By Pat Crocker

Sweet-sour tagine dishes are a direct descendant of ancient Persian cuisine, and the quince adds the tart spike in this recipe. The method used is slightly different in this recipe as well, reflecting the traditional method of nomadic Berbers. Coriander is used in this dish in both the Bahrat spice blend and the fresh cilantro leaves.

Tip: If you are replacing the quince with pear or apple, reduce the amount of honey in the recipe and pass honey at the table for those who wish to add it.

Editor’s note: If you don’t have a tagine pan, a Dutch oven can be substituted, but take note that this recipe was created using a tagine and the method and timing are geared towards the use of one.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 ½ lbs cubed stewing beef
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp Bahrat Spice Blend (recipe at right) or store-bought garam masala
1 tbsp grated fresh gingerroot
1⁄4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
1 cup beef broth
1⁄4 cup red wine
1 tbsp butter or toasted sesame oil
4 quinces or pears or apples, cut into quarters and seeds removed
1 cup chopped prunes
2 tbsp liquid honey
Bahrat Spice Blend
2 tbsp coriander seeds
4 tsp cumin seeds
1 piece (1 inch) cinnamon stick, crushed
5 whole cloves
½ tsp cardamom seeds
2 tbsp paprika
1 tsp ground sumac, optional (see Caution, below)
½ tsp ground nutmeg

In the bottom of a medium or large flameproof tagine, combine stewing beef, onion, spice blend, ginger, 2 tablespoons of the cilantro, broth and wine. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cover with tagine lid, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes.

Stir in butter until incorporated. Add quinces, prunes and honey.

Replace lid and cook for 20 to 30 minutes. Beef should cut easily with a fork and, if not quite tender, replace cover and cook until beef is tender. Garnish with remaining cilantro.

Caution: Purchase sumac from specialist grocery stores selling Middle Eastern ingredients. Some members of the sumac family (found mostly in North America) have poisonous berries.

In the bottom of a small tagine, spice wok or skillet, combine coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. Toast over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly coloured and fragrant. Remove from direct heat just as the seeds pop; do not let the spices smoke and burn. Let cool.

In a mortar (using pestle) or small electric grinder, pound or grind toasted spices until coarse or finely ground. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in paprika, sumac, if using, and nutmeg. Store in an airtight (preferably dark) glass jar with lid in a cool place for up to 3 months.

From 150 Best Tagine Recipes, by Pat Crocker. © 2011 Robert Rose Inc. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher.