Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Beef and Prune Tagine

I love Moroccan food, and it always surprises me to hear of people who don't have any experience of the cuisine and so don't know the wonders that they're missing. The cuisine artfully ties together the different cultures and influences across the centuries: Middle Eastern, Moorish, Spanish, Jewish. It's the interplay of warming, infusing spices with some element of sweet and element of meat, drawn together in a stew and served with thirsty cous cous that helps you lap up all the wonderful juices the stew gives off. Our choice of honeymoon destination was almost solely guided by our stomachs, placing Japan and Morocco on our (very) shortlist. In the end, we went to Japan because of the greater probability of curious computer games and bizarre vending machine opportunities, but Morocco remained a close second.

Since it is a former French colony, you can also find excellent Moroccan food in France. When we were last in Paris we visited a Moroccan restaurant housed in an old bistro. As I walked to my table, I cast a glance into the kitchen and saw one of the most wonderful sights my eyes have seen: a tub, the size of the sliced-off end of an oil-tanker, filled with cous cous. The man trying to stir the cous cous didn't attack it with a spoon but with a broom with a large paddle attached to it. I had loved Moroccan food up to that point; after I saw this, though, I said a quick prayer to be granted forgiveness as I felt an urge to renounce my husband and pledge myself in marriage to the man who was running that kitchen.

I was recently given a beautiful tagine as a gift by my brother. A typical tagine is an glazed clay affair and acts as something of a slow cooker, trapping the steam produced during cooking and returning it to the wide-based bottom and keeping the food moist. This tagine is even more glorious than your usual one since it's a crimson red Le Creuset version, and sits in your kitchen like a smooth erupted volcano, aglitter in the sunlight.

Tagine is the name for both a style of cooking and the dish it's cooked in. The tagine we made came from our reliable Moro cookbook. Beef and prune tagin
e, the book tells you, is one of your most classic tagine combinations but shouldn't be dismissed for being predictable. Since it spent nearly 3 hours cooking, we all got to smell it developing its flavors. The aroma was torturously good, and the four of us eating were hungry in a manner that not even an empty stomach can induce. There was enough to generously serve four, and none of us could bear leaving any behind uneaten. A trip to Morocco will come some day, but in the mean time I'll always have Paris. And my shiny red tagine.

Beef Tagine with Prunes, from Casa Moro cookbook
Serves 4

  • 40g unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 Tbs finely grated onion
  • 4 Tbs roughly chopped fresh coriander
  • 1.2kg / 2 1/2 lb stewing beef, cut into 3cm cubes and trimmed of excess fat
  • 40 threads saffron, infused in 2 Tbs boiling water
  • 400g / 1 lb stoned prunes, soaked in cold water
  • 2 Tbs runny honey
  • salt and pepper
  • To serve:
    • 1 Tbs sesame seeds, lightly toasted
    • 180 g whole blanched almonds, friend in olive oil until just golden
    • 4 Tbs fresh coriander leaves
  1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan or tagine base, heat up the butter and olive oil over a medium to high heat.
  2. When the butter starts to foam add the ginger, 1/2 tsp of black pepper, cinnamon, onion, and coriander.
  3. Fry for 30 seconds, then add the beef and stir well for a minute or two so it is coated in the spice mixture.
  4. Cover the meat with water and add in the saffron infusion. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  5. Drain the prunes, then add half to the meat.
  6. Cover the pot, and simmer gently for about 1 1/2 hours until the beef is very tender and juicy (or, cook in an oven at a low temperature, at around 140 C / 280 F).
  7. Add the remaining prunes along with the honey and some salt and pepper.
  8. Simmer for a further 30 minutes or until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened and reduced some. (We did this final stage with the tagine uncovered on the stove rather than in the oven, but the choice is yours)
  9. Serve with sesame seeds, almonds, and coriander leaves over the top.


Peter M said...

I get a real kick out of how the same Mediterranean ingredients are interpreted so differently, country to country and Moroccon cuisine underlines this.

Your ingredients take me to Fez...or least my vision of it.

Big Boys Oven said...

this is delicious, I like the combination of prunes and beef! very flavouring dish!

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

You'll adore Morocco when you do go - tagines are absolutely everywhere!

Wendy said...

Is it wrong that my heart fluttered when you said "crimson red Le Creuset [tagine]". Oh, you lucky woman, you.
I make beef and prune stew from Nigella's How to Cook often and adore it. Will have to try out your version. No tagine here but I'll manage.

Helen said...

God I love Casa Moro, it's the best. And my new love, Moro East. ahhhh. Lamb and prune is such a delicious combination, I bet the smell was unbearable!

We Are Never Full said...

Lovely shiny tagine. They really do give you that 'wow' factor when serving friends. But they create such moist dishes (hate that word moist, but that's what it is!). I'd love to go to Morocco one day (sigh!).

amy @ http://www.weareneverfull.com

Annemarie said...

