Dunes, Fossil Deserts, and Tajines
By Tim Hazell
Morocco’s landscape is rugged, with slopes that gradually descend into plateaus and valleys. The Atlas Mountains dominate the central part of the country, while its southeastern region is blanketed by the Sahara Desert, North Africa’s sea of sand, extending over an area of more than 3,600,000 square miles.
Weather patterns and geographical locations determine the characteristics of deserts as trade wind, rain shadow, coastal (such as Peru’s Atacama), or polar. The Arctic tundra represents a vast area of desertification in Canada’s far north. Fossil sediments from ancient beds of sand as much as 500 million years old are found throughout the world, including in rainforests.
Moisture symbolizes life itself, particularly when deep wells must be dug to reach the water table. Water shortages influence the cuisines of many arid regions. Moroccan tajine dishes are slow-cooked savory stews, typically made with sliced meat, poultry, or fish, together with vegetables, spices, nuts, and dried fruits. Traditionally cooked in a tajine pot with a domed or cone-shaped lid, this unctuous combination of meat and fruit serves 4 to 6.
Moroccan Tajine with Prunes
2 lb. tender beef or lamb, cut into serving pieces, or chicken legs
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. saffron
1 tsp. turmeric
2 four-inch pieces cinnamon stick
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup chopped coriander
1/2 lb. prunes
1 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. sugar
1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
1/2 cup toasted almonds
Heat the oil and butter in a casserole over medium heat and gently brown the meat of choice. Remove from the pot, add onions and garlic and half the coriander and allow to deglaze. Cook gently until golden, and then add salt, black pepper, ground ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon sticks. Return the meat and stir to coat with the ingredients. Add enough water to cover and the rest of the coriander. Bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately reduce to simmer. Cover and simmer for two to two-and-half hours (less for chicken), adding a small amount of water during cooking, if necessary, until meat is very tender. Halfway through the process, remove and reserve 1/2 cup of the liquid. During the final cooking stage uncover and reduce until fairly thick.
While meat is cooking, put the prunes in a small saucepan and cover with water. Simmer over medium heat, partially covered, until the prunes are quite tender, 15 to 30 minutes. Drain and add 1/2 cup of liquid reserved from the meat. Stir in the honey, sugar, and cinnamon, and simmer the prunes another 10 minutes until they are sitting in a thick syrup. Set aside.
Transfer the meat and sauce to a large serving dish and spoon the prunes and syrup on top. Sprinkle with extra coriander, toasted almonds, and sesame seeds.