Shwen shwen beef stew

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This recipe for Sierra Leonean-style beef stew is the perfect accompaniment to jollof rice. It's made by slowly cooking beef until tender with caramelised onions and an aromatic West African pepper blend. Jollof rice is an essential accompaniment. 

This recipe is taken from Sweet Salone by Maria Bradford (Quadrille, £30) Photography: Yuki Sugiura

First published in 2023

Maria Bradford says: 'Sierra Leonean-style beef stew is but one component of a fabulous duet. Everyone knows Sierra Leone is the longstanding, undisputed heavyweight champion of the world when it comes to jollof rice, and this beef stew is its soul mate (or its match made in heaven). West Africans can get quite passionate about who makes the best jollof, and if the same rivalry existed for beef stew it’s safe to say we'd probably own that title, too. Passions run deep with this kind of talk so remember… I'm just joshing with you.'




West African pepper blend

Beef stew



Toast all the peppercorns in a dry pan over a medium heat until fragrant. Allow to cool then grind in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar. Store in an airtight jar. It will stay fresh for up to three months


Heat a large heavy-based pan over medium-high heat. Season the diced beef
lightly with salt just before browning


Drizzle a little of the sunflower oil into the pan, using just enough to thinly coat
the bottom. Cook the meat in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan and cause
the meat to steam rather than fry. The meat should sizzle vigorously as it comes
into contact with the pan


Allow each piece of meat to brown thoroughly before moving it. Once browned
underneath, it will release easily and can be turned to brown the other side.
Brown the meat evenly on all sides but take care not to cook it any longer than
necessary. Remove the browned meat from the pan and repeat the process until
all the meat has been nicely browned


Transfer the browned meat to a clean large saucepan and pour over the beef
stock. Bring to the boil, turn down to a gentle simmer and cook until the meat is
very tender but not quite breaking down, 60–70 minutes

  • 750ml of beef stock cube

Meanwhile, toast the whole spices in a hot, dry frying pan until fragrant, then
cool and finely grind in a pestle and mortar or food processor. Mix with the
ground spices and set aside


Blend the ginger, garlic and chillies to a paste in a food processor and set aside


To make the stew, heat the 250ml (9fl oz/generous 1 cup) sunflower oil in a large, deep, heavy-based clean pan over medium heat. Add the onions, then dampen a piece of baking paper, flatten it out and lay it directly over the surface of the onions (this will prevent steam from escaping and will keep the onions soft as they cook). Turn the heat to low and cook over gentle heat, checking and stirring from time to time until the onions are well softened and turning golden brown. This process can take up to 1 hour and cannot be rushed – it is the gentle cooking of the onions and the caramelisation that gives this stew its rich and slightly sweet flavour


When the onions are soft and sweet, remove the paper, increase the heat and
then add ginger, garlic and chilli paste. Cook for 1–2 minutes then add the spices, tomato purée (paste), bay leaves and thyme. Cook for another 1–2 minutes and add the meat without any liquid that may have accumulated during resting. It’s very important that no liquid is added to the stew, because in Sierra Leone a ‘stew’ is not a liquid-based dish, so save the liquid to cook another dish


Season with 2 tsp salt or more to taste. Cook for a further 10 minutes, stirring gently a few times, on low heat. Remove and discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs


Serve the beef stew with Jollof Rice

First published in 2023

Maria Bradford, born and raised in Freetown, Sierra Leone, is the founder of and head chef at Shwen Shwen, a catering company serving Sierra Leonean and Afro-fusion cuisine. Her debut cookbook Sweet Salone was released in 2023, and she sells her own product range online.

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