Chilli con Corazón: a CardioKit recipe by Dr Ali Khavandi

Is red meat really unhealthy?

Conflicts of interest: I really enjoy eating red meat

“A healthy diet is a predominantly plant based diet but supplemented with meat and this can include red meats (but not processed meats)”

Here at Cardiologist’s Kitchen we pride ourselves on objective, evidence-based information and transparency as our core value. The information we provide has no agenda —  other than to accurately improve the health of our patients (and the public) and to counter all the confusion and misinformation which exists in the public space. Equally we pride ourselves on keeping an open mind to new concepts  —  even if they go against historical science or medicine, until we have explored the background ourselves. This is a time consuming process and requires a certain amount of expertise to fully understand the ‘language’ of science and medicine.

With this core value at heart, I feel that I need to provide you with full disclosure regarding this article  —  I really like eating red meat and therefore have a degree of bias. For me a life without red meat would miss out one of my great culinary enjoyments. One of my top meals of all time is a marbled Rib-eye steak. Equally a beautiful roast rib of beef is a great celebratory family centrepiece with a real sense of luxury and occasion. Clearly these are indulgences and fully acceptable in the context of a generally healthy and balanced diet. What about red meat on a day-to-day basis — what is the evidence?

A detailed discussion is an article in itself but here is a summary. The two largest high quality meta-analyses from the USA (Harvard group) and Europe (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition — EPIC) in recent years suggest that red meat per se is not a major health concern. The thing to look out for is processed or low quality meats. Here is part of the problem with previous research — specifically the definition of ‘red meat’ which lumped together a number of meats including beef, pork, lamb and processed/low quality meats in the studies. When you separate out the processed meats, these seem to account for the majority of the cardiovascular and cancer related concerns.

However, I don’t think we can claim that any red meat is ‘healthy’ or specifically protective from a cardiovascular perspective. It is nutrient rich and a good source of protein, iron and B vitamins but overall you could regard it as a neutral food. If you replace neutral foods with protective proteins (e.g. oily fish) then you will have an overall heath advantage. If you replace the red meat with processed meat or refined carbohydrate you will have an overall health disadvantage  —  it’s all relative. However, enjoying sensible amounts of red meat within the context of healthy meals and for your overall enjoyment is perfectly OK.

So we come to a fundamental concept when it comes to meat and health — quality over quantity. The effects of intensively reared live stock with low quality feed, hormones and antibiotics on human physiology is unclear but intuitively it sounds bad and we know that processing of low quality meats is bad. This is particularly prevalent in the USA. Our common sense approach is to buy the best quality meat possible and focus on quality rather than quantity. A good strategy is to use higher quality but cheaper cuts of meat that go well and far in slow cooked dishes, combined with lots of vegetables they are full of flavour and melt into the final dish. This is the strategy used in this chilli recipe — you will see it is packed full of healthy ingredients including veg and beans that have been supplements and flavoured with good quality meat.

We made a quinoa salad when we cooked it with Andreas, Executive Chef, as you can see from the photo and it looked superbly delicious. We can vouch for the fact that it tasted that way too!

For 6 (generous) – 8 servings:

 

  • 500g beef — go for a high-quality cheaper braising cut like chuck, skirt, shin or brisket (we particularly like shin)
  • 1 large onion (2 medium)
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 carrots (skin-on)
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 1/2 large aubergine
  • 1 large beetroot (peeled)
  • 2 sweet ‘bell’ peppers
  • 1 courgette
  • 2 large teaspoons of tomato concentrate/puree
  • 1–2 tins of tomatoes (based on preference)
  • 1 tin of red kidney beans
  • olive oil/rapeseed oil
  • salt and black pepper

Spices

 

Cheat  —  The fundamental chilli spice flavourings are a combination of cumin (predominant spice), paprika, oregano and chillies. You can make a perfectly acceptable chilli if you don’t have all the spices with cumin and chillies alone. A good cheat is to buy a ready made Fajita spice mix — you will see that this is usually a combination of the core chilli spices. Add 4 teaspoons of this instead with fresh chillies:

  • 2 heaped teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon (or pop in a stick of cinnamon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 2 or 3 dried bay leaves
  • 2 fresh chillies (seeds included) for fragrance and heat — can use dried chilli powder or flakes or even add extra if you like it hot!

You really need a food-processor for this one to efficiently chop your veg and a heavy cast iron style casserole pan (Le Creuset type) is ideal.

  1. Preheat your oven to 160 centigrade. Chop your beef into large cubes trimming off any very large pieces of fat or connective tissue. Pulse the onion, garlic, celery and carrots to start with in the food processor.
  2. Heat a splash of oil in your heavy casserole pan and add the meat to brown thoroughly on all sides. This will add caramalised depth and flavour. Season with salt and black pepper.
  3. In parallel you can use a non-stick frying pan to soften the pulsed veg in a little oil. Use a medium heat with a little seasoning so they don’t colour but go soft and sweet.
  4. When the meat is browned and the veg is soft add together in the casserole pot. Now pulse the remaining vegetables (including fresh chillies) and add these in together with your spices and the tomato paste. Cook for a few minutes to awaken the flavours.
  5. Finally add the tinned tomatoes, rinsing out the tins with two equal measures of water to cover the mix. When the mix start to bubble again, place on the lid and transfer to the oven.
  6. Cook slowly on low heat for at least 3 hours (5 hours better) until the meat breaks down easily and the veg has melted into the rich chilli sauce. Its best to check on it every hour or so — give it a stir and add extra water if becoming too dry. Add your beans for the final 30 minutes of cooking.
  7. Serve with sweet potato mash and a side of green veg for a delicious, healthy meal. Sweet potato mash is easy — place the sweet potatoes in a microwave for around 10 minutes based on size until soft. Cut in half and when cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh with a spoon into a bowl. Add a splash of milk if required to loosen and a little seasoning.
Back to top