Wednesday 25 May 2011

Slow-Cooked Moroccan-Spiced Beef and Apricot Stew with Naartjie Couscous

This is a deeply savoury, tagine-style stew that needs many hours to cook, but is well worth waiting for. It's a melting, slow-cooked concoction ideal for a frosty winter night, packed with the singing flavours of North Africa.

Slow-Cooked Moroccan-Spiced Beef and Apricot Stew
This is one of the earliest recipes from my blog archive, and one I'd almost forgotten. I've recently resurrected it (the recipe definitely needed some tweaking, showing as it did some signs of an inexperienced hand with spicing) and photographed it, in response to a request from Yuppiechef's Spatula magazine.

The editor of Spatula drew my attention to Eat for the Earth, and asked me to contribute a few of my favourite recipes to this excellent initiative. What's this all about? Please head over to Eat for the Earth to find out more. (Here's a clue: it involves friends and lunch. And possibly a lot of wine.)

Anyway, back to the recipe. Please don't be put off by the prunes in this recipe: they are an essential ingredient, enriching and darkening the sauce as they dissolve. Prunes, like anchovies, are magical ingredients that should never be mentioned when someone says, 'My, this tastes amazing. What did you put in it?'

The couscous: 'naartjie' is the South African word for tangerine. South African naartjies are just delicious, and something of an iconic fruit in our country. You can, of course, use fresh oranges, but tangerines have a special zing and fragrance.

In this recipe, the spicing is done in two stages, for good reason. Because it's a dish that requires long, slow cooking, the spices tend to blur together after a few hours, fading into gentle background music. Half an hour before it's served, the dish is re-spiced and given a smart kick in the pants. Please use really fresh spices.

I've specified shin for this dish - an inexpensive cut that dissolves into the most tender and unctuous meat - but you can use stewing beef of any kind. Ask your butcher. Avoid ordinary chunks of steak ('goulash meat' it's called in South Africa) because it tends to turn stringy and dry after prolonged cooking.You can also make this with a nice cut of pork, such as pork neck, or with cubes of lean lamb.

Slow-Cooked Moroccan-Spiced Beef and Apricot Stew with Naartjie Couscous

For the spicing (added in two stages; please read recipe below)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) ground cinnamon
a generous pinch of saffron threads
2  Tbsp (30 ml) ground cumin
2  Tbsp (30 ml) ground coriander
1  Tbsp (15 ml) turmeric
1  Tbsp (15 ml) ginger

Combine all the spices, and then divide the mixture in half. Set aside.

For the stew: 
4 tsp (20 ml) vegetable oil
4 tsp (20 ml) butter
3 onions, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1.5 kg stewing beef (preferably boneless shin, see notes above), fat and sinew removed, and cubed
2½ cups (625 ml) stock (chicken, beef or vegetable)
1 cup freshly squeezed naartjie or orange juice
1 x 400g tin of Italian tinned tomatoes, chopped
10 prunes, depipped and chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp (10 ml) honey
¾ cup (180 ml) dried apricots, roughly chopped

For the couscous: 
1 x 500g packet couscous
boiling water or stock, according to packet instructions
1 x 400g tin of chickpeas, drained
1 Tbsp (15 ml) finely chopped preserved lemon
the finely grated rind and juice of a naartjie or orange
the juice of a lemon
3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive oil
1 Tbsp (15 ml)  cumin
salt and freshly ground pepper

To top:
a handful of flaked, toasted almonds
finely chopped fresh coriander

Put the olive oil and butter into a big pot or pan and place over a high heat. When the oils have just stopped sizzling, turn down the flame a little and add the onions, garlic and ginger, and the set-aside half-quantity of spices (see above). Cook over a moderate heat, stirring often, until the onion softens and begins to turn golden. Don't allow the mixture to burn, which will make it bitter. Using a slotted spoon (so that fat drains back into the pan), remove the onion-spice mixture and set aside. Now turn up the heat and fry the beef, in batches, until it is lightly browned on all sides.

Return the onion mixture to the pan. Pour in the stock and add the naartjie juice, tinned tomatoes and prunes. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, and then immediately turn down the heat. Cover the pot with a tilted lid and turn down the heat to a low setting so that the stew bubbles gently.

Cook for three hours, stirring every now and then. The cooking time depends on the ferocity of your hob, but, as as a general guide: when the sauce is rich and slightly thickened, and the meat is very tender when nudged with a fork, it's time to do the second spicing. Remove the lid, add the remaining spice mix, and stir in the apricots and the honey. Allow the dish to simmer, uncovered, for another thirty minutes.

Twenty minutes before serving, make the couscous: Prepare the couscous according to the packet instructions, using hot water or a good stock.  Fluff up the grains with a fork and mix in the remaining couscous ingredients.  Toss well to combine.

To serve: tip the couscous into big warmed serving dish. Pile the beef stew on top, and top with toasted flaked almonds and a chopped fresh coriander.

Serves 6-8
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Nina Timm said...

Jane my dear, you cook beautiful Food, really you do. Love the naartjie couscous!!

Cynthia said...


Sue Averay Management Services said...

Mid-July in South Australia; wintry weather, citrus trees laden. This dish a dinner-party winner - and there's left-overs for us!

Jane-Anne said...

Hi Sue. Thank you very much for your comment; I'm so glad the dish was a success. Jane-Anne

Heather Blum said...

As soon as I spotted this recipe I knew I just had to try it out. So, yesterday I took the plunge and made it for a dinner with friends. It was truly delicious and a dish that I will definitely be making again - thank you Jane-Anne. I just have one question - what are preserved lemons? I had to leave that part out of my couscous as I have no idea what they are.