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I Dream of Tajine: Peppered Pork & Apples Stew
Categories: Dairy-free, Fruit, Herbs, Pork, Spices

Out of the fire. Into the frying pan.

When I started this week’s soup, I had no idea I was headed to the Middle East.  It started with some cuts of pork and a few Honeycrisp apples.  Nothing more American than that, right?  Then I stumbled into the cooking process and the soup went all Moroccan on me.

Now, before some of you hot heads call up the feds and get the Soup Blog put on some terrorist watchlist, let me say that this dish actually had its origins in a ground lamb dish we used to have when I was a kid.  It was called kibbeh (KIH-bee) and my mother used to serve it with cinnamon rice and string beans.  Definitely a family favorite.  Granted, kibbeh has its origins in Syria (or is it Lebanon?), but let’s keep that to ourselves so mom can still get on a plane and visit her Midwestern grandchildren.

Seriously, it’s just food.  There are no political underpinnings to it.  It goes into a big pot with a lot of interesting ingredients and the next thing you know, if you’re lucky, the flavors have married themselves into something fabulous.

In the Middle East, as I learned in cooking school, this marriage begins in a big pot they call a tajine (ta-ZHEEN), which, incidentally, is the same name given to the stews that come out of the pot.  These stews are flavored with aromatic herbs and spices, fruits, vegetables and meats that become so tender they dissolve in your mouth.  Whether or not they would use pork in a tajine is open to debate.  Typically, the meat is lamb or beef.

But as I said earlier, the Middle East was not in my travel plans.  I just wound up there.

It started with sautéed onions and a couple of pounds of mildly seasoned pork, nothing more than sage, salt and pepper really.  I browned the meat off a bit, added the sliced apples, and let the whole thing sweat in a covered pot for 20-30 minutes.  After that the stewing started.  I added a quart of stock and let the whole thing simmer for an hour and a half.  Low, slow cooking is the key.  Yet when I tasted it, there was no punch.

That’s when I brought the spices out.

I started with ground pepper, coriander and brown sugar, which is something like a peppery spice rub I sometimes use on meats. That was better, but the crowning touch came just before service.

Cinnamon.

I can’t think where that idea came from besides the rice my mom served at our pre-Al Qaeda dinners.  But that’s the flavor that turned the stew into a tajine for me.

Wherever the idea came from, the stew turned out beautifully.  My family ate it up, and some of them even came back for seconds, which is what the measure of a meal should be. That’s certainly what it was in the past, back when the stew pot was the symbol of American society.

Strangely, you don’t hear much about the melting pot metaphor for American culture anymore.  A lot of us have been placed on the burners over the past few years, yet rather than the nation coming together with the sense that we’re all in this together, it’s every man for himself.

(Sigh.)

Well, if you’d like a nice helping of stew, you know where to find it.

Peppered Pork & Apples Stew
(serves 6-8)
1 T oil
2 small onions, sliced thin
2 lbs pork rib meat, cut into 2 inch cubes
3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced thin (I used Honeycrisps)
1 T sage
2 t pepper
2 t salt, or to taste
½ t coriander, ground
2 T brown sugar
1 t cinnamon
1 quart stock

  1. Heat oil in a pot and sweat the onions over low heat until tender (about 5 minutes).
  2. Add the pork, stirring occasionally until the meat is lightly browned (5-7 more minutes).
  3. Add the apples, cover and sweat an additional 5 minutes.
  4. Add the spices and stock, bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer, covered, for another hour and a half.
  5. Serve the tajine over couscous or rice.  We served it over rice because one of my girls doesn’t like couscous (see last week’s post), and that works too.  Some pita bread would be nice too.

Image Credit:  “Where were you when the sitcom hit the pan?” Clip art and classic TV imagery borrowed from Microsoft and the web.  Mashup by the author.

I’ve eaten Middle Eastern food most of my life.  But, aside from making hummus occasionally, I never make it.  It’s not in my comfort zone.  Tell me what type of cooking takes you out of your comfort zone, then get uncomfortable.  I’ll be reading and responding.

Leave a Comment to “I Dream of Tajine: Peppered Pork & Apples Stew”

  1. KarKenne says:

    I work in Farmington Hills, MI … and Middle Eastern restaurants (fantastic food-give me a chicken schwarma or tawook sandwich any day) and markets (strange and wonderful foods and spices) abound out here (a hefty stone’s throw from Dearborn, MI). I received a Tajine for Christmas from my Armenian boss and my husband and I have been hooked on its beauty and versatility ever since. For Christmas Eve dinner he made in our (Middle Eastern) Tajine a kosher brisket (a recipe from my day-time Jewish boss’s wife). The brisket was unbelievably tender and delicious. We have absolutely no problem mixing all religions and nations in our new melting pot. They got along just fine and provided a delicious evening meal for friends and family.

    • pcandres says:

      It’s great food isn’t it? I lived on the stuff in college where the local hangout, “Burger Continental,” specialized in Middle Eastern cuisine: shawarmas, falafels, souvlaki, etc. Then when I went to Berlin, I moved onto doner kebabs, essentially the turkish version of shawarma (with lamb or beef). Now that I reside in the suburbs of Chicago, I don’t get enough of it. It’s not that the food’s not out here, just that I don’t get out as much. Which is why I have to create my own tajines. Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment. I would love to hear what your friends put into their tajines.
      PS: Have you tried the desserts?

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