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Moroccan-Style Brisket with Green Olives and Preserved Lemons


When I was an undergraduate, I had friends who could subsist on Cheerios and skim milk for the whole semester. I could never do that. First of all, I didn’t want to contract scurvy, beriberi or any other kind of disease caused by a vitamin deficiency. Secondly, the combo of cold cereal and low-fat milk remains heartbreakingly depressing and just plain unsatisfying to this day. Even after eating a big bowl of it, I still feel hungry.

Of course, those friends grew up and graduated to slightly more mature versions of “quick” meals like spaghetti and jarred sauce, or something with boneless, skinless chicken breast.

I don’t consider those to be very appealing either.

I like a meals. Real meals with real foods and real fats.

Having never been much of a snacker, I look forward to my two big square meals a day. I say two only because I still struggle to fit breakfast into my daily routine.

Believe me, if I were to have breakfast, it would be a square meal too!

What is a real meal to me? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a hot meal, but it has to be satisfying in a way beyond filling my empty stomach. I’m not looking for just the sensation of fullness. I want to feel fulfilled.

Lately, work has been overwhelming. My dissertation deadline is pretty much set for early August, which leaves me little time for much else but my good friends, weekly dim sum with my grandfather, and my parents.

But I will always make time for good food, cooking and even some blogging. Food is my passion. Cooking is how I decompress. Blogging keeps me social. Without it, I fear that I will start slinking around corners, stroking my pages and covetously purring, “MY PRECIOUS!”

Any LOTR fans out there 😉

In this period, I see nothing wrong with making something big and elaborate just for me. I can eat it for a week and feel nourished in both body and soul. This Moroccan-style brisket fit the bill this week. Preserved lemons give the brisket’s crowning sauce a distinctly delicious North African flavor. Preserved lemons can be a strong, but their strength mellows over time. This is why I would recommend that you make the sauce a day before serving the brisket. That way, the ingredients have time to meld together and their flavors can become rounder. Preserved lemons can now be found in many supermarkets and specialty stores. You can also order them online, but they are also ridiculously easy and inexpensive to make. Just remember to budget between 1-3 weeks of preservation time before they are usable. There are many recipes available online. This one and this one are good places to start.

Also, like any braised or stewed meat, brisket gets better over time. If you can resist the temptation of eating it straight out of the oven, let it cool and sit overnight in the fridge. It is also much easier to remove any fat from the surface of the sauce the next day.

This recipe is freely adapted from Joan Nathan‘s Foods of Israel Today. Her original recipe can be found more or less in its entirety here. It includes another recipe for preserved lemons.

Ingredients:

For the brisket:

1 3-3 1/2 pound beef brisket

3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced into slivers

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

2 small onions, finely diced

1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup of red vermouth

1 14.5-ounce can of crushed tomatoes

2 tablespoons of honey

1/2 cup of water

For the green olive-preserved lemon sauce:

2 small onions, finely diced

Olive oil

1 14.5-ounce can of crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup of water

6 ounces of pitted green olives

2 tablespoons of parsley, finely chopped

2 tablespoons of cilantro, finely chopped

2-3 preserved lemons, rinsed, flesh discarded, and peels finely chopped

Salt and pepper

How to prepare:

1. Blot the brisket dry with paper towels. If needed, trim the brisket of any excessive fat. Using the sharp point of a small paring knife, make shallow cuts all around the brisket and push slivers of garlic into the slits. Let the brisket sit uncovered on a wire rack for about 30 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 350°.

3. Season the brisket on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat about two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat in a very large skillet. When the oil begins to shimmer, sear the brisket well on both sides. Remove the brisket to a large casserole or baking dish. Reduce the heat to medium and add the two finely diced onions to the skillet. While sautéing the onions, be sure to scrape up any tasty brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. When the onions begin to turn translucent, stir in the turmeric, the cinnamon, the ginger and the bay leaves. Cook the spices until they are fragrant (be careful to not let them burn). Deglaze the pan with red vermouth. Wait until most of the alcohol has cooked off before adding the tomatoes, the honey and half a cup of water. Let everything simmer together until it has thickened into a sauce. Adjust the seasoning and pour it over the brisket.

4. Cut a piece of parchment paper to just fit your casserole or baking dish. Completely cover the brisket with it and make a tight seal by pressing the paper down onto the meat and onions. Roast the brisket for about 3 hours, or until the meat is tender.

5. When your brisket is tender, remove it from the oven and let it cool completely in its sauce. If you can delay gratification, let it sit in the fridge overnight. This will make it much easier to remove any fat from its surface the next day. If that isn’t a possibility, try to skim as much fat as you can before moving forward.

6. While the brisket is cooling, make the green olive-preserved lemon sauce. In a large saucepan, heat about two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer. Sauté the onions until they begin to turn translucent. Add the tomatoes and half a cup of water. Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce until it has thickened. Add the olives, the chopped herbs and the preserved lemons to the sauce. Let everything simmer together until the flavors begin to come together, about 5-6 minutes. Adjust the seasoning.

