Valentine's Day

How Beef Stroganoff Taught Me About Compromise in My Marriage

Made with love—and lots of vegetables.

February 11, 2019
Photo by Julia Gartland

Whether it’s a first date or 47th anniversary, it’s hard to separate romance from food. In With Love & Red Sauce we’re exploring the ways these two interact—from newlyweds learning to compromise over dinner to celebrating your longest relationship (with noodles!).


A few months after my husband, Justin, and I started dating, I found out that he didn’t like anchovies. If this doesn’t mean anything to you, imagine a partner saying they don’t like fuzzy kittens or warm weather or Ina Garten. It was just the sort of side-comment that made me wonder.

But we had been friends for years and just moved in together and I loved him. So I tried to be rational: This isn’t a reason to break up with someone, I told myself. You can make this work, I told myself. And of course we did.

Nowadays, Justin loves anchovies. We add them to butter and spread it on toast, toss them with olive oil–fried breadcrumbs, stir them into tomato sauce, and mash them into salad dressing. All of which to say, after cooking hundreds (thousands?) of meals together, Justin’s eating habits have become more like mine.

And mine have become more like his, too. I struggled with body image issues ever since I was a teenager—but living with Justin, who is lucky to have a completely healthy relationship with food, helped me let go of those habits, and learn how to love cooking and baking while also loving my body.

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“Add tomato paste, a little beef broth, sour cream. Season. Delish. Ejjewelry”
— Elaine J.
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Of course, it’s not all anchovies and rainbows. This is inevitable when you’re two different people, who are almost always eating the same thing. Justin used to eat meat most meals of the day; now we sometimes eat meat and rely on vegetables and other proteins, like eggs and tofu, instead. I used to never make pizza at home and, over the years, it’s become one of our favorite date night meals. He still loves meaty comfort foods, and I still feel fatigued by how rich they are.

But, it’s all about compromise. Which is why we’re constantly tweaking recipes, changing a little of this, or a lot of that. We don’t always pull it off (sometimes, we really do just make the dish worse, or one of us loves it and the other hates it). But when we get it right, we get it right, and the best part is sitting down to dinner and realizing I love it and Justin loves it and thinking, Wow! Everything really is better when we’re together.

That's how we ended up here—beef Stroganoff. It's usually heavy on the meat and sour cream, which Justin loves. This version goes heavy on the vegetables and swaps in Greek yogurt, which I love. It's cozy and comforting, which we both love. Especially if we're on the couch, under a blanket with a bottle of red nearby.


A New Way to Beef Stroganoff

Beef

Beef Stroganoff is all about the beef, right? Wrong. My favorite way to have meat is as an accent ingredient, which is why this recipe, for a hungry two people, only calls for five ounces of it. If you’re like Justin, who finishes half-pound burgers at restaurants like it’s no big deal, you might be shocked by this. But, don’t be. It’ll all work out. Here, we’re using sirloin steak—cubing it, searing it until crusty, setting it aside, and stirring it in at the very end. Not only does this avoid the long braise time required for a tougher cut, but it keeps the meat tender and plump.

Mushrooms

I use ten ounces, which is, yes, twice the amount of beef. I go for creminis (aka baby portabellas) because they have a nice, meaty texture. And I like quartering and searing them, which yields a similar size and crust as the beef. Once they’re both tossed in the sauce, you can barely tell the difference.

Other Vegetables

Some beef Stroganoffs only include mushrooms and onions. This one also has carrots, parsnips, and scallions. The carrot and parsnip remind me of the wintry beef stews my mom made when I was growing up—and help underscore that it’s cold outside and I want to be cozy. The scallion adds some greenery and oniony flavor. (And there’s garlic, too, because of course.)

Stock

Beef Stroganoff should be made with beef stock, but as Serious Eats’ J. Kenji López-Alt informed me, “Most boxed or canned beef broth contains almost no beef at all.” Which means if you’re using boxed, opt for chicken instead. Or, buy Better than Bouillon (either chicken or beef) and make a quickie “stock” yourself. Or, if you’re using homemade, look at you!

Greek Yogurt

Most beef Stroganoffs stir in sour cream at the end—very tangy, very rich. I like the brighter flavor of Greek yogurt—plus, I always have it on hand. Just remember to pull the yogurt from the fridge an hourish before you start cooking; if it’s still cold when you stir it into the stew, it could curdle.

Egg noodles

This is one ingredient that Justin and I totally agree about: If you aren’t spooning beef Stroganoff onto buttered egg noodles, what’s the point? I use salted butter for its funkier, deeper flavor, and lots and lots of parsley tossed in.

How do you find the food middle ground in your relationship? Tell us in the comments!

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Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.

16 Comments

Elaine J. March 18, 2019
Years ago we had dinner at the original Russian Tea Room. Our waiter told us the following. Saute good beef in strips sliced against the grain. I use filets. Remove. Saute onions in butter. Remove. Saute mushrooms. Remove. ,Put everything back in the pan. Add tomato paste, a little beef broth, sour cream. Season. Delish. Ejjewelry
 
Andre February 18, 2019
All I see here is your husband only getting food he likes is if it is done your way. Are you really compromising as much as he is?
 
LisaRoxanne W. March 18, 2019
Wow
 
Maureen February 17, 2019
Love this story! I can totally relate, except my husband's aversion is to Broccoli (and most other vegetables) and he hasn't exactly come around yet... But you give me hope! Any tips to get him to open up his somewhat stubborn palate would be greatly appreciated!
 
Joanna S. February 12, 2019
Made this the other night and my husband and I both loved it! Thanks for sharing, Emma :)
 
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Emma L. February 12, 2019
Yay, thanks!
 
Simran February 11, 2019
Sooo, this sounds yum, but it def ain’t “stroganoff.” Veggie stew seasoned with beef, yes.
 
gandalf February 11, 2019
A thumbs-up to using "Better than Bouillon," by the way.
 
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Emma L. February 11, 2019
I'm obsessed.
 
Eric K. February 11, 2019
Ha! Me too. It's my favorite stock.
 
Lynette D. February 14, 2019
Better Than Bullion is mandatory for chicken soup. I also stir a small amount into my turkey gravy on Thanksgiving. Makes it yummy!
 
Noreen F. February 11, 2019
I tried making stroganoff with sirloin tip steak in January and it was disappointingly tough. I'm going to try your method and see if it works better.
 
Smaug February 11, 2019
You might also try cutting the beef into very thin strips across the grain; this is the way I learned the dish- a sirloin tip should be plenty tender used this way.
 
Eric K. February 11, 2019
Mmm! I love the idea of bulking it up with other vegetables; sounds super flavorful.

This was my favorite line, by the way: "Of course, it’s not all anchovies and rainbows."
 
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Emma L. February 11, 2019
Aw thanks! My favorite addition was the parsnips.
 
Eric K. February 11, 2019
Delicious. They always add a bit of meatiness for me, somehow...in flavor and in texture.