I love to travel. So much so that I surprised people a few months back on a Facebook quiz by saying, even above cooking, that it’s my favorite thing to do. That quiz was not fabricated; similarly to good meals, I find myself thinking about our next vacation as soon as the current one is over. Last year (yes, it was sooooo 2009) we ‘took it easy’ and spent a week in Antigua, soaking up as many rays as the Caribbean sun would allow, scratching mosquito bites that only I seemed to get, and drinking more Merlot than I, quite frankly, cared to drink in a lifetime – but when it’s ‘free’ you gots to drink what they give you! Plus, for Merlot, it was good.
We took a long weekend trip to Napa as well, at which time I fell in love with the place and have made it my life’s goal to own a B&B there. And the year before Antigua, we were in Spain. I smuggled chorizo, ate kangaroo, and shopped in an outdoor grocery market that was so big, and so awesome, that I couldn’t have even dreamed it up. Strangely enough, it was in Spain that I was summoned by Morocco.
Yes, Morocco. Literally a hop, skip, and a jump across the Mediterranean Sea via the south of Spain lies beautiful, colorful, Morocco. Ever so slightly, I was reminded of its’ proximity to Sevilla, a city we’d considered touring during our visit. I thought about how easily we could hop on over to Morocco for a day or two, ending our trip back into Spain with a relaxing day at a beach along the Costa del Sol. Then I remembered Barcelona and Hubs’ insistence on not ‘city-hopping’ but instead taking in the sights at a relaxing pace – and I knew Morocco and all that Spanish sunshine would have to wait.
So, in the meantime, we have cold, we have snow, we have cloudy skies, and we have meatballs. Meatballs haphazardly studded with onions, garlic, and the next best thing you can add besides a trip to Morocco itself – all of its’ amazing spices & herbs – cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, cilantro, parsley. I tell you, those Moroccans – they know a thing or two about spices. There’s the fresh, almost floral hint of ginger, the sweet warmth of cinnamon, and the turmeric and saffron – in small quantities – help to round off the spice profile but also color the dish a beautiful golden, amber shade. And then you’ve got the bitterness of spinach, the acidic tomatoes, and the golden raisins working together in a totally harmonious way so that every bite is true perfection.
You may not actually be there, but if you eat this (and add the b’stilla from last week to your weekly menu), you may soon find yourself searching Expedia for the next trip, just like me.
Moroccan Beef Meatball Tagine
Adapted from Bon Appetit, January 2010; serves 6
‘tagine’ has double meaning: in some cases, it’s the oddly-shaped clay cooking vessel with a triangular lid, made to keep condensation on the bottom of the dish. Here, it’s an actual Moroccan stew, which is commonly called a ‘tagine’. I prefer the stew with a nutty, firm grain like barley or farro – they are great in the stew, adding a nice texture. if you’d prefer though, go all-Moroccan and use couscous.
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1/3 c coarsely grated onion
1/3 c panko breadcrumbs
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro
1 lg egg, beaten to blend
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 t turmeric
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t coarse kosher salt
1/4 t ground ginger
1 c pearled barley (or other grain, like farro)
1 T olive oil
3 1/2 c chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cinnamon stick
1 t turmeric
1/8 t saffron threads, crumbled
2 c beef broth
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
1/4 c golden raisins
2 c 1/2-inch-thick carrot slices (cut on diagonal)
1 zucchini, peeled and sliced diagnoally (optional, if you have it)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro plus additional for garnish
1 5-ounce package baby spinach leaves
cilantro and lemons, for garnish, optional
Line large rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap. Gently mix all ingredients in large bowl. Using moistened hands and 2 tablespoonfuls for each, roll meat mixture into 1 1/2-inch meatballs. Arrange meatballs on sheet.
Bring barley and 3 cups of water to boil and reduce to simmer. Cover and cook about 1 hour or until tender. Keep warm.
Heat oil in heavy large ovenproof pot over medium heat. Add onions; sauté about 15 minutes. Add garlic, cinnamon, turmeric, and saffron; stir 2 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes with juice, and raisins.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Bring stew to simmer. Stir in carrots and zucchini. Carefully add meatballs to stew; gently press into liquid to submerge. Sprinkle 1/4 cup cilantro over. Cover pot; place in oven. Bake until meatballs are cooked through and carrots are tender, about 35 minutes. Sprinkle spinach over stew. Cover and bake until spinach wilts, about 5 minutes longer. Gently stir to mix in spinach, being careful not to break meatballs. Remove cinnamon stick. Season tagine with salt and pepper. Spoon couscous into bowls; top with tagine. Garnish with cilantro and lemons.