Warm and sunny: Moroccan Braised Beef

by Terry B on February 13, 2008

Moroccan Braised Beef, made with golden raisins and an international mix of spices, delivers the warm, sweet/savory flavors of Morocco. Recipe below.

Last week, I sang the praises of oven-braising cheap cuts of beef for flavorful, juicy tenderness. With winter maintaining its icy choke hold on the Midwest, I was inspired to explore this technique further. Nothing like firing up the oven for a couple of hours and enjoying a hearty, meateriffic dinner to take the edge off the cold. Eventually, my virtual explorations led me to Morocco.

“Morocco.” The name alone conjures up exotic visions—Marrakesh, Casablanca [and Bogart and Bergman], souks [Moroccan markets] filled with dates, nuts, fragrant spices… Traditional Moroccan cuisine is as influenced by Europe and the spice trade routes as by being part of the African continent. Indeed, it is a mere eight miles [13 kilometers] from Spain at the narrowest point of the Strait of Gibraltar.

Lamb, chicken and beef all figure heavily in Moroccan cooking, especially in their stewlike tagines [the name for the dishes themselves as well as the special ceramic pots in which they're cooked].

As do spices. Cumin, ginger, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne, saffron… Various takes on the Moroccan spice blend Ras-El-Hanout use some or all of these and other spices. The emphasis is on bold flavor, not heat. The recipe that became the basis for my braised beef even called for [authentically or otherwise] the Indian spice blend garam masala. Again, given the centuries of the spice trade through the region, it didn’t seem off the mark. And when the spice mix hit the hot pot early in the cooking process, it gave us an instant preview of the exotically delicious meal to come.

Mixing sweet with savory is also a big part of this cuisine. Besides onions, the vegetable that appeared most frequently in the recipes I found was carrots. And raisins showed up in more recipes than not. Once I’d settled on the beef dish, I started looking for a Moroccan side to accompany it. After the fourth or fifth recipe with raisins and pretty much the same spice mix, I served a simple salad on the side. And I opted for spooning the beef over a bed of ditali, instead of the recommended couscous. I felt the scale and texture of the tiny tubes worked better with the chunks of beef.

The beef itself was tender and full of flavor; the raisins [which plumped up to resemble small, golden grapes] and spice blend lent a definite sweet note to the savory meat. The cayenne delivered a bit of heat that sneaks up on you without overpowering the dish. Together, they served up a bit of warmth and sunshine on a cold Chicago night.

This dish can also be simmered on the stovetop at a very low temperature for 2 hours. For an alternative spice mixture, try a simple take on Ras-El-Hanout [recipe below].

Moroccan Braised Beef
Serves 4

canola or olive oil
2 1/2 pounds boneless chuck roast, cut into 1-inch to 1-1/2-inch cubes
salt, freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup dry Sherry
2 cups chicken or beef broth
1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
1 1/2 cups golden raisins [you can substitute regular raisins—see Kitchen Notes]

Special equipment: parchment paper

For accompaniment, cooked couscous [I opted for ditalini, small, short-cut pasta tubes]

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. Heat a large, heavy ovenproof pot with lid over medium heat, then add enough oil to completely coat the bottom. Brown beef cubes on all sides in batches, without crowding, transferring as browned with a slotted spoon to a bowl.

Add onion to pot, drizzling in more oil, if needed. Cook, stirring, until onion begins to soften, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add garlic and spices; stir 1 minute. Add wine and sherry; boil until reduced by about half, scraping up browned bits and stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

Add broth, tomatoes with juice and raisins; stir to blend. Add beef and accumulated juices. Cover with a round of parchment paper and lid and braise in oven, 2 hours, stirring once about halfway through. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper, serve over cooked couscous, if you desire.

Here’s an alternative spice blend to try, a simple take on the traditional Moroccan Ras-El-Hanout.

Ras-El-Hanout
Makes 2 tablespoons [use the entire batch to season the beef]

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl until combined well.

Kitchen Notes

Go for the gold[en raisins]. If at all possible, do use golden raisins; their golden color adds a nice touch to the dark mahogany color of the beef. You’ll find them at Trader Joe’s, among other places. But if you can’t find them, standard issue raisins are used in many Moroccan dishes and will serve you just fine.

