If you've got a craving for beef but you're on a bean budget, practice tough love.
Take a pass on those well-marbled, fork-tender steaks that cost more than a week's worth of frappalatte java whatever.
You don't need tenderness; you need robust meat taste and you can get your beef fix if you know what to look for.
Select a lean beef cut, such as flank steak, top round steak, bottom round steak, sirloin tip or round tip. Cooking style is also a clue to a bargain. The cuts designed for broiling or grilling, such as porterhouse or T-bone steak, are less muscled, easier to prepare and sport higher price tags.
But don't let a beef cut's inherent toughness dictate your cooking style.
You can grill an economical piece of beef just as you would a sirloin steak, if you first cut the beef into thin slices and marinate it to break down the muscle.
For a marinade to be effective it should include an acid, such as vinegar or a tenderizing enzyme from pineapple or fresh gingerroot. Avoid marinade recipes with a high proportion of oil; the oil adds to the cost but doesn't break down beef tissue.
The following ginger-soy marinade is an ideal match for economical, lean beef. The combination of gingerroot, balsamic vinegar and soy sauce gives the meat a hot-sweet flavor. Use the marinade when you want to prepare this savory beef and vegetable kabob dish. Note that zucchini and mushrooms are marinated for the zing, not as a tenderizer.
Beef and Vegetable Kabobs
1 pound beef sirloin tip, trimmed of fat, cut into 16 thin strips
1 small zucchini, trimmed and sliced 1⁄4-inch thick into 16 slices
4 to 6 mushrooms, trimmed and sliced 1⁄4-inch thick into 16 slices
1 garlic clove, minced
Ginger-soy marinade (follows)
Dipping sauce (follows)
Place beef strips, zucchini, mushrooms and garlic in a medium glass bowl. Pour in the marinade; stir. Cover and refrigerate 2 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally.
Thread the beef and vegetables on long metal kabob skewers. Start with one end of a beef strip. Add one zucchini slice and one mushroom slice. Close with other end of beef strip. Leave space between beef strips and vegetables so vegetables cook. Arrange additional beef and vegetable clusters, loosely filling 4 to 8 skewers. Grill kabobs on hot grill or on stovetop grill pan over medium-high heat allowing 2 to 5 minutes per side. Times vary widely with grilling, so keep an eye on the food.
Serve with dipping sauce.
Makes 4 servings.
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
4 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
1⁄2 teaspoon sugar, optional
Combine the gingerroot, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and oil in a cup. Taste.
If the marinade is sharp, not rounded in flavor, stir in the sugar.
Hot and Sweet Dipping Sauce
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons hot chili-garlic sauce (available in the Asian section of the
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1⁄2 teaspoon sugar
Stir ingredients together in small bowl; allow 1 tablespoon per serving.