I remember when I first saw Jamie Oliver cooking this in a tagine on TV, I smiled. I could smell it through the screen; the beautifully flakey beef, infused with Moroccan spices that begged to decorate the palate. The sweetness of the prunes complementing the meat, adding to the already alluring aroma; the squash providing that perfect balance to meet the beef and of course the couscous sucking up the juices, joining this Arabian paradise.
I was determined to make this dish and when it's joggers nipple weather, stew cannot be argued with. Jamie Oliver's recipe is easy to follow, but as usual there are substitutes to be made.
500g Stewing beef chunks (lamb works equally well) 1 Butternut squash/pumpkin/ 3 sweet potato 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
a small bunch of fresh coriander 1 tin of
1 tin of
800ml vegetable stock,
1 small squash
deseeded and cut into
100g prunes, stoned
and roughly torn
2 tablespoons flaked
If you can get your hands on this, you need 2 tablespoons of Ras el hanout, which translates as 'top of the shop', as in the best spices in the store.
You need to rub this into the meat, and let it infuse. I strongly recommend overnight, because it makes it so Middle-eastern you'll feel like you're sitting in a Bazaar. If you're pushed for time, then leave it at least for two hours.
Once the meat has been nicely spiced add it to a pan of olive oil, set to medium heat, for 5 minutes. Add the chopped onion and coriander stalks and fry for another 5 minutes.
Now at this point Jamie adds the chickpeas, and tomatoes, but I haven't because I find the texture of chickpeas only bearable when they are in a curry. However, if you're a chickpea fan then go ahead.
Otherwise it is fine to omit the chickpeas; add the tin of chopped tomatoes and 400ml of (beef or chicken) stock and stir. Bring the stew to a boil, then put the lid on and reduce to a simmer for 1½hours.
Leaving your dish to stew is imperative for this to work. It is extremely tempting after this amount of time to dig in, but kindly resist because the meat will be tough, the flavours will not have infused, and the stew won't be a stew.
After this amount of time, add your squash, or sweet potato/pumpkin, the prunes and the rest of the stock. Stir everything in the pan and leave it for another 1½ hours.
After an hour has passed it is tempting to dig in, but I urge you to stick to the stated time because your meat becomes really tender. However, if it starts to look dry add a splash of water.
Once the three hours are up take the lid off your dish and check the meat. This has to be the most satisfying part of the cooking processing: checking if your meat flakes.
If it does, then brilliant, the slow cooking process has done its work and your meat is perfect. The stew should be thick, Moroccan scented and making your mouth water. Give it a quick taste and season with salt and pepper. If your stew is not as thick as you would like put it on a medium heat for 10 minutes without the lid, which should equal the perfect consistency.
You must try this; many of my friends detest prunes, but Jamie Oliver knows what he's doing; the beef, prune, and squash combo is a real must. I have made this dish a few times now without the chickpeas and almonds and have added sweet potato in replacement for squash, which works equally well.
Enjoy your stew with cous cous topped with toasted flaked almonds, and some hungry folk!