Moroccan Dark Beef & Plum Tagine
This is my favourite Autumn dinner! We seem to associate Moroccan food so much with Autumn - I’ve noticed this a lot in food advertising especially. Moroccan food seems to have this fresh, summery quality and brightness about it, but bolstered by warm and comforting spices, so it makes sense to eat it between summer and winter I guess. I spent a month travelling in Morocco back in 2015, incidentally during Autumn. I travelled from Marrakech, through the Sahara desert via the town of Merzouga, and through the Rif mountains to the Mediterranean coast. I enjoyed a lot of delicacies there, which varied enormously based on the terrain. One dish that could be found everywhere: the tagine. More likely it is just for tourists, but justified given it is the national dish of Morocco. And I'll tell you something; there are lots of different variations of tagine! You should make a trip during Autumn sometime during your life, the temperature is balmy and you'll find plenty of outstanding, seasonal food to complement your visit.
Tagine has its origins in being a desert dish of the Bedouin people. You might recognise it being cooked in a dish with a conical lid, usually highly decorated. The reason why it is cooked in its special little conical pot (known as a 'tagine' itself) is to preserve precious cooking liquid and use as little water as possible when out in the harsh desert climate. This element of survival no longer stands up in modern-day Moroccan culture - the tagine dish is now more of a decorative gimmick for tourists or a family heirloom passed down for its own sake. You don’t really need a tagine to make a tagine. A slow-cooker or oven-proof casserole dish will suffice just fine, though a tagine dish will give you the full aesthetic. It’s worth treating yourself to one if you decide to make tagine a few times a year at least.
I ate a lot of tagine when I was in Morocco and one thing I noticed about the dish, despite having many variations, is there are essentially two 'styles': what I call the 'dark' tagine, and the 'gold' tagine. A dark tagine will generally feature lamb, goat or beef, dark fruits and strong, ghoulish spices. A golden tagine will be made with chicken, fish or just vegetables. It'll be made with a golden chicken stock or vegetable stock, and very delicately spiced, often with citrus fruits added. Despite both types being called tagine, they are almost entirely different dishes altogether, yet the preparations are much the same. Naturally, this beef and plum tagine qualifies as a dark one, and it is a great one to start with. It is the one I always go to once the Autumn nights begin to draw in.
MOROCCAN DARK BEEF & PLUM TAGINE
800g-1kg Diced Beef or better, Beef Shoulder (typically called ‘beef chuck)
1 large Onion
2 teaspoons Ras al Hanout
1/2 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground Nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground Coriander
2 teaspoon Cumin Seeds (or ground cumin)
2 cloves Garlic
500ml Beef Stock
1 tablespoon Date Syrup (or Black Treacle)
2 teaspoon Tomato Paste
120g of dried Prunes
2-3 large Carrots
Cous cous (to serve)
To start the tagine, we’re going to brown the meat to seal in it’s flavour. Heat a large pot on a high heat and add a couple of tablespoons of oil. Fry the diced beef (or chopped beef shoulder) until just coloured on the outside, but not necessarily cooked right through. Once browned, remove the meat from the pan and place into a bowl to sit.
Into the same pot, add in the chopped onion, cumin seeds, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg and two teaspoons of Ras al Hanout spice blend. Cook everything on a low heat for 5-10 minutes, until the onions are soft and the spices have awoken.
Tip the browned beef back into the pan and stir. Grate in two cloves of garlic and stir for 10-20 seconds to toast it slightly. Turn the heat onto high and pour in 500ml of beef stock and bring to a boil, then reduce to heat and allow to simmer gently.
When simmering, stir in a tablespoon of date syrup or black treacle and season with salt and pepper until you are satisfied with the taste.
Take your peeled carrots, chopped into half batons, and place them on top of the tagine so they are only just submerged in the liquid. Take 120g of dried prunes (approximately a handful) and place onto the top of the carrots without stirring them in (they will burn if they sink to the bottom).
Place a lid on the pan and leave on a low heat to cook. You can cook this in a low oven if you like (150C). If using diced stewing beef, cook for 1 hour on low. If using diced beef chuck/shoulder, cook for 2 hours on low.
Once cooked, remove from the oven and leave to stand while you prepare your cous cous to serve alongside. Fish out the carrots and serve them separately on a dish along with the tagine.