Moroccan braised beef and sweet potatoes

Moroccan braised beef and sweet potatoes
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I suppose I could also call this a beef and sweet potato tagine, but is it a tagine if it's not prepared in the cooking vessel that also goes by the name of tagine? This reminds me of the whole paella discussion. In any case, it's a braised beef stew, not unlike good ol' American beef stew or the French stalwort, boeuf bourguignon, except this version is more heavily spiced with aromatic, sweet and earthy spices. It's quite delicious and great change of pace from the usual braised-beef-in-red-wine flavor.

I've made a version of this a handful of times over the years. I was inspired to make this version by an Marrakesh episode of Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Food Escapes. That, and the little jar of Ras El Hanout I recently purchased. Ras El Hanout is basically a spice blend that contains some combination of cumin, cardmom, cinnamon, ginger, mace and other spices. If you can't find Ras El Hanout, substitute garam masala, which you can probably find at the local grocery store.

The technique for making this is not unlike any number of braised stews. You brown the meat, add aromatic vegetables, add spices, deglaze with wine, add liquid, add back the meat and braise low and slow for a couple of hours. I added big chunks of sweet potatoes in the last 45 minutes or so of cooking. It turned out to be delicious. It's sweet and spicy but not in a fiery way. Prepare a batch of cous cous, the easiest-to-prepare starch ever, and you're all set.

MOROCCAN BRAISED BEEF AND SWEET POTATOES

Ingredients: 2 to 3 lbs beef chuck cut into 1" cubes, 1 large diced onion, 4 cloves minced garlic, 2 Tb Ras El Hanout, 2 Tb sweet paprika, salt, pepper, 1-14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, 2 cups red wine, 2 cups water, 10 prunes, 10 dried apricots, 3-4 bay leaves, 3 medium sweet potatoes, olive oil

  1. Preheat oven to 325°.
  2. Season the cubes of beef with salt and pepper.
  3. Coat the bottom of a large dutch oven with olive oil, heat pot until just smoking, and brown the cubes of beef in batches and set aside.
  4. Add the diced onion to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook until translucent and beginning to brown.
  5. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  6. Add the Ras El Hanout and the paprika and cook for 30 seconds to a minute.
  7. Add the red wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to release the brown bits.
  8. Allow the wine to cook for a few minutes and reduce.
  9. Add the can of tomatoes with their juice.
  10. Add the 2 cups of water and bring back to a simmer.
  11. Add the reserved meat and bay leaves. The level of the water should be right at the level of the meat or almost covered.
  12. Tear the prunes in half and add them to the pot.
  13. Roughly chop the apricots and add them to the pot.
  14. Season with about a half teaspoon of salt. Be careful not to over-salt as the Ras El Hanout probably has salt in it already. You can readjust the salt towards the end.
  15. Cover the pot and tranfer to the oven for 1.5-2 hours. 
  16. After 1.5 hours, check the meat. It should be soft but not yet "fall-off-the-bone" tender. If the liquid has reduced too much, add some water. The level should just about cover the meat. 
  17. Cut sweet potatoes into 1-inch chunks. You want them to be big so they don't totally fall apart after cooking.
  18. Cook for another 30-45 minutes. Then you can taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary. 
  19. Also, if the liquid has reduced to much, add back a bit more water until it gets to the saucy consistency that you prefer.
  20. Serve this with cous cous or just some bread.