I’m getting over some kind of bug (one that I never really got under, either, but just have kind of lingered feeling slightly less than 80% awesome), and have been eating more than my fair share of cold cereal. Don’t get me wrong, I love cold cereal with a flaming, burning passion. A country song kind of passion, all aches and tears and raw longing and pickup trucks. And I’ll eat almost any kind, though I prefer my Kashi and fiber cereals because they keep me full for longer. I can decimate a box of Fruity Pebbles in under an hour, then have room for a real meal shortly thereafter. Fruity Pebbles are the chinese food of cold cereals. But throw me a (repulsively large) bowl of Kashi GoLean, and I’m going to feel full and satisfied for at least 3 hours. So that’s why I eat whole grain cereals. What of it?
I feel like I have to defend my compulsive consumption of fiber, because people always think fiber=regularity. As a girl, I prefer to spend zero time thinking about/discussing/experiencing anything related to the “service entrance.”
Funny story: I have a girlfriend who we’ll call “Janet.” She was going through a slightly wilder phase of life, so I hooked her up with another friend of mine, “Jason,” who had just gotten out of federal prison for arson. He was terrifying. All long, crazy, completely wild hair and prison tattoos and rippling abdominal muscles. Really sweet guy if he was your friend, but probably would stab you in the eyeball with an ice pick if you were NOT his friend. He once saved my ass in a bar fight and I was like, “man, I’m glad I befriended THAT guy!” Anyway, Janet and Jason were hooking up in the living room, when all of a sudden Janet burst into the bedroom where I was sleeping and said “Oh my God. He just asked me if he could use the ‘service entrance.’ What do I say?” Turns out multiple years in a Federal prison can cause certain changes in sexual perspective.
So anyway, I’m really squeamish about discussing digestion. Ever. With anyone. I almost came to blows with my surgeon after my appendectomy when he started nosing around and asking questions that I would not have answered if they were the final questions on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and the surgeon had been holding a giant cardboard check with my name written on it. Eventually he got tired of squabbling with me and just let me go home, which pissed Chris off to no end because he was CERTAIN that this would be the time that somebody would crack my armor, and couldn’t believe a hospital would rather accept liability after a major abdominal surgery than coerce me into discussing gastrointestinal function. Win: Me.
Which brings me to my actual point, which is that I had to buy prunes at the grocery store for today’s recipe. I LOVE prunes. I think they’re delicious and healthy and like little amethyst gems full of sweetness and light. But every time I buy them in the grocery store, I feel like I have to explain myself to the cashier. Like, “yeah, I’m buying prunes, but it’s because they’re delicious, not because of pooping or anything like that.” I’d be more comfortable buying a handle of Jack Daniels, a pregnancy test, a giant cucumber, and an industrial sized vat of KY Warming Liquid than I am buying prunes. And I know that you think I’m crazy, and I don’t even at all care because this isn’t the first or the last time you’ll be thinking that.
Prunes in hand, aside from the five I had eaten on the way back from the grocery store, I went home to make a North African dish that is so colorful, bright, and full of flavor that it makes you completely forget that North Africa can be a pretty scary place, actually. And that a girl like me is much more likely to get stolen and traded for a large bag of golden couscous than to be served a colorful bowl of golden couscous.
I’m speaking of a beautiful beef tagine, redolent of garlic and saffron and dried fruits. I’ve written about the miracles of tagine cooking before. It’s a large, chimney shaped lid that rests on a braising vessel…sort of. I have two smaller ones that can’t be used on the stovetop, but my delightful brother got me the beautiful, blue Le Creuset model for Christmas. It’s very large, and can transition effortlessly between stovetop and oven use. So cool!
The recipe I used was an adaptation from a lamb tagine recipe that I found on Epicurious. The recipe is called Tagine Bil Kok, which sounds like it’d be Monica Lewinski’s favorite food, but is actually one of the most popular dishes in Morocco. It’s super simple to make, and can be easily done with a dutch oven if you aren’t in possession of a full-sized tagine.
Beef Tagine Bil Kok
-2 T olive oil or grapeseed oil
-1 t ground turmeric
-1 t ground ginger
-2 pounds lamb or beef roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 2-inch chunks
-2 sweet yellow onions
-1 c chicken broth
-8 threads saffron, or a pinch of saffron powder (which I love because it’s so quick)
-1 t fresh cilantro, minced
-1 cup pitted prunes, chopped
-1/2 c carrots, peeled and diced into 1/2″ chunks, then blanched for 2 minutes
-2 T honey
-1 t freshly ground cinnamon
–Heat olive oil in bottom of the tagine or dutch oven, then saute ginger, turmeric, and lamb until the lamb is nicely browned and the ginger and turmeric are quite fragrant.
–Finely dice an onion, and add it to the pot with the saffron and chicken broth. Cover and braise for 1-1.5 hours, or until the meat is tender. Check periodically to ensure there’s enough liquid.
–Pull the meat out with a slotted spoon and set aside. Cover with foil to keep warm.
–Finely slice the other onion and add it to the liquid in the pot with the prunes, carrots, honey, cinnamon and salt and pepper to taste.
–Simmer the liquid until it’s reduced by about 2/3, into a slightly thicker consistency.
–Return the lamb to the pan and toss with the liquid.
–Serve over couscous and sprinkle with fresh cilantro.
See? Pretty easy, actually, and it makes your whole house smell insanely fragrant and exotic. Turmeric is so good for you, as a known anti-inflammatory agent, and braised meat is always a comfort and a treat.
The Moroccans know their delicious, spice-tradey foods, and this is no exception. I still don’t know what “bil kok” means, but if I find out it means “service entrance,” I’m going to be sorely pissed off.