Jonathan Franzen writes of Washington DC, "the pedestrians in every neighborhood all seemed to have taken the same dowdiness pills. As if individual styles were a volatile substance that evaporated in the vacuity of D.C.'s sidewalks and infernally wide squares. The whole cite was a monosyllabic imperative directed at Katz's beat up biker jacket. Saying die."
I'm inclined to agree with Mr Franzen, and with this group of people. Don't get me wrong, I have a fantastic house here (the size of which I could afford about 8% of in New York), and a yard for gardening, a nice car and a good stable job and lots of good friends. And there's a lot more character in DC then there used to be, there's Birch and Barley and the lobster truck and movies at E Street and cool furniture shops on 14th Street. But a little bit every day, I feel the corporate government dullness of DC slowly sucking my soul.
People keep talking about this thing called my "career trajectory," which always makes me picture, with horror, that my job is a shooting rocket just dragging me in its path. So I'm thinking a lot about jobs and careers and is going back to school really the right thing in this economy and will anyone even want to hire me and do I really want to move and is having a career really such a bad thing, and why oh why are DC drivers so horrible?
And this uncertainty is probably why I'm making rich comforting stews like beef tagine in the middle of summer when my diet should be consisting of summer tomatoes, corn, and soft-shelled crabs. But the beef tagine my friends, is really fantastic. I've made it a few times now, cooking the beef over several hours with prunes and spices until everything melts together in a thick sweet sludgy mixture. Like many Moroccan dishes this verges on the edge of sweet, and though not traditional I like to add some chli flakes to keep things balanced out. The dish reminds me strongly of Mexican mole negro, also black and sweet and spicy. It's one of those recipe you make once or twice and remember how to do from memory, long slow cooking on a Sunday afternoon, something to bookmark and make on a day when you need something warm and comforting.
Beef Tagine with Prunes
2 lbs beef stew meat
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
optional: 1 small diced chili or 1 tsp of Aleppo pepper or mild dried chili pepper
1 large onion, diced
12 oz prunes, diced
2 tablespoons honey
a few sprigs of cilantro leaves, diced
sesame seeds for serving
1. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Mix together the spices and toss with the meat to coat. Heat some olive oil in your tagine (or a dutch oven) over medium heat. Sear the beef until browned on all sides. Add water to just cover the meat, bring water to a simmer, put the lid on the pan and simmer on low for 45 minutes.
2. After 45 minutes, add the onions, chili if using, prunes, and honey and season with salt. Cover the pan again and simmer for 2 hours. Check on the mixture every 20 minutes or so, add more water if the mixture starts to look dry. Gently mash the mixture with the back of a spoon as it cooks, encouraging it to form one cohesive sticky sauce. As the sauce thickens toward the end of cooking, make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.
3. At the end of the 2 hours, the meat should be tender and falling apart, if it isn't keep cooking it gently. A few minutes before taking the dish off the heat, stir in the cilantro. The sauce should be thick and sticky. Taste for seasoning. Season with additional salt/chili/honey as necessary. Ladle the tagine over couscous. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top to serve.