Moroccan Beef and Prune Tagine

We took a family trip to Morocco and my son lugged this large unglazed clay tagine home in his backpack.  I had to give him credit for persuading us to buy it and then volunteering to hand carry it when I told him that there was no space in our luggage for such a thing. Now we can recreate a bit of Marrakesh in our kitchen whenever the desire strikes.

Our favorite Moroccan tagine was made with lamb and prunes, but we ended up making this recipe with beef, since it was far more economical. We used rib meat that was nicely marbled with fat and it was delicious!  You could make this in a large heavy pan like a dutch oven, if you don't have a tagine.  Click on the link to the original recipe, which has alternate directions for conventional pots.

Beef and Prune Tagine
Adapted from
Serves 5-6

2 lb. beef cut into 3" pieces
2 onions, one sliced, the other finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp saffron threads, crumbled
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 sticks cinnamon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup butter
handful of cilantro sprigs
1/2 lb prunes
1 Tblsp honey
2 Tblsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tblsp toasted sesame seeds
handful of fried blanched almonds

Rub the bottom of the tagine with olive oil and cover with onion slices. In a large bowl, season the meat with the finely chopped onion, garlic, salt, pepper, saffron, tumeric, cinnamon, oil, butter and cilantro. Spread the meat over the onion slices in the tagine. Measure 2 1/2 cups water and add about 1 1/2 cups to the tagine.

Place the tagine over medium-low heat and allow the liquids to reach a simmer, then reduce the heat to the lowest temperature necessary to maintain the simmer.  Allow the tagine to cook for 3 hours or longer, adding the remaining water from time to time, until the meat is fork-tender and the liquids have reduced.  About 2 hours into the cooking, remove and reserve 1/2 a cup of the liquids.

While the meat is cooking, put the prunes in a small pot and cover with water.  Simmer over medium heat, partially covered, until the prunes are very tender, about 15-20 minutes.  Drain the prunes and add the reserved 1/2 cup of liquids from the meat.  Stir in the honey, sugar and cinnamon and simmer another 10 minutes until the sauce thickens.

When the meat is cooked remove the cilantro stems and spoon the prunes and syrup on top.  Garnish with the fried almonds and sesame seeds.  This makes a great meal served over hot couscous or rice, but the Moroccans prefer to eat it with bits of bread (like thick soft pitas).