Tomorrow There will be Apricots - in Lamb Tagine

Our current selection for  Cook the Books Club is, of course, Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots, by Jessica Soffer. Plenty of angst here.  Daughter, Lorca, longing for the love and affection of her cold mother (so remote we never even know her name) for her father, left behind, and not caring enough to fight for his daughter.  Lorca mutilates herself to escape the pain? I guess immediate pain knocks out the more existential sort.  Temporarily at least.  She longs to make her mother happy, and thinks preparing food for her, maybe finding the perfect dish will save her from boarding school. Then we have a grandmother who mourns her husband, gave her child away and now regrets it, a lifetime later.  The grandfather who mourns the loss of his child all those years ago.  The former mistress, Dottie, who mourns him as well.  The only character I really liked or identified with was Lorca's sweet boyfriend, Blot.  Yes, Blot.

I was dissatisfied with the end, as it didn't seem consistent with earlier sections.  If Joseph really believed that their child had been still-born, that certainly didn't come through in his POV sections.  If he told Dottie that later, it was most likely to protect his wife (and himself) from the shame of giving their child away.  That should have been revealed.  Also, at one point (P. 21)  Lorca's mother tells her sister that she had not tried to find her biological parents.  She hadn't wanted to.  Almost at the end, she tells her ex, and Lorca, "I found my parents... In the obituaries."  Doesn't really hold up, and seems more in tune with her character that she is lying.  Finally, Lorca is headed off to boarding school at the end, after nearly dying from her latest slashing episode.  Do we believe that the thought of her boyfriend and maybe father and grandmother visiting occasionally will stop more of this self-mutilation business?  Not really, but we can hope.  Bukra fil mish mish, the Arabic saying goes. Tomorrow, apricots may bloom.

Of course, there are mentions of food throughout, everything from lemon-lavender crème brûlée to Masgouf, the elusive fish dish that Lorca hopes might draw out some affection from her mother.  After all, the mother is chef and creative director at a prestigious New York restaurant.  Lorca is already a wonderful cook.  The "grandmother" is also a former chef and good cook, so yes, lots of culinary references. However, it was the title that inspired me, after a recent re-reading of the excellent, Lunch in Paris, from which I had saved a recipe, called Tagine with Meatballs and Spiced Apricots.  Yes.  Middle-Eastern, and with apricots.  I just made one substitution - lamb for beef, which I think is more authentic.:)

 from Lunch in Paris

Bard, the author, says, "This is food for a happy crowd; it never seems to pay to make less. Please take my advice and make the tagine in a single layer in two separate frying pans. If you move this dish around too much as it cooks, you end up with ground beef and apricot marmalade."  Still, there are only two of us, and I had no happy crowd expected, so I did cut it in half. 

3 pounds ground beef (not too lean; I use 80 percent)
2 medium white onions, grated
¾ cup ground almonds
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped and packed
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
A good grinding of black pepper
2 eggs
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
¼ cup ice water
Olive oil

1 tablespoon butter
4 medium white onions, finely chopped
Coarse sea salt
10 cloves
6 cinnamon sticks
2 cups white wine
1 cup water
2 tablespoons honey
1 pound dried whole apricots (not the partially rehydrated kind)

Into a large shallow casserole dish, crumble the meat with your fingers. Top with the grated onions, almonds, cilantro, cinnamon, and black pepper. Do not mix.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs and salt until light and foamy, pour over the meat mixture, and, working gently, combine with your hands.

Sprinkle the meat with ice water and gently combine with your hands.

Gently pat and roll the mixture into small meatballs. You should have about 45.

Get out your 2 largest frying or sauté pans. Heat a bit of olive oil in each. Brown the meatballs in a single layer. Remove from the pans and set aside.

Place ½ tablespoon butter in each frying pan. Divide the chopped onions evenly between the pans, sprinkle with sea salt, and sauté for 7 to 10 minutes, until highly colored.

Divide the meatballs evenly between the pans. Arrange in a single layer.

Into each frying pan, add: 5 cloves, 3 cinnamon sticks, 1 cup white wine, ½ cup water.

Cover and simmer over the lowest heat for 45 minutes.

Add to each frying pan: 1 tablespoon honey and ½ pound dried apricots (tuck them in between the meatballs so they soak up the sauce).

Cover and simmer for an additional 20 minutes.

This dish can be cooled and reheated with an extra dribble of white wine. Serve with a mound of fluffy couscous to which you have added a pinch of cinnamon, a pat of butter, and a handful of golden raisins.

Yield: Serves 8

Okay, my reaction.  It was good, lovely flavors, but the meatballs were very loose, didn't hold together at all well, and if I make this again, would add perhaps breadcrumbs or flour to them, or at the very least eliminate the water??  I served sides of bulgur wheat, flavored with orange rind and fresh mint, and a green salad.

Be sure to visit the Cook the Books Club Round-up after the 30th, and see everyone's inspirations from this book, or while you have time still, read and post your own.  I'll also share this post with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend cooking event, where you can check out more good food.


Mae Travels said...

Tagines like yours are extremely intriguing with their unique blends of spices, fruits, grains, and sometimes meat -- I've also been trying to learn to cook them, and have tried them at a couple of Moroccan restaurants. A tagine, with its unique spice blend, is often cooked in a special-purpose clay pot. The tagine actually originates in Morocco (which isn't in the MIddle East -- it's all the way on the other end of the Mediterranean). Interesting recipe!

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

(Diane) bookchickdi said...

That lemon lavender creme brulee caught my attention.

Carole said...

I like the cover but will pass on this one. Have a great week. Cheers from Carole's Chatter

Molly said...

I think this recipe sounds fabulous! I love apricots and am learning to experiment with other spice palates. This sounds like a great meal for a cold winter evening.

Beth F said...

I too was a bit disappointed in the book. But your tagine looks awesome!

Melynda@Scratch Made Food! said...

We have begun experimenting with spice in this manner and so far have enjoyed them, this sounds nice but I think I might sub in chicken thighs, I have not learned to eat sweet beef yet.

Claudia said...

I substituted lamb for the beef in this Melynda, and it went well with the bit of sweetness of the apricots.

Simona Carini said...

Blot was my favorite character as well. His delicacy is almost surreal in the story. I definitely think there is hope, because Lorca has experienced an alternative to her relationship with her mother. She now knows what it means to have a caring relationship that goes both ways. Every character has a story that shifts during the course of the novel. Even the story of the masgouf. What an interesting mix of flavors in your tagine. I like the idea of "food for a happy crowd." Thank you for your contribution to this edition of Cook the Books.

A Day in the Life on the Farm said...

I, too, liked Blot and thanked God that he had put him into Lorca's sad, little, miserable life. I have never made a tangine. This recipe intrigues me.

Amy said...

What a great recipe for this book! I agree with your review completely - you hit on all of this things that irked me about this book!

Delaware Girl Eats said...

I love the idea of sweet and savory together in a tagine. When I was in France recently I was taken to a Moroccan restaurant where they served us a medley of tagine dishes. They were great.

Debra Eliotseats said...

Lunch in Paris is one of my favorite CTB selections. I really wanted to like this one. :( Blot was my favorite as well and I totally did not "get" why Dottie was even included in this plot line. Do you think you could add a bit of binder next time to the meatballs? I love the sound of the sauce.