7. When the brisket has cooled completely, slice it thinly on a diagonal against the grain. Return the sliced meat to its casserole or baking dish and recover it with its sauce. Before serving, heat your oven to 350°. Cover the casserole or baking dish with aluminum foil and bake the sliced brisket for about 30 minutes, or until warmed through.

Serve the brisket on couscous and topped with the green olive-preserved lemon sauce.

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16 Comments

  1. Oh this looks sooooo super yum right now! I want to eat my iPad. I love main entree dishes that have cinnamon. Cinnamon makes everything warm, fuzzy, inviting, and comforting. I’ve always wondered about preserved lemons. They sound so exotic and tasty…..almost alluring. I’m a “two meal a day” person too. Overall, I find cereal to be disgusting. It’s glorified and overpriced sugar mixed with a ton of scary chemicals bound together with a few strands of wheat by product in a plastic bag and sold in a flimsy cardboard box. Eeeew. Double eew. I’m glad that you go out of your way to cook good meals for yourself occassionaly. 🙂 You’re worth it! I’m going to check out that Israeli cookbook. Lately I’ve wanted to expand my culinary horizons and that book sounds like its up my alley. Great post! 🙂

    • I love cinnamon too! There is a gratin from Deborah Madison that is cauliflower, tomatoes, oregano, honey, red onions, cinnamon and feta. Very yummy! Preserved lemons are pretty awesome. They keep forever so you can always have a jar in the fridge ready to go.

      Cereal is overpriced! It’s not even close to being cheaper than eating real food! Maybe people like the convenience of it, but it just tastes terrible and is so sad to eat.

      Joan Nathan’s books are all pretty great. She is the authority on Jewish cooking. A lot of her books look at Jewish meals from all over North Africa, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. If you love history, they are fascinating and the recipes are delicious.

      And thanks so much for the support! I always feel very warm and lucky to have met you!

  2. The brisket looks great! Preserved lemons. I’d never have thought of that combination, but yum. And, yeah, even in college (let’s not discuss how many years ago), once I got a kitchen, I cooked most every night. I lived with people who ate the same thing every day (brown rice, anyone?), but I at least had 4 or 5 things I’d rotate through. Keep cooking, even when you’re writing. We wouldn’t want you to turn into Gollum.

    • I never thought of brisket and preserved lemons either until I started thumbing through the book. Really a great combination though!

      I never had a kitchen in college, but I did have this awful thing called a micro-fridge. It was a mini refrigerator with a mini microwave bolted on top. My fridge was always full of beer, water, and leftover pizza. And I never really did anything with the microwave other than boil water for tea or coffee.

      I saw this interview with Martha Stewart after she got out of prison. She told the interviewer that she would pick crab apples from the prison grounds, cut them up and mix them with sugar from stolen sugar packets, top them with crushed saltines and stick them in the microwave to make a ghetto crumble.

      I had new respect for her after that.

  3. I only just learned about preserved lemons and I’m in love. I adore green olives so this dish looks good. I’m not a beef person but might make an exception.

    • Preserved lemons are awesome! So are green olives. I had to be careful because I kept eating the green olives while I was waiting for the sauce to thicken up. Dangerous!

  4. Ah ha! Now I see where the preserved lemons come from 🙂 Great post Daisy and photo! I totally agree with you about meals. No snacker myself, I’d rather do without than be reduced to cold cereal and low fat (bleah) milk. Double bleah.

    • Thanks, Rosemary! I too would rather go without than eat cold cereal and low-fat milk. Low-fat milk is terrible. Seriously, what’s the point? Might as well use water!

  5. I’m salivating now. Auntie used to do a roast chicken stuffed with Chinese preserved lemons. Pretty awesome. Thanks.

  6. I made two jars of preserved lemons about a month back so they are now ready to go. I use them all the time, they are so delicious. You’ve inspired me again.

  7. Just looking at all the ingredients, I’m already so convinced that this is such a very yummy dish. About those people who could live on Cheerios and skim milk, I had ex-colleagues who could not cook and just thrived on instant noodles. Yikes!

    • I knew someone like that in college. He lived off instant noodles for the whole semester and actually did contract scurvy! He said the whole medical school came to examine him because a professor said that they would probably never see another case of scurvy in their lives.

      This guy? He went to Harvard. No joke!

  8. Oooohhhhh…..this sounds so good!! I’ve eaten preserved lemons before, but never made them myself (though it may need to happen, and soon!).

    I know what you mean about the cereal and skim milk. Dang–I would starve! Physically and spiritually! I’ve tried to live off packaged, processed food products before, like during my poor college days when my diet mostly consisted of 13-cent packages of ramen noodles and Easy Mac. But even in those $5.15/hour days, no matter how pitifully broke I was, my payday splurge would be baguettes+tomatoes+basil+mozzarella, or fresh veggies for a stir-fry, or a cheap cut of roast and potatoes and carrots.

    • It was really good! And I am so proud of myself for consuming a whole brisket! Okay, not all at once, but I did eat it all!

      Yeah, I could never figure those people out in college. It just seemed dangerously close to an eating disorder. I had my fair share of convenience food too in college (Domino’s Pizza was on my university meal plan — so healthy! Not!), but that all changed when I got a kitchen.

      Good for you for those payday splurges. They feed the body and the soul!

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