Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Beef Tagine with Dates & Olives
I love the rain. Perhaps it's the result of a mispent Scottish youth. Regardless, and much to my satisfaction, New York was drenched last Sunday. “Batten down the hatches!” our friends warned us after a Saturday night dinner on the Lower East Side.
And batten we did. We put our feet up, read all day, and watched as the winter grime was washed from the streets below our window. But what about dinner? It was hard to imagine peeling myself from the couch and facing the elements. No one on the street looked at all pleased to be there.
Fortunately, I had some beef stew meat in the freezer, and the rest of the ingredients for a simple tagine lie in most pantries. Beef is so well suited to the aromatic spices of North Africa, and the salty, oil-cured olives make a great foil to the richly caramelized meat and sweet, earthy dates. I served our tagine with a simple couscous that I tossed with lemon juice and olive oil. That’s all I had in the house, and the brightness of the lemon leant a welcome citrusy fragrance to our table.
Olives that still have their stones impart a richer, more complex flavor to the tagine. If you use them, just remember to warn your guests. You can substitute any dried fruits for the dates. Apricots, figs, and prunes are all delicious in beef tagines, and all impart the promise of sun and warmth during a rainy April.
2 lbs beef stew meat, cubed
extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, large dice
5 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
thumb-size piece ginger root, grated
2 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup black oil-cured olives
4 cups beef stock
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
zest of 1 orange
2 bay leaves
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dates, pitted
1 cup red lentils
fresh flat leaf parsley
Rinse and pat dry your beef. Season the cubes on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat your stew pot over high heat and add a glug of olive oil. When the oil ripples, brown the beef in batches so that the pot is never crowded. Add more oil as needed. Reserve the beef on a plate.
Reduce the heat to medium and replenish the oil in the pot. Add the onion and garlic cloves. Sprinkle them with some salt and sauté briefly. Stir in the fresh ginger and the turmeric, cinnamon, pepper flakes, and nutmeg. Stir constantly for 30 seconds to toast the spices. Add the olives and the beef along with any juices that have collected on the plate.
Add the beef stock, balsamic vinegar, the orange zest, and the bay leaves. Season well with black pepper. Raise the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer the beef for 2 ½ hours, stirring occasionally.
Add the dates and the lentils. Cover and simmer for another 30 minutes. Just before serving, adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, and a little more balsamic vinegar if you want more acidity. Sprinkle with the mint and parsley. Serve with couscous.