It Began with a Stew

by Joe David / Mar 22, 2010 / 1 comments

My mother had many noble qualities, but cooking wasn’t one of them. She was the only person I have ever known who, when in the “mood,” could turn a perfectly fine roast into something even our cocker spaniel would reject. I often believed she did this deliberately to make a point to dad during one of their passive-aggressive disputes about some family issue.

If this was how she made her point, it proved to be very effective. My father, you see, was an old world gentleman who appreciated fine food and drink, and ruining his dinner was an excellent way of getting his attention. But he was too wise to allow her culinary misconduct to become an issue; instead, he used it as an excuse to introduce me to the flip side of the universe, where impoverished palates like mine could experience wondrous creations.

Sometimes he did this by nimbly rescuing her roasts from cremation and turning them into a delicious stew. Other times, when mother’s meals were unsalvageable, he would dress me smartly, leave mom behind, and take me downtown to one of his favorite restaurants. There, he would spoil me by introducing me to such heavenly delights as escalope de veau, canard à l’orange, crème brûlée and other such gastronomic perfections. This angelic act of mercy, bestowed upon me at some of Chicago’s smartest restaurants, made it possible for me to survive puberty without major trauma. But more importantly, it introduced me to the culinary possibilities of life.

Thanks to him, and my worldly sister (a long-time Pan American stewardess) who would return from trips with extraordinary treats (chocolates from Brussels, bass from Chile, caviar from Iran, and much more), I learned at an early age to appreciate good cuisine. While many of my colleagues were following a sensible career path to glory and riches, I was traveling the world discovering new foods to eat. Although I don’t consider myself a noteworthy cook (nor do I ever care to become one), when I do prepare a meal for friends, it usually demonstrates my affinity for good stews (a left-over from my scarred childhood). My favorite three are lamb tagine, boeuf bourguignon, and Persian apricot lamb over rice. Of the three, my very favorite is the lamb tagine, my version of what I once had in Marrakech some years ago.

When I first tried this stew, I was so impressed with it that I knew I had to learn to prepare it. For three months, after returning home from Morocco, I was in the kitchen reconstructing the recipe to my taste.  My recipe, which has been published several times, is called “Tagine à la David.”

Despite my lack of technical finesse in the kitchen, this recipe was created by me with little guidance and assistance. Over the years, it has brought considerable pleasure to me and my friends. The wonderful thing about preparing stews is that they age deliciously and can be made in advance for parties. When accompanied by other foods purchased ready-to-serve from high-end delis, markets, and bakeries, they create what has become known to my circle of friends as Joe’s easy-to-prepare home-cooked dinner.

If you want to slip away to exotic Northern Africa, here’s my recipe for tagine. I hope it pleases you as much as it pleases me.

Tagine á la David


1½ lbs beef diced

1½ lbs lamb diced (or in lieu of the beef, 3 lbs of lamb)

5 garlic cloves, diced finely

1 medium-sized onion, diced

Salt and pepper to taste or ½ teaspoon of each

2 -3 tablespoons of butter


1 cup fresh cilantro

1 cup fresh parsley

½ cup fresh mint

½ cup fresh marjoram


2 cups of broth (chicken, if you have no meat bones)

14½ oz can of stewed tomatoes

½ teaspoon cumin

¼ teaspoon cayenne and paprika

½ teaspoon cinnamon and allspice


1.. Trim the meat of all fat and discard. Cut meat into small bite-size
pieces and add finely chopped garlic cloves, diced onion, then season with
salt and pepper. Marinate meat in refrigerator for an hour. Save meat bones.

2.. Melt butter in a frying pan and brown meat. After meat has been
browned, chop the spices and add to the meat. Suggestion: You may save half of the above-mentioned spices and add them to the tagine during the last 15 minutes of the cooking to give a fresh spice taste to the stew.

3.. Place meat bones in a large pot with about 3 cups of water. Cook for
about a half-hour over a medium heat. Save the water, discard the bones.
Place the broth into the refrigerator and cool. Remove any fat that forms
over the broth and discard.

4.. Mix the broth with the stewed tomatoes and heat, mixing. Add meat and
spices, and cook slowly for about 45 minutes. Serve over couscous or rice
with your favorite vegetable, wine and French bread. Serves 6.

Joe David is the author of five books, numerous magazine and newspaper
articles, including many on food for such publications as Hemispheres,
Christian Science Monitor, U.S. Airways, Family
, and more. He is the Gourmet Getaways Editor for Wandering Educators.

For information about his latest book, Gourmet Getaways, 50 Top Spots to Cook and Learn,  visit

Comments (1)

  • Wink Lorch

    14 years 1 month ago

    Thanks, Joe, loved this piece. First, there was a resonance with my early experiences with wine (though I don't want to offend my late mother ... or indeed my late father). However, parental influences were certainly there, and so was my big sister's influence - not an air hostess, but when I was still quite young she ran a conference centre, so I got to taste some great wines she had to test out!

    And, as far stews/casseroles go, for many uninspired or simply unaccomplished cooks (who nevertheless love food), they do seem the dishes that balance out being the easiest to cook with the tastiest result. Having visited Marrakech a few months ago for the first time, Tagine à la David seems a good way to go! 

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