Beef Tagine with Oil-Cured Olives, Almonds and Quince

I love my tagine. Why such gooey affection for crockery cookery, you ask, in a calm and reasonable tone?

Tagines, the Moroccan style of steam-boiling sauces and meats using a hat-shaped piece of pottery, allow me to have a really delicious and hearty dinner on the table in just over an hour, with minimal fuss and feathers. And mine has proven remarkably tolerant to my whatevs-in-the-fridge-and/or-cupboard approach to recipes, as the title for this post attests.

I already presented you with this delicious chicken dish with lemon. In fact, I probably use our stove-top tagine at least once a week, which is way more than I anticipated when I first boldly acquired yet another large new piece of specialized cookware.

One trick has been a side-investment in the most wonderful spice mix I’ve found — Ras el Hanout. It includes more than 20 spices: turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, fennel seed, anise seed, cardamom, star anise, cayenne pepper, garlic, nigella, paprika, ajwan seeds (marjoram), kalajeera (black cumin), ginger, lavender, galangal (a close relative of ginger), oris root, rose buds, monk’s pepper, Grain of Paradise, and mace.

The blend is mild enough to be acceptable to Maya and me, while also interesting enough to add enough depth to foods so that my husband, who prefers it very spicy, doesn’t drown the result of my modest efforts in sriracha. It’s a magical middle that had eluded me for years, and, as a bonus, it smells heavenly.

And, although the flavor variations are endless, the method for this style of cooking is fairly simple: heat the tagine over low heat, add oil, aromatics and spices, then the meat until it browns, then water or stock to about half an inch below the edge. Bubble until falling apart and delicious.

Lacking a tagine, you could try this combination in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, like my (almost) equally beloved enamel ones. If you do this, please let us know how your venture into uncharted territory turned out…

Ingredients:

(Grass-fed, organic) Beef, cut into bite-sized pieces (I tried to use a full roast at first, as you’ll see, which, er, didn’t work at all)

2 Tbl ras el hanout or as many of those spices as you can muster

2/3 cups oil-cured black olives (I know, these use intense chemical processing. But I can’t help it! If you know things I should know about these, please share.)

1/2 cup slivered almonds

Generous Tbl or 2 of quince paste (also called membrillo)

1 cup (organic) peas, fresh or frozen

1 good-sized (organic) chopped tomato

1 C-shaped piece of ginger, chopped (JK, yours could also be L-shaped)

1 (organic) onion, chopped finely

3 TBL butter, grapeseed or coconut oil

Sufficient water or (organic) stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Brown rice or cous-cous for serving

Directions:

Heat oil, ginger, onions and eventually, the spices, including salt and pepper, on low until the onions are translucent. (If you don’t have ras el hanout, use your best approximation from what’s on hand. And then order some… it’s truly worth a try!)

Add the olives, almonds and peas, and stir.

Next, add the meat and brown on all sides. Do not make my mistake and foolishly think the tagine can conquer a roast, unaided by humans. Duh. Tagines are great. They’re not that great.

This…

…eventually became the more sensible stew format that the universe intended.

When the meat is well browned, add water or stock to about 1/2 inch below the edge and put the hat on.

Keep it at a high simmer for an hour or so, depending on the texture desired. Serve the stew over rice or cous-cous and enjoy for several days, until you feel compelled to tango with your tagine again.

Moroccan-Inspired Lemon Chicken Tagine

My husband and I both like meat that is juicy and falling off the bone. But I can never seem to plan ahead by enough hours to get a slow-cooker bubbling on.

I finally figured out that a Moroccan tagine was a great solution to us: it’s hat-like shape steams chicken or lamb into juicy, falling-apart goodness in fairly short order (under an hour or so), making dinner possible in a whole new way.

I made up this recipe, but the technique is a classic way to cook meat in a tagine. Basically, you saute the base (onions, garlic, vegetables) and spices, add and brown the meat, and then pour in stock or other liquid and cover. It’s truly easy to cook this way, and the signature Moroccan mixture of sweeter and more savory spices also adds depth and interest to otherwise ordinary ingredients.

There are new enamel tagines, like ours from Emile Henry, that may be placed directly on the stove, so long as you bring the heat up slowly and don’t put it way up on high. (Older models, being ceramic, needed a heat shield for use on the stove.) Though it is kinda’ cool, the tagine is a fairly pricey investment for occasional meals. Much the same effect could likely be achieved in a heavy stock-pot or enameled Dutch oven, if that’s what you have on hand.

Ingredients:

2 Tbls oil for sauteeing

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 (organic) yellow onion, chopped

3 cups or so (organic) chicken stock

3 large red-skinned (organic) potatoes, diced

2 1/2 Tbl mixed spices — I used a terrific Moroccan spice mix, Ras el Hanout, which includes, amazingly,: turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, fennel seed, anise seed, cardamom, star anise, cayenne pepper, garlic, nigella, paprika, ajwan seeds (marjoram), kalajeera (black cumin), ginger, lavender, galangal (a close relative of ginger), oris root, rose buds, monk’s pepper, Grain of Paradise, and mace. (Whatever you have ready of those spices, in rough balance, would work well.)

1 fresh (organic) lemon, halved, zested and the zest sliced into small pieces, then juiced

Salt and pepper to taste

4 (organic, and pasture-raised if you can find it) chicken thighs (legs would work well too, if preferred)

Fresh (organic) cilantro

Fresh or frozen peas or other vegetables, such as carrots (optional)

Couscous, prepared according to instructions (optional)

Directions:

Over low heat, heat oil and stir in the spices, then the onions and garlic.

Add the lemon zest, potatoes and any vegetables you are using.

When things have sweated a bit and the onions are translucent, brown the chicken on all sides.

Add stock and cover, keeping the level below the edge of the tagine by 1/2 inch or so, to avoid boiling over.

Cook over medium heat until at a boil, then lower heat to achieve a low boil for 40-45 minutes.

Add fresh squeezed lemon juice and cilantro and enjoy! Serve over couscous if desired.