Hi Peter - Yes, I agree. I think that's why I love so much of the food from that area of the world - all the themes and variations are wonderful.

Hi Big Boys - Thank you very much!

Hi Forkful - We had friends who went to Morocco on honeymoon shortly after us, and 6 months on they still have trouble looking at another tagine. :)

Hi Wendy - I *know*. I don't take it for granted either. When that box arrived, I honestly thought: I have the most wonderful brother in the world, especially given that I hadn't asked for the tagine!

Hi Helen - I got Casa Moro for Christmas and am really looking forward to my home-grown veg growing this summer and cooking more from that book.

Hi Mary - Thanks for stopping by. I know what you mean about that word but a dry dinner is such a terrible thing that we ought to revere anything succulent.

Pixie said...

I am so jealous you have a tagine. We wouldn't really have the space for it but hope one day we will.

What's the restaurant you went to in Paris? in case, we head over again this year

I also want to get hold of that book- i've pointed it out several times but have yet to buy it. Lovely dish, shall star it as I'm sure we would love it.

Kevin said...

That looks good and sounds really tasty. I just recently tried making a tagine meal, though in a pot rather than a tagine. I will have to look into getting a tagine.

jasmine said...

Lately I've been wanting to get a tagine...this post is firming that up.

Hadn't thougth of prunes with beef before but it reads deliciously...


Cynthia said...

My birthday is coming up and I think I need to start hinting what I'd like to get. The idea of having a tagine like yours is super attractive.

Perfumes said...

Hello. This post is likeable, and your blog is very interesting, congratulations :-). I will add in my blogroll =). If possible gives a last there on my blog, it is about the Perfume, I hope you enjoy. The address is http://perfumes-brasil.blogspot.com. A hug.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Mmmm...I love prunes in sweet and savory dishes. So I'd love to try this tagine. And the red Le Creuset is ooh-la-la. :)

Lore said...

Your tagine looks really imposing to me. It has an "you'd better not mess that up while I'm around" air :).

Wendy said...

Using the base of your recipe to make a lamb and apricot stew this evening. Do you mind if I blog about it? :)

Annemarie said...

Hi Pixie - We went to Chez Omar in Paris. It had been written up in several guide books/restaurant books so I figured it had to be a good one. Very busy, but wonderful food.

Hi Kevin - To be fair, a pot-based tagine recipe is probably very similar to the real thing. The biggest problems with tagine are the space (hard to fit a cone into many cupboards!) so I've always just made do until now.

Hi Jasmine - Know what you mean about not jumping to the prune/beef conclusion (prune and lamb seemed more natural) but it was fab - even if it did make the meat taste vaguely lamb-like by the end.

Hi Cynthia - Well, I find Amazon wishlists are always a great prompt for friends and family to buy you the birthday presents you *really* want. :)

Hi Perfumes - thanks for stopping by.

Hi susan - I know, that tagine is so beautiful I'm even jealous of myself.

Hi Lore - Just the opposite - tagines are really accessible an easy to use (as long as you have somewhere to store it). Throw things in, come back in a few hours, and it's all done!

Hi Wendy - Please, do blog! I look forward to reading how it goes.

Marc @ norecipes said...

I went with a guinea hen, olive and lemon tagine last night, but this looks great! I'll have to keep it in mind for next time.

Aadil said...

In Morocco, eating is like a big social event! The key is, to eat a little of everything! Most meals often have up to 5 courses: starting with bstilla, thin pastry filled with chicken mixture, followed by a tasty kebab, then a tajine of couscous (granular semolina), which is steamed and served with spices, vegetables, nuts and raisins, and often served with rich spicy stews and roasted meats served with Khubz (a round spongy homemade bread), then fruits, pastries and tea at the end. Last year when I was in Morocco in order to participate in an exhibition of Morocco property, it was enough to fell in love with Moroccan food. I've had dinners with friends that lasted 4 hours, one course after another. The common ritual is washing your hands and drinking tea before and after the meal. Traditional Moroccans, eat with their fingers (right hand) and sharing food in a big platter. Before eating, people give thanks to God by saying "Bismillah" and at the end of the meal the say "Al Hamdulilah".

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

This is so beautiful Annemarie! I really curious about the greater probability of curious computer games and bizarre vending machine opportunities!
I have just this same tagine. Mine has a chip in the lid now I guess to mark it mine. I do love it.
We had better luck with Moroccan food in Paris than we did in Morocco.
The beef & prune sounds wonderful.

Jeanne said...

South Africans are renowned for liking fruit in their meat dishes, so this sounds absolutely up my street! I have always wanted to buy a tagine but seriously have nowhere to store it. Next time you make this, you'll have to DHL me a little Tupperware ;-)