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Moroccan spiced date and beef tagine

June 2, 2018
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date and beef tagine with a plate of dates

The road threaded through the sand and in the distance the shapes of multi-coloured pottery shimmered in the heat haze, lined up along the edge of the tarmac. It was an excuse to stretch our legs after the long journey back from Ghadames, an ancient walled, Berber oasis town in Libya.  I hummed and hawed for a while and chose a bright blue tagine with delicate black and white hand-painted tracings on its domed lid. “You know you can’t cook in that one?” asked my friend, bursting my bubble of excitement a little. But the appeal of this beauty meant that the practical, dun-coloured cooking vessel remained behind. Wrapped in newspaper and gently inserted into my hand luggage, the decorative one flew home to Dubai with me and has decorated the top of a kitchen cupboard ever since. It reminds me of an epic journey, the incredible treasure of that country, and happier times for my Libyan friend.

So to call this recipe a tagine is a bit of a stretch as mine was cooked in a Le Creuset cast iron pot. If you do happen to have the authentic pot, this recipe will work as the temperatures are low and slow throughout.

The big flaw in my plan to explore the extensive topic of dates, including recipes, is that KP hates them. He did begrudgingly admit that the date caramel was nice and that the granola was very good. If he gets a whiff of dates being put into savoury meals that he is expected to eat, there will be fall out. Not to give the impression that he’ll stomp off or anything. It’s the air of resignation and “it’s ok I’ll sort myself out” as he reaches for the beans on toast.

Beef, dates and carrots in a tagine with a plate of dates

So I’m waiting for his verdict as I write this – but I love the warming spices which are subtly in the background, the soft vegetables and meltingly soft meat. Despite the carrots and onions, which are sweet in themselves, the dates add a depth rather than a cloying taste. I made this with beef to echo British stews made with prunes but you could use lamb. And if you want an addictively moreish sweet and sour kick, do add the date molasses and lemon at the end. You might notice that I’ve garnished with chives not coriander in the pics (as I didn’t have any and it’s 40C outside so popping to the shop was a bit off-putting). Slipping a cinnamon stick into the liquid instead of using the ground cinnamon would also be a good option (but I haven’t tried it yet), as would whole dried chilli.

Serve with some bread – soft pita breads, Arabic flat breads or a crusty loaf – or fluffy, turmeric-flecked Basmati rice.

I’ve drawn from quite a few sources for this recipe including Paula Wolfert’s The Food of Morocco, Nadia Sawalha’s Stuffed Vine leaves saved my life. Paula’s tagine with prunes recommends beef short rib on the bone which would add even more unctuousness (and require longer cooking time). It reminded me about Paula’s gradual decline through dementia and how this legendary writer is trying to fight it with food.

Moroccan spiced date and lamb tagine

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A slow-cooked, warmly-spiced casserole which is great for week night comfort food or a casual supper for friends.

Ingredients

  • 20g unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground coriander*
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric*
  • 750g braising steak (cut off all obvious fat from the edges but should have some marbling), cubed
  • 2  large onions, peeled and very finely sliced
  • 2.5cm root ginger, very finely chopped
  • 7-8 small carrots, halved
  • 500 ml beef stock, vegetable stock or water
  • 2 strips of orange peel, pith removed
  • 1-2 whole dried chillies*
  • 2 pinches of saffron threads soaked in 2 tablespoons of warm water
  • 3-4 large Medjool dates (use a few more if they are smaller), stoned and chopped roughly
  • salt and black pepper
  • 8 dates, stoned
  • 2 tablespoons date molasses**
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice**
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
  • large handful of fresh coriander, leaves picked