Also this week in Blue Kitchen, 2/13/2008

Notes from the underground—above ground too. Follow YouTube and me into the subways for some amazing live music, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?

Going green, now in a handy six-pack. As plastic bags go the way of the rotary phone, Trader Joe’s offers quite possibly the coolest alternative yet to paper or plastic, at WTF? Random food for thought.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Lydia February 13, 2008 at 4:37 am

I’ve never met a tagine I didn’t love. The combination of spices in your recipe is completely seductive. I’m going to try making it in my tagine pots; cooking in a tagine really helps retain the moisture in the dish, and when you use them on the stovetop, it makes the kitchen smell wonderful! Thanks for sharing this recipe.

Toni February 13, 2008 at 6:34 am

I adore Moroccan cuisine, and will eat any tagine they put in front of me! I love the combination of sweet and spicy. Lydia had just the right word for it – seductive. I’ve never seen ditali before, but fell in love instantly when I saw the photo!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types February 13, 2008 at 10:32 am

My brother and sister-in-law live in Morocco, and have turned me on to the savory and sweet flavors of the dishes. And, Lydia’s chicken and prune tagine is a real winner as well! I like the addition of ditali, and the sherry. I’ve been braising most weekends, and this recipe makes me want to start right now!

ann February 13, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Oh my god, I love that globe so much! You remind me that I really ought to bring the one that was my grandfather’s down to Brooklyn. It’s so old that almost all the countries are correct again. Too funny. This a fabulous recipe, but I would have gone with the couscous. All those teeny tiny grains are soooo adept at soaking up delicious braising liquid. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t have… Pasta really is just so delicious! Beautiful recipe as usual. Stay warm up there!

one food guy February 13, 2008 at 2:09 pm

I recently ate at Tangierino in the Boston suburb of Charlestown. It’s a Moroccan restaurant complete with a hookah lounge called Casbah. I have to agree that Moroccan food is all about big bold flavors. This dish sounds great, the spice blend sounds great, I am going to HAVE to try this! Thanks for sharing.

Nicole February 13, 2008 at 3:11 pm

Oh wow, I can almost smell the wonderful spices!! Almost makes me wish for cold weather since it’s a little too warm here to prepare something like this right now. Love that you served this over the little macaroni rather than cous cous!

Terry B February 13, 2008 at 4:38 pm

Lydia—Speaking of seductive, ceramic tagines look like they would be so fun to use. But we’re running out of kitchen space as it is—I feel like anything new has to be something that gets used constantly.

Toni—Ditali is also great for soups where you want a nice small-scaled pasta that doesn’t overpower other ingredients.

T.W.—You immediately made me curious, so I had to go find Lydia’s Chicken with Prunes and Almonds tagine. It sounds wonderful!

Ann—The globe belonged to Marion’s father. I love it too. And you’re absolutely right about some of the countries returning to their earlier names! But there are plenty that hark back to older times. Ceylon, for instance, instead of Sri Lanka.

Regarding braising liquids and couscous versus ditali, for the photograph, I kept the sauce to a minimum because I liked the look better that way. Immediately after the final shot, though, I ladled on plenty of it and gobbled it up with a spoon.

one food guy—I have to admit, this was my first real foray into cooking Moroccan food [unless you count couscous]. But the flavors were so exciting, I know I’ll be trying some more.

You know, Nicole, on any given day, Morocco is probably warmer than Southern California. I’d say go for it!

brilynn February 13, 2008 at 11:13 pm

That sounds like it was amazingly flavourful! I definitely want to give that a try!

Mike of Mike's Table February 13, 2008 at 11:42 pm

This looks fantastic! I’m delighted to keep seeing Moroccan dishes popping up on the food blogs–definitely something I’d like to experiment with more. Great looking dish!

Heather February 13, 2008 at 11:46 pm

Hey Terry-

I roasted my pulled pork in a Le Creuset oval dutch oven, but I think anything with a lid would do (I just love using my lime-green behemoth). You could cover it with foil, if you don’t have a lidded vessel.

Thanks for dropping by my joint, man – I saw your dish on Tastespotting and thought it looked great! It reminds me a lot of goulash. Yummeh.

Terry B February 14, 2008 at 2:22 am

Thanks, brilynn, Mike! After the big flavor of this dish, I’m ready to experiment with more Moroccan foods myself.

