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Borough Belles: Pandora Bol

Categories: Reflections and opinions

The Borough Belles, Borough Market’s neighbourhood branch of the Women’s Institute, is packed with keen cooks, happy to share their ideas and insights. This month: Pandora Bol

I joined Borough Belles one and a half years ago. I moved here from India three years ago, and wanted to meet people. My grandma lived in the UK and had always been a member of WI, and I knew they did lots of baking and other things so when I came across Borough Belles—near to where I live, in Canada Water—I went along to one of the meetings. It was great, I’ve been a member since.

Pandora Bol

I’ve been too busy to get really involved in any of the clubs, but myself and four other girls are thinking of setting up a gardening club. We recently went for coffee at the Skip Garden, near King’s Cross, where there’s an urban garden with containers filled with flowers, vegetables and herbs. It inspired us. One of the girls has an allotment but unfortunately, I don’t have a garden. If I did, I would use it to grow vegetables and fruits and try to make everything from things I’d grown, from scratch, and without any tins or processed foods. I have herb boxes!

I’m not much of a baker, compared to many of the other ladies, but I like to make myself nice meals—if I’m going to cook something, it better be good. I want to eat well. I have a lot of Jamie Oliver books. My flat mate is from Venezuela and I have a friend from Iran, so I am always asking them for recipes. I think cooking is a way of connecting with a place—I like to travel, so I always try to recreate dishes when I come home and pick up new recipes from around the world.

The recipe I am sharing, Belgian beef stew, is actually from my ex sister-in-law, who made it for us on Christmas Eve about six years ago. I remember how warm it made me feel and it’s become a Christmas tradition for me—last year I made it for friends. It’s perfect for this time of year, when the weather is colder. I actually did my masters in Belgium, where I drank a lot of beer—I love it—so it’s been incorporated into the recipe.

Belgian beef stew

Pandora’s Belgian beef stew
Preheat the oven to 140C. Cut 500g steak (I use medallions, but it could be any beef) into 2 x 2cm pieces. Mix the meat with 2 tbsp dijon mustard in an oven-proof dish and season with salt. Heat 50g butter in a frying pan, and cook the meat for 3 mins, until golden brown. Take the meat out of the pan, put it back in the oven-proof dish and set it aside. Keep the pan with the juices and butter—you’ll use it to fry the onion and garlic.

Cut 2 onions and 2 cloves of garlic into small pieces and fry for 3 mins on a low heat in the leftover butter. Add 1 tbsp flour, mix, and fry for 1 min further. Now add 300ml dark Belgian beer, 2 beef stock cubes, 100ml water, a bay leaf and 2 tbsp vinegar to the pan. Give it a stir, then transfer the ingredients to the oven-proof dish. Stir with the beef and cover with aluminum foil or a lid. Cook for 3 hours. Remove the foil or the lid, stir, then put it back in the oven for 1 hour. This will allow the sauce to thicken.

Take the dish out of the oven, remove the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Leave the beef in pieces, or pull it with two forks into loose threads. Serve with freshly made, thick cut fries, or mashed potato and a yorkshire pudding.