Sunday, April 03, 2005

Moroccan meat & prune tagine, Spinach Dip

Moroccan tagine_meat_prunes
Originally uploaded by rachelita2.
Last night we had my colleague and friend Mimi over for dinner with her husband. Mimi is originally from Cuba and an amazing cook, and she wanted a Moroccan cooking lesson. My Moroccan mother-in-law, Jamila, visiting from Morocco, has been treating my friends to some of the most amazing dishes.

Mimi brought a substantial salad while I prepared a spinach dip with hearts of palm from last month's issue of Cooking Light. The dip was extremely good-- lighter than the usual heart attack-inducing artichoke heart dip but no less decadent. I had a great time talking with Mimi and her husband Jose, who is an historian and has an impressive knowledge of Moroccan history. Over talk of failed coup-d'etats against the Moroccan monarchy and the best places to buy Florida honey, we enjoyed Spinach Dip with Hearts of Palm, Green Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette, and Moroccan Tagine with Meat and Prunes. Dessert was mint tea and some Ghiradelli brownies.

The tagine (Moroccan stew) recipe appeared on my original website a few years ago. It is really a show-stopper. If you want to produce some of the finest Moroccan cuisine, fit for royalty, this recipe would be one to try.

I am resisting the temptation to call the prunes "dried plums," as the California Dried Fruit board has urged us to do.

Tagine with Meat and Prunes

1 lb. lamb or beef, for stewing, preferably with bones to add flavor
2 large onions, finely chopped
20 prunes
1/4 cup canola oil, plus a generous slug of olive oil
1 heaping teaspoon ginger
beef boullion cube
dash turmeric for color
a few strands saffron,(if you have some), dissolved in 1/4 cup boiling water

1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tblsp. honey, or more to taste
1/8 cup peeled and slivered almonds, lightly toasted

Moroccans would ideally use a pressure cooker for this, but if you don't have one, a stew pot is fine, just allow yourself at least 2 hours to get the meat tender. Put the beef in a stew pot, chop the onions finely and place on top, and add the regular & olive oils. Start the heat on medium-high and get everything bubbling as you work. Add a heaping teaspoon of ground ginger, a beef boullion cube, dash turmeric, the saffron, and a small amount of salt. Once everything has come to a boil, add just enough water to cover. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and turn heat low enough so that everything is still bubbling, but not uncontrollably.

Meanwhile, boil the prunes in water for about five minutes. Drain.

After an hour, check the tenderness of the meat. If you're using a pressure cooker, it might be done after 45 minutes; it might take an hour or two in a regular pot. When meat is tender, uncover, add prunes, a heaping teaspoon of cinnamon, and 2 tablespoons of honey, or to taste.

Cook for another fifteen minutes, uncovered, boiling off the excess. The sauce should cook down considerably until very thick and not at all runny. The meat should be falling-off-the-bones soft. Add more honey or salt to taste, if necessary. Garnish with toasted almonds. Serve in a big plate in the center of the table with bread for dipping.

Spinach Dip with Hearts of Palm (adapted from Cooking Light)

5 ounces shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Asiago cheese, divided
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
1 Tblsp. minced fresh garlic
1 14-ounce can hearts of palm, drained and chopped
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry
1 8-ounce block fat-free cream cheese, softened
1 6.5 ounce tub light garlic-and-herbs spreadable cheese (like Alouette Light)
Tortilla chips for dipping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine mozzarella, 1/4 cup Asiago, sour cream, and remaining ingredients, blending well. Spray comparably-sized baking dish with cooking spray, transfer dip to baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Asiago. Bake for 40 minutes until golden brown, serve warm. (22 servings, approximately 128 calories per serving, but this is so delicious that eating only 1/22 of this is probably impossible)

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