Packing continues for our move to Boston in a couple of weeks, and as I pack my kitchen, I'm downsizing like crazy. This means that every pot, pan, dish, and utensil undergoes scrutiny. Have I used it enough to give it precious shelf space in the tiny kitchen I'll have in the new apartment? My Dutch oven makes the cut, of course, and my favorite tagine pot -- one with a cast iron bottom and a ceramic top that looks like an inverted flower pot, made by my friend Bob -- earns its place, too. As I was about to pack the tagine, I decided to give it one more turn in the log house kitchen, and this beef stew with apricots and onions was the happy result. The combination of meat and dried fruit, so popular in North African and Middle Eastern countries, along with cinnamon, elevates this beef stew with a sweet and sour note that's both unusual and pleasing, giving the stew a brighter flavor. I used organic dried apricots, which have a dark, musky color; for little pops of orange in your tagine, choose regular dried apricots, found in the produce section of your supermarket. Ras-el hanout is a spice blend that contains cumin, along with a dozen other spices, and if you can't find it, cumin makes an acceptable substitute.
Moroccan beef stew/tagine with apricots and onions
From the pantry, you'll need: onion, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt, fresh black pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, saffron, ras-el hanout, agave nectar.
1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced into half-moons
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1-1/2 lb beef stew meat, cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh black pepper
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp saffron threads
1/4 tsp ras-el hanout (if you don't have it, don't worry)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cup dried apricots, soaked in hot water for at least 30 minutes, drained
3-4 Tbsp agave nectar
Sliced scallions and/or sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
Dry the cubes of beef with paper towels, and add to a large mixing bowl. Toss in the cinnamon, salt, pepper, turmeric, saffron, ras el hanout, and olive oil. With your very clean hands, mix everything together, making sure the spices are distributed throughout the meat. [Note: your hands will get a little bit yellow from the saffron and turmeric, so if you don't like that, wear gloves.]
Add the meat to the pot, cover, and set the heat to the lowest possible simmer. Cook for 1 hour. (Note: if you are using a Dutch oven instead of a tagine, you might need to add up to 1/2 cup of water to keep the meat from sticking. The conical top of the tagine pot will return moisture to the dish, and you won't need to add more.)
In a glass measuring cup, place 1 cup of dried apricots. Cover with water, and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Remove, and set aside to let the fruit rehydrate a bit.
After the tagine has been cooking for 1 hour, drain the apricots and add them to the beef, along with the agave nectar. Cover, and continue to cook for 1-1/2 hours, until the beef is completely falling-apart tender.
At that point, uncover the pot, and cook until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. Stir frequently to keep the stew from sticking. Taste, and adjust as needed with more agave nectar, salt and pepper.
Serve hot, over couscous or rice.
More Moroccan-inspired tagine stews:
Chicken tagine with prunes and almonds, from The Perfect Pantry
Salmon tagine with chermoula, from The Perfect Pantry
Vegan squash or pumpkin stew with chickpeas and carrots, from The Perfect Pantry
Moroccan chicken with lemon and olives, from Simply Recipes
Lamb tagine with apricots and olives, from Brooklyn Supper
Fish and potato tagine with preserved lemon, from A Palatable Pastime
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