Bitter tastes can be an indicator for poison, so developing an appreciation for this flavor comes with age and experience. Jennifer McLagan’s Bitter (Ten Speed Press, 2014) will take you on an exploration of this misunderstood flavor. Discover how to add a touch of bitter to dishes to create exciting flavor dimensions and memorable meals. The following recipe for beef tagine features bitter flavors from cardoons, kalamata olives and lemon.
You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: Bitter.
Cardoons are a popular vegetable in North African cooking, often added to stews. In this Moroccan-style tagine, they yield their flavor to the sauce making it the best part of this dish, so you need something to soak it up. It could be bread or potatoes, but steamed couscous is ideal and a better cultural match. Many cooks think that instant couscous, where you pour boiling water over the couscous and wait a few minutes, is fine. Well, it isn’t. Like cardoons, couscous needs more respect, so please follow the recipe below; it’s worth the effort. Prepare the couscous ahead of time, then steam it for the final time after you’ve added the olives and preserved lemon to the tagine.
This method is taken from Paula Wolfert’s instructions in Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco. You will need a colander that fits snugly into your saucepan and a piece of cheesecloth.
Cardoon Beef Tagine Recipe with Couscous
• 2-1/2 pounds / 1.2 kg stewing beef, with a good amount of fat
• Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 tablespoon beef drippings, or more olive oil
• 2 onions, halved and sliced
• 1 teaspoon paprika
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
• 3 large cloves garlic, germs removed, sliced
• 1 cup / 250 ml water
• 2-1/4 pounds / 1 kg cardoons
• 1 lemon
• 1/2 cup / 100 g kalamata olives
• 1 preserved lemon
• 1 cup / 1/2 ounce / 15 g cilantro (coriander) leaves, chopped
• 2-2/3 cups / 14 ounces / 400 g couscous
• 1 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/2 cup / 125 ml cold water
TO MAKE TAGINE
1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F / 150 C.
2. Cut the meat into large pieces, about 2 inches / 5 cm. Pat the meat dry and season well with salt and pepper.
3. In a heavy flameproof casserole or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and all the fat over medium-high heat. When it is hot, brown the beef in batches, transferring the pieces to a plate as they brown.
4. Lower the heat and add the onions. Stir well, using the moisture from the onions to deglaze the pan. Add the remaining table- spoon of olive oil only if necessary. Add the paprika, ginger, cumin, and turmeric with a good amount of black pepper, about 20 turns of the pepper grinder. Continue to cook, stirring, until the onions soften slightly and you can smell the spices.
5. Add the garlic and water, stirring to deglaze the pan again. Return the beef with any juices to the pan and bring to a boil. Cover the surface of the meat with a piece of wet parchment paper, place the lid on the pot, transfer to the oven, and cook for 1-1/2 hours.
6. While the beef is cooking, prepare the cardoons and cut them into 1/2 by 3-inch / 1 by 7.5-cm pieces; place in a bowl. Cover with water and squeeze in the juice of the lemon, then toss in the squeezed halves.
7. Remove the pan from the oven. Drain the cardoon pieces and stir them into the beef mixture with 1 teaspoon of salt. There will be a lot of cardoons, and the cooking liquid will not cover them; it doesn’t matter. Cover again with the parchment paper and the lid, then return to the oven and cook for another 30 minutes. Stir again to mix the cardoons into the cooking liquid. Cover with the parchment and the lid again and cook another 30 minutes, or until the cardoons and beef are tender.
8. Rinse the olives, then remove the pits by hitting the olives with the flat side of a chef’s knife. Cut the preserved lemon into quarters, remove the pulp, and discard. Cut the preserved lemon into matchstick-size pieces.
9. Stir the olives and lemon into the beef mixture and cover just with the lid this time; return to the oven for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro and serve with couscous.
TO MAKE COUSCOUS
1. Place the couscous in a sieve under running water and stir the grains with your fingers so that all the grains are wet. Then spread the couscous onto a baking sheet and leave it for 10 minutes to dry. Wet your hands, then run your fingers through the grains to break up any lumps.
2. Fill a large saucepan halfway with water, then place a colander on top. Rinse a piece of cheesecloth under cold water and squeeze out any excess water. Spread out the cloth and lightly dust it with flour. Line the colander with the cheesecloth, flour side in, and then add the couscous. Bring the water in the pot to a boil, then lower the heat so it boils gently. Steam the couscous, uncovered, for 20 minutes, stirring it gently with a fork from time to time so that it steams evenly.
3. Tip the steamed couscous onto the baking sheet again and spread it out using a fork. Add the salt to the cold water and stir to dissolve. Gradually pour it over the couscous, stirring the grains with your fingers so they are evenly moistened. Leave the couscous to dry for 10 minutes. Now cover with a damp cloth and set aside until you are ready to cook it for the final time.
4. Return the couscous to the cheesecloth-lined colander and steam, covered, for 20 minutes, then turn the couscous into a serving dish. Couscous is usually tossed with butter before serving, but if you are making it to serve with the Cardoon Beef Tagine, there will be enough fat in the tagine sauce to enrich it.
Cardoons are not always available, so try this dish with celery instead. The flavor is different but still good, and it will improve your opinion of cooked celery. You will, however, still have to spend time removing the strings from the celery stalks.
My husband said I have to point out that you could also make this same recipe using rutabaga. Cut it into good-size chunks so the pieces stay whole.
More recipes from Bitter
Reprinted with permission from Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes by Jennifer McLagan, copyright © 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.