Directions

  1. Melt the butter in the tagine (placed on a heat diffuser on the stove) or your cooking pot and pour into a bowl. Add the olive oil, cinnamon, coriander and turmeric to the melted butter. Stir to combine.
  2. Tip the beef into the bowl and mix with your hands so that all pieces are well coated. Tip the whole lot into your casserole or tagine over a medium heat and turn the meat for a minute or two so it begins to change colour but not sizzle. Remove the meat and most of the spiced cooking fat to the bowl.
  3. Add the onion to the pot and soften gently over a low heat in the small amount of butter and oil that remains. The onion should be transparent and yielding but not brown. Add the ginger and cook for a minute. Stir in the carrots.
  4. Return the beef to the pot and pour in 400 ml of the water or vegetable stock. Add the orange peel and saffron with its soaking liquid. Slip in one or two whole dried chillies at this point if you like a bit more spice.
  5. Put the chopped dates and remaining water in a small blender (or use a tall jug and a stick blender). Whizz to a thickish, cloudy liquid and add to the pot. Season well.
  6. Bring to a simmer and cook at a low heat for 1 – 11/2 hours (or put in your slow cooker for 6-8 hours) until the meat is falling apart but not dry. 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time add the whole dates.
  7. Taste and adjust seasoning. You can serve as it is or you can add the optional date molasses and lemon juice. Start with 1 tablespoon of each, then taste and add a bit more of each until it reaches a sweet and sour depth of flavour that’s not overpowering. Alternatively you can mix the date molasses and lemon juice together in a small bowl and hand at the table for drizzling.
  8. Garnish with the toasted sesame seeds and fresh coriander leaves. Serve with bread or rice.

*These are optional. I added turmeric as this spice is used extensively in Libya, but you can leave it out.

**This is optional but adds a deep, rich, sweet and sour flavour to the dish.

date and beef tagine with a plate of dates

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Have you used dates in a savoury dish?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. The Real Geordie Armani permalink
    June 3, 2018 9:04 am

    Sounds delicious, it reminds me of a lamb dish of Jamie Olivers that contains Ras el Hanout, I trailed round every supermarket trying to find this North African spice. In the end my Tunisian neighbour gave me some of hers. Happy Cooking!

  2. June 3, 2018 4:12 pm

    This is such a delicious dish!! Soulful meal! Beautiful photos too! I love dates so much!

  3. June 3, 2018 5:12 pm

    I must try this recipe, always wanted to use dates in a meat dish 😛

  4. June 3, 2018 6:09 pm

    This looks delicious! I’d have to use a cast iron pot as well, but I’m sure it works just fine! I love the dates and I totally will try the whole cinnamon sick 🙂

  5. June 3, 2018 6:59 pm

    This looks so flavorful! I love that it has dates for some natural sweetness.

  6. grupmpyshoneybunch permalink
    June 3, 2018 7:39 pm

    I love the photos! I also am a fan of dates. I truly think they lend a really delicious flavor to foods. Plus, I can just sit and eat them like candy! Your hubby and mine would probably get along quite well. 😉

  7. lindawarren permalink
    June 3, 2018 7:50 pm

    Love the story of walking through the local market. I would have done the same as you and chosen something beautiful to remind me of my journey there. Your photos really bring this dish to life and love the rich and spicy flavors that are incorporated in it.

  8. June 4, 2018 10:24 am

    I loved the story at the beginning of the post, and how lucky you’ve been able to visit Libya! I have the same problem with my boyfriend, he doesn’t like any fruit so making such a dish with dates would be difficult for him. I wonder if he’d notice them, though, as the overall dish seems so full of other flavours. Maye swapping the beef for a more flavourful meat like lamb, though I’m not sure the other ingredients would all match with this different kind of meat.

  9. June 4, 2018 11:56 am

    Your posts inspired me to put some dates in with grated carrots. I used tahini and lemon juice, added some fennel leaves.

  10. dishofdailylife permalink
    June 4, 2018 2:34 pm

    My husband’s family is Middle Eastern, so I have a feeling he, and our children, would enjoy this dish immensely! I like combining fruit with meat and make a Spanish inspired dish with chicken with prunes and olives, but I’ve never actually cooked with dates. That is about to change! I can’t wait to try this!

  11. June 5, 2018 9:39 am

    This sounds absolutely delicious! I love the effort you have put into this dish!
    Stunning photography too – I adore that blue pot and the twisted spoon. 🙂

    • June 7, 2018 7:19 am

      Thank you – actually the ingredient list looks long but it’s very little effort for a lot of reward.

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