the first time I was introduced to this little package of flavor! These peppercorns are soft and fluffy (unlike the hard peppercorns of the traditional pepper varieties) and when rubbed between your palms, the skin flakes off and gives out a floral aroma. I realized that prior to this I had seen these pink peppercorns in pepper blends (usually, a bottle of whole peppercorns has a few pink peppercorns in it) but I just hadn’t seen it being sold separately. Upon getting back to the US, I tried to look for these little bundles of goodness in specialty stores and then discovered that they are quite expensive (a small 4 ounce bottle costs close to $30). But last year while I was in Istanbul on vacation, I found it at a very reasonable price in the famous Spice Bazaar. So I stocked up on quite a bit of it and over the past year I’ve been using it frugally.
Yesterday, I found some really good quality grass-fed beef spareribs at my local Whole Foods. I cooked these low and slow (for close to three hours!) and I used pink peppercorns prodigiously to get a fragrant stew going. This turned out to be quite a delicious and unusual combination of flavors. I served it on a bed of couscous (mixed in with stir-fried beet greens). On crazy cold days (with temps dipping into the single digits), this makes for a hearty warm-you-to-the bone meal!
1. 1 lb of beef spareribs
2. 3 large carrots
3. 3 stalks of celery
4. 1 large red onion
5. 4-5 cloves of garlic
6. 2-3 dry bay leaves
7. 1 teaspoon of dry Thyme leaves
8. 1 tablespoon of pink peppercorns
9. 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
10. 1 tablespoon of Sherry Vinegar
11. 32 oz of chicken/beef broth
12. Salt to taste
13. One small bottle of beer (I used Blue Moon)
14. 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1. Sprinkle a little bit of salt on each of the pieces of beef spareribs (all sides).
2. Place a heavy-bottomed pan or a Dutch oven over medium heat and pour the olive oil to it. Heat the oil.
11. Also add the tomato paste and stir.
12. Also add about half the broth and cook on low to medium heat for about 20-30 minutes. Keep the pot covered. Occasionally open the pot and check on the beef, if the tips of the pieces of meat are sticking out of the liquid, add a bit more broth to keep the liquid level high.
14. Also chop the celery stalks.
15. Add the carrots and celery pieces to the pot and stir. Also check on the liquid level and add more if it looks like the sauce is getting too thick.
16. Cover and cook for another 45-50 minutes. Stirring occasionally.
17. At the very end, add the sherry vinegar and the remaining amount of pink peppercorns and cook for another 5-7 minutes.
18. Serve over a bed of couscous or rice or mashed potatoes. It is the ultimate in comfort food!