Tagine d’Agneau

11 06 2009

I’m afraid anything I put up after the runaway success of the Cheesy Poof post (2000 hits in one day!?) is going to feel anticlimactic.  Still, I think it’s high time I get back to the business of blogging about food, as the adventures continue to happen.  I don’t want anyone to feel out of the loop.  Continuing with the North African theme,  there is at least one dish from the former colonies that has ingrained itself into the French culinary lexicon: tagine.

Braised lamb with Maghreb spice

And why not?  At its simplest, tagine is a dish of braised meat, named for the traditional cooking vessel, which is a conical earthenware dish.  The good news is that you can make a tagine in a dutch oven just as easily.  The meat is seasoned with cinnamon, saffron, hot peppers, preserved lemons, olives, dried fruit, or just about any combination thereof.  Recipes for tagines abound, employing all kinds of meat from chicken and rabbit to beef and lamb and sometimes even fish! (Never pork, though.)  As far as I can tell, no two recipes are alike.  It is, however, pretty much always delicious.  The one pictured above was Nick’s creation, a combination of recipes from Robuchon, Clotilde, and a French newspaper.  (Just to illustrate how much a part of daily French cuisine this North African dish has become.)  He used lamb and dried apricots, as well as olives and preserved lemons – which I recommend adding nearer the beginning of the cooking process than the end – and I woke up from my requisite Saturday afternoon nap to an apartment filled with heavenly smells.  We served it over barley couscous procured from the local halal butcher (along with the majority of the other ingredients – yay one-stop shopping!) which is much more complicated to cook than we thought.  Fortunately Robuchon had us covered there, too, and we followed his instructions for steaming the grains three separate times.  That is, the couscous is steamed three times, not that it took us three attempts!

Later, after getting my copy of The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz, which I devoured in a matter of hours (I can’t find white wine vinegar either!  Why doFrench jeans have zippers all over?), I found that he, too, had included a recipe for tagine.  I could go on and on about what a fun book it is, but I’ll just say that if you want to know what it’s really like to live in Paris, read it.  And then go make a big, fragrant pot of tagine.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





New Ganga

4 04 2008

No, it’s not some development from our hydroponic-savvy friends in the Netherlands, it’s an Indian restaurant.

Nick and I took some time last night to explore our new neighborhood.  We were hankering for some Chinese food, but apparently went down the wrong street, as there were none to be seen.  We did, however, encounter a number of Japanese places, pizzerias, bistros, and so on.  We passed one Indian restaurant and thought that that sounded pretty good.  After a couple more blocks without finding any Chinese, we happened upon New Ganga and decided to go for it.

I’ll admit I was a little worried when we walked in and the dining room was completely empty, but my fears were soon allayed.  The host/waiter (who spoke more English than French, I think) brought us a bright pink apéritif and a round of pappadum.  The crispy, cumin-laced cracker worked well as an amuse-bouche, awakening my appetite and making me hunger for what was in store.

Apéritif and Pappadum

We ordered the “Indian Beer” listed on the menu, and opted to start with naan and samosas.  The beer arrived first, with a multilingual (Italian, French, and German) label which said that either this was India’s best selling beer, or it was the best selling Indian beer in the world, or that it was the best beer in India, depending on the language.

Indian Beer

The beer itself was light and fairly unremarkable, but served us well when the naan came out, accompanied by three sauces/chutneys.

Naan

The sauce on the right was a mild, slightly sour tamarind sauce.  Fairly standard, but good for cooling the flames of the sauce on the left – a confit of chili peppers, as far as I can tell, and probably the single hottest thing I’ve eaten since arriving in Paris over two months ago.  And I mean that in a good way.  The green sauce in the middle was the most interesting of the bunch.  It was a coriander-mint chutney, but with a spicy kick.  Very surprising when the cool mint gave way to a touch of green chili heat on the finish.  All three were so good I wanted to buy jars and bring them home.  Then just when our palates were really getting warmed up, the samosas arrived.

