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Root Vegetable Tagine with Meatballs and Figs

What is bison like? Seeing it at gourmet butchers and natural food stores, I wondered. But finding ground bison at Costco got me to finally try it.

Also called American buffalo, bison are big beasts that mostly roam free, grazing on grass and hay. This active life makes their meat firmer than beef. It tastes more like minerals to me. I used the bison in chili that was feisty and lean, and made burgers so hearty that a three-ounce patty served on a grilled whole-grain bun was quite satisfying.

Nutritionally, comparing ground bison to ground beef is challenging because the amount of fat in it and the portion sizes being analyzed vary. Most bison is grass fed then “finished” on grain and is similar to 90 percent lean ground beef in calories, fat and saturated fat. Bison that is exclusively grass-fed is much less common and has even less fat, more like 92 percent lean ground beef.

Raising bison costs more so the meat is more expensive than beef. But it is perfect in dishes like this Moroccan meatball tagine, a chunky stew combining bite-size meatballs with sweet potato, fennel and other root vegetables, plus aromatic spices and dried figs. The ingredients are simmered together, and then garnished with almonds, resulting in a deliciously robust stew using twelve ounces of bison or beef to serve four.

Moroccans cook tagines in a wide, shallow pot with a tall, cone-shaped top that is also called a tagine, but a heavy Dutch oven works fine. Super easy to make, all you do is put everything into a pot, with no fat added, and simmer gently. If you like cooking on Sundays so you can serve weeknight dinners quickly, this is a perfect dish.

Root Vegetable Tagine with Meatballs and Figs

  • 1 large carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into 8 wedges
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 medium white turnip (2½-inches), peeled, cut into 8 wedges
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 1½ tsp. ground cumin
  • 1½ tsp. ground sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large (6-inch) sweet potato or orange-fleshed yam, peeled and cut into 1-inch slices
  • 2-2½-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 8 dried white Turkish figs, quartered
  • 1 cup fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
  • 3/4 lb. ground bison or lean beef
  • 1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. toasted sliced almonds

In medium Dutch oven or other heavy pot, place carrots, fennel, onion, turnip and garlic. Add cumin, paprika, ginger, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 4-5 grinds pepper and mix to coat vegetables. Halve sweet potato slices crosswise, making half-moons and add to pot, along with cinnamon sticks and figs. Pour in broth.

In mixing bowl, place bison, cilantro and parsley and season with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 3-4 grinds pepper. Use fork to combine. Divide meat into 12 portions and shape into loose meatballs. Arrange meatballs on top of vegetables in pot.

Cover pot and set over medium-high heat. Bring liquid to boil. Reduce heat, and simmer gently until vegetables are tender but not falling apart and meatballs are no longer pink in center, about 40 minutes.

To serve, divide meatballs and vegetables among four plates, and garnish with almonds. Divide liquid among servings.

If cooking ahead, transfer meatballs and vegetables to container. Pour liquid into another container. Cover both containers, and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place meat and vegetables in heatproof casserole. Pour liquid over tagine. Cover with lid or foil, and bake for 35 minutes, or until tagine is heated through.

Serve accompanied by cooked whole-wheat couscous or brown rice and steamed spinach.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 248 calories, 5 g total fat ( 23 g protein, 7 g dietary fiber, 561 mg sodium

The Author:

Something Different is written by Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook and contributor to AICR’s New American Plate Cookbook: Recipes for a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Life.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $100 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.



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