The inevitable thing about being an expat is that you make some really great friends, and then they leave. There's something about living overseas that makes friendships stronger and faster, like kids at camp thrown together into the same challenging adventure. These friendships are one of the things I love about living abroad, where no one has that New York City excuse of, "oh I'm so busy," or "gotta get to yoga," or "have to catch the train." Life for an expat is simpler, and just stopping by another friend's house to drop of some cookies or just say hello is common.
But expat life is one of comings and goings, full of new faces and goodbyes. Recently, we have been sort of in between, our closest friends having departed Algiers for their respective homes, and so there are new faces to sit and talk with over dinner. It is beautifully spring-like here, a string of glorious sunny and pleasant days lined up like beads on a prayer chain.
This tagine with cardoons and favas is classic spring time fare around these parts. Cardoons are sort of like a cross between artichokes and celery, in that you eat the stalks (like celery) but they taste like artichokes. Also like artichokes, they are a thistles, and contains a spiny outer layer you have to peel off. If you can't get cardoons then substitute artichoke bottoms, the tagine can be made either way. (If you want to be super fancy and really impress your guests you can use cardoons, artichokes, and favas. All the prep work involved in those vegetables is a sign of respect to guests.)
Here's a good time to add in my culinary PSA: you do not necessarily have to peel your fava beans!! For young fava beans, the skins are generally left on when cooking and they are nutritious and flavorful. It's only really big older fava beans that you have to peel. Across North Africa, the Levant, and southern Italy you often come across unpeeled favas in stews. So save yourself some work! (If you're looking at your fava beans wondering whether you should peel them or not, here's a good hint: if there's a black line along the casing you should peel them, no black line and then the peel is tender enough to eat.)
This tagine is made with lamb neck -- a very flavorful and easy to cook cut of lamb that is similar to lamb shanks. It is common here and in some parts of France, but I'm guessing hard to get in other places. Fell free to substitute shanks, or you can also use beef stew meat. Cheers to spring everyone!
Cardoon and Fava Tagine
If you can't get lamb neck (and it really is worth trying to find), you want some sort of bone-in stew meat, preferably one that's cut into pieces. If you substitute lamb shanks keep in mind they will need a much longer time to cook.
2 large spring onions (like this) or white onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
750 grams lamb neck or beef or lamb stew meat
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 pinch cumin
1 1/2 cups fava beans (shucked, and peeled if large)
1 bunch cardoons or 1 kilo of prepared artichoke bottoms
1 small bunch cilantro, leaves chopped
salt, pepper, olive oil
1. Prep the cardoons according to this tutorial. You should have about 2 cups of cardoon pieces.
2. Trim the fat and skin from the lamb neck (or shanks). The neck usually has two small tendons running through it, cut those out. Mix the spices and 1 teaspoon salt and a few cracks of black pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle the salt mixture over the meat and pat into the meat to coat.
3. Heat some olive oil in a tagine or stew pot. When the olive oil is hot, add the lamb and sear a few minutes on each side, until browned on the outside. Remove the lamb to a plate.
4. Add in the onions and sprinkle them with salt. Let the onions cook for about 10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add in the garlic and nestle the lamb back in with the onions. Add water just until it comes up the sides of the lamb. Cover the tagine and let cook for 50 minutes undisturbed. (If using a tagine don't forget to add water to the top part of your tagine to increase circulation.)
5. After an hour, add in the fava beans and cardoons (or artichokes). If the water looks low you can add more water, but you shouldn't need to. Season with a bit more salt and add a squeeze of the lemon juice and half of the chopped cilantro. Cover and cook for another 20 minutes.
6. After 20 minutes check to make sure the cardoons are tender. Taste the tagine for seasoning. Squeeze some more lemon over and top with the remaining cilantro. Serve immediately.