Samosas

They were hot from the fryer, with a nice thin layer of dough encasing a filling of mixed vegetables (looked like mostly cauliflower to me).  Delicious on their own or drizzled with one or more of the sauces.  When we were done with our appetizers, the plates were whisked away and before we could protest, the trio of sauces was gone.  Next time I’m going to hang onto them, although it turned out that they weren’t really necessary for our main courses.

Lamb with eggplant, Spinach with paneer, and Saffron rice

In my experience, most Indian cuisine isn’t particularly photogenic, being generally stew-like in consistency.  But usually after the first bite I cease to care what it looks like, as long as it tastes good.  And I was not disappointed.  The rice was fluffy with a subtle saffron flavor, which made a great backdrop for the other two dishes.  The saag paneer (they called it something different on their menu, but that’s what I’ve always called the spinach and homemade cheese dish) was quite tasty, but the cheese was disconcertingly smooth.  Nick mentioned Laughing Cow, and while I don’t think that’s what it was, the paneer certainly didn’t have the same texture I’m accustomed to.  France can be a difficult place to find non-French cheeses, so I’m willing to let it slide if they just put in dollops of fromage blanc or something along those lines.  On a side note, they also offered cheese naan, of which I highly doubt the authenticity.  Moving on, the orange dish in the lower right of the photo was lamb with eggplant.  In a word, it was scrumptious.  We cleaned all three plates, wiping up the last bits with reserved pieces of naan.  We will definitely be returning.





Easter Dinner

27 03 2008

You would think that after such a rich brunch, we would want something light for dinner.  And you would be wrong.  Like I said, the lack of Wii significantly increased the amount of time spent cooking this Easter.  So we planned a fabulous dinner for ourselves.  I asked Nick to try to recreate the celeriac-Roquefort soup he made for Thanksgiving, since both ingredients are cheap and plentiful here.  I found a recipe for a roasted beet and carrot salad on the Cook’s Illustrated website that I wanted to try, given that, as Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini pointed out, beets are on their way out of season.  I have never been a big fan of beets, but I continue to try them in different forms, hoping to find one that I enjoy.  Nick put it quite well when he said, “I keep thinking that I’m going to grow up and like beets all of a sudden.”  For the main dish, lamb seemed to be an obvious choice.  But how to cook it?  Given the recent influx of spring vegetables at the market, I decided on a navarin, a traditional French lamb stew with spring vegetables.  I perused a few recipes, but in the end, just made it up as I went along.

Unfortunately, because the camera was on the fritz for most of the day, few pictures were taken.  However, I did manage to get one good shot of each dish.  So without further ado, I present to you the soup.

Celeriac-Roquefort Soup

As you can see, it’s a puréed soup.  What you can’t see is how magically the piquancy of the Roquefort complements the mellow, vegetal, nuttiness of the celeriac.  Hazelnuts were a natural choice for garnish, both enhancing the flavor of the soup and providing a nice crunch for contrast.  The watercress I threw on there because it looked pretty and I had some out anyway, for the salad.  But the fresh, peppery bite of the greens added another dimension to the soup, highlighting the contribution of the Roquefort.  Speaking of the salad…

Salad of Roasted Beets and Carrots with Watercress

It was a beautiful sight to behold.  The deep reddish-purple of the beets next to the nearly burnt orange (for all you Texas fans out there) of the carrots and the vibrant green of the watercress made for a truly stunning tableau.  And really easy to make.  I simply cut the vegetables into batons, tossed them in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and stuck them in the oven for half an hour or so.  They could have gone even longer, but we were getting hungry.  While they roasted, I made a fairly strong vinaigrette with cider vinegar, shallots, honey, salt, pepper, and olive oil.  When the beets and carrots were cooked through, I dumped them into a large bowl, tossed them with the vinaigrette, and added the watercress.  Easy-peasy.

On to the pièce de résistance: spring lamb stew (or, as they call it here, navarin d’agneau).

Read the rest of this entry »








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