Heather—So glad I found your fun blog. The pulled pork looked delicious! We’re fans of our Staub La Cocotte oval roasting pan ourselves.

dhanggit February 14, 2008 at 7:52 am

i must admit that your moroccan braised beef looks million times appetizing than the beef dishes of moroccan restaurant close to our place :-) i love the idea of eating it with some pasta for a change..i normally eat moroccan dishes only with couscous! i’ll definitely adopt your idea !!

Nicole February 14, 2008 at 9:00 pm

Just popping by again to wish you guys a happy valentine’s day! And yes, I had already decided that I want to eat some yummy Moroccan food regardless of what the weather is like!

Terry B February 14, 2008 at 9:20 pm

dhanggit—Thanks for the compliment! Actually, there’s a bit of confusion and more than a little controversy when it comes to couscous. According to most sources, though, couscous actually is pasta—a coarsely ground semolina pasta. But because it’s so small, it’s often confused with true grains such as bulgur and kasha.

Nicole—Glad you’re not letting the heat keep you out of the kitchen—Truman would be proud. Hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day too! I really do need to put together an editorial calendar one of these days, so I can do posts specifically for holidays. This Moroccan beef is delicious, but not exactly romantic. That’s why my bride and I have reservations at the lovely Red Rooster Wine Bar and Café once again.

Susan from Food Blogga February 15, 2008 at 7:16 pm

I’m not into beef just that much just yet, but oh do I love Moroccan spices. Your ras-el-hanout would also be wonderful on pork and tofu and rice.

Terry B February 15, 2008 at 7:36 pm

Susan—I bet you’re right! I also think the original recipe might be good with chicken thighs, either braised in the oven or on the stovetop, but only for 45 minutes or so.

Aimee February 19, 2008 at 12:52 pm

Just reading through your recipe made my stomach start rumbling. Great recipe!

Anita March 5, 2008 at 3:16 pm

Terry, I was using foodblogsearch.com to find SOMETHING to make for dinner and I found your recipe. It seemed too good to pass up on, so I gave it a go….and it was wonderful! Thank you so much for posting this.

OH, and on another note, I wanted to add some veggies to it because my family won’t eat them unless they’re part of a dish. So I added some matchstick carrots and cubed potatoes along with the onions (and in turn upped some of the juices) and they turned out beautifully.

Rachel March 11, 2008 at 2:09 am

I made this dish tonight for dinner, and it was fantastic! Thanks for sharing the recipe.

laurel March 23, 2008 at 6:13 pm

i don’t think i’ve mentioned this before, but i really like the globe picture at the top of this post. and the food content.

Terry B March 23, 2008 at 6:46 pm

Aimee—Turn about fair play. Your posts often do this to me.

Anita—I think next time I make it, I’ll add some vegetables too. One excellent suggestion I heard some where is chickpeas, completely in keeping with the whole Mediterranean/Middle Eastern realm.

Rachel—Thanks! I’m really glad you liked it.

laurel—Thanks, sweetie! Everyone, this is my daughter Laurel. People often complain about kids being picky eaters. We somehow have managed to raise adventurous ones. If anything, they’re pickier about what they choose to eat when they’re not home—not in terms of any Ewwww factor, but more in terms of quality.

Mollie November 20, 2011 at 11:56 pm

The second I saw this post I knew I had to make this dish. So, when friends invited me for dinner last night I offered to make dinner..this of course!

It was met with a mix of mmmmmmmmmmmms and silence as we all enjoyed. I did serve it over ditali as you did, but think I might have enjoyed the cous cous more. One person suggested Jasmine Rice. Me thinks that will be a winner.

In a nutshell…this was perfection for a chilly fall night!

Terry B November 21, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Thanks so much, Mollie! I love to hear when someone has cooked one of my recipes—especially when it works. Regarding couscous, you might also consider the larger, pearl-like Israeli couscous.

Mama k August 13, 2013 at 12:57 am

This is the exact recipe I make from epicurious.com, wonder if they were the original creators of it?

Terry B August 13, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Mama k, with many recipes, you’ll find numerous very similar versions online and elsewhere. The main difference between this version and others, including that on epicurious.com, is that I braised mine in the oven rather than on the stovetop. I find that helps keep it from drying out.

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