Easy Beef Tagine brings Moroccan spice home

Featuring garlic, ras al hanout and saffron, Mina Tagine Lamb or Beef simmer sauce transports you to Morocco.

Last month I introduced you to a new line of tagine sauces. It was a big hit in my family so this month I'm sharing my results with Mina Tagine Moroccan Lamb or Beef Cooking Sauce. Hands on time is 15 minutes and depending on the cut of meat, you can have dinner on the table in about an hour-and-half. The smell while this is cooking? Oh my goodness, I just can't stand it! All those warm spices mingling in the air filled me with anticipation for dinner time. Even my grandmother came out of her bedroom to seek me out and tell me how the entire house was filled with the most delectable aromas. Grandma is a picky eater so it was high praise, indeed.

real food, please
You know I'm a big advocate for making things from scratch. I'm totally into real food, not packaged food. Often, jarred food tends to be ridiculously filled with chemical additives. But just like with the chicken sauce last month, this Mina tagine sauce is super clean: water, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, ginger, salt, black pepper, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, allspice, coriander, mace, cardamom, nutmeg and saffron. That's it. Real food, real spices and no added chemicals. (I really appreciate, too, that they list the actual spices and don't just say "spices" which always leaves me thinking that a company is being vague because those spices might not all be natural.) There's a recipe on the label that gets you started. I suggest making it the first time as suggested on the jar then the next time, just use the recipe as a jumping off point for future meals. Next time, I'm nixing the fruit (recovered diabetic here) and will be adding some veggies like chunks of carrots or butternut squash for the sweetness. Maybe even some dark leafy greens because, well, why not? I add them to nearly everything (they're good for you!).

the recipe, in pictures
Ok, so these are the ingredients listed on the jar for how to cook the tagine:

• jar of Mina's tagine sauce for beef
• beef 
(or lamb; I used chuck pot roast because it was on sale but warning, if you go this route, it needed an hour more cooking time than the recipe called for before the meat became fall-apart tender)
• one whole onion 
(I had red on hand but you can use brown or white)
• dried apricot 
(shop natural food stores with bulk bins that have a high turn over so your fruit will be soft and fresh and you can buy just what you need; locally, I buy mine at Sprouts)
• almonds 
(I LOVE Spanish Marcona almonds, which is what's pictured here. They're plumper than California almonds and have an almost macadamia-like texture with a flesh that is just a little sweeter, I think)
• fresh cilantro,
for garnish

The onion can be finely diced or grated. I used a box grater. I find that grating produces a lot of onion juice so I squeeze it out and discard it.

Here's a tip to help keep the tears away

Peel and quarter the onion and place it in the freezer for twenty minutes or up to half an hour. Pull out a quarter at a time and quickly, but mindful of fingers, grate. Repeat until all the onion has been grated. This will slow down the emission of the enzyme that irritates the tear ducts and makes you cry. 

The pot roast was fairly well trimmed. I removed more of the silvery connective tissue and excess fat. The jar recipe says to cut into 3-inch chunks but I prefer smaller pieces so I cut mine into 2-inch chunks. Whichever size you choose, just be consistent about it.

I heated my 12-inch cast iron on medium high until it was blazing. I added a teaspoon of cooking oil, then added half the meat. There are two things to remember when browning nearly anything, but most especially meat: don't overcrowd the pan or the meat will stew instead of brown and secondly, don't fiddle with the meat. Place it on the hot pan and leave it for at least three minutes before testing to see if it's ready to flip. You'll know, trust me. The meat will release easily from the pan when it's ready. If it's sticking, leave it a little longer.

A side note on the pan

 Last month, I bought a ceramic tagine to cook the chicken tagine. This time around, I wanted to show you that you don't have to run out and buy a special cooking vessel, especially if storage space is at a premium in your kitchen. Use any heavy bottomed 10- or 12-inch skillet with a good fitting lid. Was there a difference in the finished dish between the cast iron and the tagine? Well, the ceramic tagine I bought was glazed inside so it trapped the steam and kept the tagine sauce from evaporating. I never had to add water to it. Cooked in the cast iron, even with a good fitting lid, the tagine needed an additional 2 cups of water. Surprisingly, the sauce, even with the additional water, was still rich and flavorful, never tasting diluted.

As the meat browned, I removed it to a bowl. 

I deglazed the pan with a little water to loosen up the charred bits of meat before adding the onions.

I returned the meat to the pan then … 

poured in the sauce.

I added water to the jar, swirled it and then added it to the pan before baking. Towards the end of the baking the chopped apricots were added (I chopped half and left half whole for presentation purposes; feel free to chop all) then the pan was returned to the oven to bake a little longer.

These colors are just so gorgeous, aren't they? Make sure to put additional chopped cilantro, chopped fruit and Marcona almonds on the table so your guests can personalize their garnishes. Serve over your favorite grain (I used leftover farro) and with some crusty bread (I prefer whole wheat since I try to avoid white bread whenever possible).

Glass of red wine optional.

Until next time … xo, ani

easy beef tagine
adapted from Mina Tagine

The directions I'm placing here with this recipe assumes you're using chuck pot roast like I did. If you're using a more tender cut of meat, follow the cooking instructions on the jar. Also, the jar ingredient list suggests 1 cup chopped dried fruit such as prunes, apricots or raisins. It was too much fruit for me. I prefer it with a bit less as listed below. Also, for presentation, I left the nuts whole. If you use regular almonds, definitely chop them.

Serves 6

1 large onion
2 pounds beef, such as chuck pot roast
1 teaspoon olive oil
¾ cup chopped dried apricots
⅔ cups roasted and salted Marcona almonds, or ½ cup chopped almonds
fresh cilantro for garnish, optional

Peel and quarter the onion. Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the onion. Squeeze out excess water; set aside. 

Remove excess fat from meat; cut meat into 2-inch chunks. Heat a cast iron (or heavy-bottomed skillet) over medium high heat until hot. Swirl-in the oil. Working in batches so as to not overcrowd the pan, add the meat, browning on all sides. As meat is browned, remove to a bowl. Repeat with remaining meat.

Add ¼ cup water to the hot pan, scrape the pan with a spatula or wooden spoon to bring up the caramelized bits left behind from the browning process. Add the onions and sauté for one minute. Return the meat and all the meat juices to the pan, stirring to combine. Pour in the sauce. Fill the jar with water, shake, and pour the water into the pan. Stir to combine. Cover pan (use foil, tightly fitted, if your skillet doesn't have a good-fitting lid) and bake for 2 hours at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. After the first hour, check and see if the sauce is looking too dry, if it is, add ½ cup more water.

At the end of two hours, add ½ cup of water, stir in the apricot and continue to bake for an additional 25 minutes. Top with almonds and serve over your favorite cooked whole grain or couscous. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

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