Moroccan-spiced Moose Stew

Andreae Prozesky wonders how to spell “Bullwinkle” in Arabic.

There are some wonderful things that happen when your education in cooking coincides with a period of strict vegetarianism. You learn to be inventive, to dream up substitutions for the ingredients you’ve chosen to exclude from your diet. You picture ingredients as somehow more elemental. When you can’t just grab the same old thing off the shelf, you improvise, you experiment, and you learn to work from intuition rather than from convention. Rather than seeing, say, walnuts as just the crunchy bits in banana bread, you see them as brain-shaped protein pieces, suitable for any number of preparations. You get to nerd out over the little puzzle pieces of nutrition, figuring out how to put them together the right way.

The downside of this is that if you someday start eating meat, you may be completely stunned about what to do with it.
Way, way back, I confessed that I had gone until the end of my 20s without ever having eaten a hamburger. I’ve since eaten many, to make up for lost time, but I had to have a friend show me how to make them. The whole thing was completely foreign to me.

Ask me to pick up a roast at the supermarket and I’ll end up staring at plastic-wrapped meat for an hour, wondering what qualities one expects in a roast, and how do I tell a good roast from a bad roast, and what am I supposed to do with this once I get it home. Ask me to make you a lentil loaf, and I’m fine, but throw some meat into the equation and I’m lost.
Which is how I end up making things like Moroccan Moose Stew.

Yes, I know, people don’t eat moose in Morocco. North Africa is not exactly moose country. From the recipes I’ve looked at, Moroccan cooking involves a lot more lamb than ours does. And goat, which has never quite made it big on the North American culinary scene. Why is that? I’ve only had goat once, in a lovely curry, and there was nothing particularly weird about it. It was downright tasty, actually.

Flavour-wise, Moroccan food is layered with richness. Sweet spices, the heat of a fiery chili sauce called harissa, and the tang of dried fruit, mean that there’s a lot for meat to stand up to. While something mild like chicken serves fine as a platform for all these flavours, a more assertive meat would lend a real musky, earthy quality. At least, that’s what I was thinking the first time I was faced with a hunk of moose meat that had been in my freezer long enough. Clueless as to proper moose-cooking procedure, I chopped the meat into bits, gathered some ingredients I thought would compliment the wildness of our familiar, delicious, highway-stalking big game, and got to it.

In truth, it started out more “Renaissance Faire” than anything else, my thinking being that meat would have been more hunted and less farmed back in the day, and therefore gamier, and so the spices and such that went into some real old-fashioned cooking might be appropriate. But where did those guys get their ideas? Oh, their extensive travels throughout the Arab world, that’s where.

Well, not so much “travels” as “holy wars,” but that’s a conversation for another time.

Either way, the path led back to the North African recipes I love so much. So instead of going historical, I went geographical. Authentic it’s not, but delicious it is.

There are two ingredients in this recipe that you may not have on your shelf already: harissa, the all-purpose chili paste used as a condiment in Morocco, Tunisia, and throughout North Africa, and pomegranate molasses, which is a wonderful thing to have on hand for flavouring salad dressings, stews, soups and the like. They’re both well worth tracking down.
As for the moose, well, that’s one of those “I know a guy” kind of situations. If you can find someone with moose in their freezer, you’re a lucky person indeed. Caribou would be lovely, too. Failing that, though, stewing beef would be just fine. And if you’re a vegetarian, lentils and fava beans would make this recipe completely different, but still delicious. Experiment and enjoy.

Moroccan-spiced Moose Stew

Serves 4

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
½ cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 pound moose stew meat
1 onion, quartered and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
¼ teaspoon paprika
2 carrots, 1 parsnip, and ½ small turnip, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 ½ cups water
1 cup red wine (or beef stock)
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
¼ cup currants
2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
½ to 1 teaspoon harissa
yogurt, for serving (optional)

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy pot. Toss meat with seasoned flour and add to pot. Turn to brown meat on all sides (don’t cook it through, just sear it). Remove meat from pot and set aside.

2. Turn heat to medium-low and add remaining olive oil to pot. Add onions and cook, stirring, until they turn translucent (about 5 minutes). Add garlic and stir for one minute. Add cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, and paprika, stirring. Add vegetables and toss to coat. Add ½ cup water and cover 10-15 minutes, until vegetables just begin to soften.

3. Add partially cooked meat and any juices that have come out of it. Stir and add remaining cup of water, and red wine. Stir in pomegranate molasses, currants, and almonds. Add more water if necessary; the meat and vegetables should be almost covered in liquid.

4. Bring stew to a simmer, then reduce heat and cook, covered, until meat is cooked through and vegetables are soft, about 40 minutes. Stir in harissa, tasting to make sure it’s hot enough to suit you (you can always add more at the table). Add salt to taste.

5. Serve over couscous, or, if winter has you carbed right out, on a bed of shredded, sautéed cabbage. Top with a dollop of yogurt, if desired.

Send your questions, comments, and local wild game + random geographic suggestions to dreae@thescope.ca