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Venison & Fresh Apricot Tagine

British Produce: Far from ‘fruitless’

 With the weather in recent days seemingly on the turn, this somewhat premature change of season should only make us savour and cherish the final few offerings the summer season brings to the table.

Although our wardrobe and eating habits are swiftly orientating to warmth and comfort, we have had a convincingly warm and dry British summer, to follow a somewhat wet beginning of the year.  Optimum growing conditions has resulted in a prosperous British yield, that has provided an abundance of sweet and plump homegrown fruits.

With a temperate climate that is relatively mild all year round, yet lacking intense heat to speed up the ripening process, British fruit is typically more hardy.  Delicate and exotic fruits, sweetened rapidly by the sun, can often take a little more nurturing, but this has not stopped British fruits farmers from cultivating oversee varieties on home turf.

Apricots is one of those fruits, as a nation, we are relatively familiar with – especially in their dried form – however, not typically grown in Britain.  Yet in recent years, not only have British apricots been gracing the shelves of supermarket and grocers, this year has seen such an abundant crop, farmers have explored the possibility of even exporting the fruits of their labour;

Although originating from China, apricots have long been cultivated for the persian diet, as strongly reflected in their traditional cuisine.  It wasn’t until the 17th century that apricots were introduced into the western world in countries that experienced cold winters and hot summers – it is only in the last century that apricot cultivation has ventured as far as our shores.

Falling a little later, making use of all the summer sun to ensure the fruit reaches full maturity, the British apricot season is typically from May to September.  Vibrant orange in colour, and blushing with a hint of red when ripened, an apricot’s flesh softens beautifully through the cooking process, and develops in flavour, enhancing both sweet and savoury dishes.

As they are not overly juicy and release very little liquid during cooking, apricots are perfect for baking, especially for adding to pies and tarts, whilst avoiding the ominous ‘soggy bottom’!

Taking inspiration from their culinary origins, but clutching desperately at the last of the summer vibes,  I have a developed a recipe that matches the flavours of persian cooking but looks to a more light and summery tagine-based dish.  Using seasonal venison too, makes this dish extremely healthy – apricots being high in antioxidants, full of vitamin c and fibre, and venison bursting with omega 3 and low in saturated fats.

Check out my venison and fresh apricot tagine below, and support the growth of the British fruit farmers that have been tirelessly and lovingly cultivated on British soil.

Venison & Fresh Apricot Tagine
  1. 500g stewing venison
  2. 1 tbsp Chilli rapeseed oil
  3. 8 small shallots cut in half
  4. 3 Cloves of smoked garlic (or 2 cloves of normal garlic)
  5. Thumb-sized piece of grated fresh ginger
  6. Ras-el-hanout spice blend (or half tsp of each: ground ginger, cardamon, cinnamon, all spice, cayenne, turmeric and nutmeg)
  7. 300ml stock (lamb or vegetable)
  8. 2 tsp Harissa paste
  9. 1 Aubergine
  10. 1/2 butternut squash
  11. Tin of chopped tomatoes
  12. 6 fresh apricots; cut in half and de-stoned
  13. To serve;
  14. Handful of roughly chopped coriander
  15. 1/2 small punnet of pomegranate seeds
Harissa-spiced Bulgar wheat & Quinoa Salad
  1. 1 Packet of ready to eat bulgar wheat and quinoa
  2. Handful of roughly chopped coriander
  3. 2 tsp of Harissa paste
  4. 1 tsp spice blend
  5. 1/2 small punnet of pomegranate seeds
  6. Zest of 1 lemon
  1. In batches, brown the venison in hot oil before setting aside. In the remaining oil, lightly fry the shallots for 3 minutes or so, before adding the garlic and ginger for 2 minutes. Add the spice mix to the hot pan, stirring continuously, allowing the spices to activate (reserve a tsp of spices for the salad). After about a minute or two, pour in a dash of stock just enough to lift all the flavour stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  2. Place the venison back in the pan, along with the Harissa paste. Cook again for 2 minutes before adding the aubergine, squash, tomatoes and remaining stock. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes before transferring to an oven-proof dish (with lid) or tagine pot, and place in a pre-heated oven at around 130C/gas mark 3. Cook for a minimum of 3hrs or until the meat is tender and sauce is thickened – stirring every hour or so.
  3. Whilst the tagine is in the oven, make the bulgar wheat and quinoa salad. Warm the bulgar wheat and quinoa according to packet instructions. Add all the remaining ingredients, stirring thoroughly to combine, before covering and setting aside until ready to serve.
  4. Add the fresh apricots to the pot in the last 30 minutes of cooking. If the sauce remains too thin, simply add a little cornflour to thicken to your desired consistency.
  5. Remove the oven and serve alongside the salad. For added colour and flavour, sprinkle the tagine with a handful of pomegranates and roughly chopped coriander.
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