Sunday, April 04, 2010

Budget Cuts: Moroccan…Ish?

I love dinner parties. Going to them, having them. But not those large affairs you see in the movies where the hostess devises a clever seating plan and places Mr. X near Ms. Y to watch the sparks fly.

My ideal dinner party numbers four to six total, not just because of the size of our dining table (which has accommodated 12 in a pinch) but because the point, for me, is good conversation. And since our friends have no trouble coming up with interesting things to say (even if it's at the top of their lungs), that part is easy. The trickier part is figuring out what to feed them.

It seems everyone these days has dietary restrictions, allergies or sensitivities. Add to that individual likes and dislikes, multiply by the number of guests and you've got a problem of algorithmic proportions.

And not to get all "every cloud has a silver lining" on you, but when a recent invitee expressed a reluctance about lamb, my plans for a Moroccan tagine featuring that meat had to be modified on the fly. It led me to investigate substituting pork for the lamb shoulder called for in the recipe, and since one of my new favorite budget cuts, pork leg roast, was on sale that week, I snapped it up.

The pork turned out to be a genius choice, with its inclination to fall apart but not dissolve with slow braising. Its hefty texture and mild flavor would meld with, rather than overwhelm, the fruit and rich spices of the dish. And nothing makes arriving guests start drooling quicker than the aroma of those spices simmering away for a few hours. Throw in a couple of bottles of red wine to grease the wheels, and the job of hosting is a no-brainer.

Pork Tagine with Pistachios, Almonds, Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins
Adapted from Rice Pasta Couscousby Jeff Koehler

3-4 lbs. pork leg or pork shoulder
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lg. onion, chopped
1 3" piece cinnamon stick
20 saffron threads
4 whole cloves
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1 1/2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 lg. carrot, diced
1 lg. turnip, diced
6 c. water
1/4 c. golden raisins
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1/4 c. slivered almonds
1/4 c. pine nuts
1/4 c. shelled pistachios

Preheat oven to 300°.

Season pork with salt and pepper, cut in large chunks. Heat oil in large oven-proof pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and lamb and cook, stirring frequently, until the pork is browned and the onion is soft, about 10 minutes. Add the cinnamon, cloves, ginger, turmeric and tomato paste and mix in with the lamb. Add the carrots and turnips and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat, cover and place in oven. Cook 3-4 hours. Break up pork into smaller chunks before serving.

While pork cooks, soak the raisins in lukewarm water for 15 minutes, drain. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter or margarine. Add the almonds, pine nuts, pistachios and raisins and cook, stirring frequently, until the nuts are browned and the raisins plump, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool.

To serve, mound couscous (recipe below) on a large platter. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pork and vegetables and place on top of the couscous. Scatter nut and raisin mixture over top. Tent platter with foil to keep it warm. Strain the broth remaining (optional) and adjust seasoning, adding harissa a bit at a time (if desired). Serve remaining broth in a pitcher with a dish of harissa on the side.

Baked Couscous
Adapted from Rice Pasta Couscousby Jeff Koehler

1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. warm water
1 lb. couscous (about 2 1/2 c.)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter or margarine

Preheat oven to 350°. Dissolve the salt in the water. Pour the couscous into a 9" by 12" baking dish and dribble the warm salty water over it. Mix with a fork. let sit without disturbing for 10 minutes. Drizzle in the oil. Toss with both hands, lifting the grains and letting them fall through your fingers. Work out any clumps by rubbing your palms together, letting the grains drop into the dish. Transfer the couscous to an ovenproof baking dish and bake, turning the grains over from time to time, until steamy warm, 10 to 15 minutes. Work in the butter. Fluff with a fork before piling the couscous onto a platter.

Look for other recipes in the Budget Cuts series: Stuffed Pork Leg Roast with Kale and Pine Nuts;  Chile-Marinated Pork Shoulder; Grilled London Broil; Pork Leg Roast with Lemon and Prosciutto Stuffing and Roasted Vegetables.


B said...

I make couscous for easter, your looks more doable will try it soon

Kathleen Bauer said...

This is totally easy and gives instant couscous a much richer, nuttier flavor than just pouring in hot water and fluffing. Let me know how it works for you!

Zawacki said...

I'll bet that was one heck of a dinner party, everything looks and sounds so tasty! The way you wrote about it makes me think it's something I can even handle lol. When I get back from the road I am going to try making it at home.

Kathleen Bauer said...

It really is that easy, Paul. Let me know how it turns out if you do try it!