Now if that doesn’t sound exotic! But I bet you’re wondering what do I mean when I say “tagine”? Well, a tagine is a Moroccan casserole that works just like your Dutch oven (so if you don’t have a tagine, use the Dutch oven and it will work out fine) with a conical top, almost shaped like a witches hat but just before the hat would come to a point, it flattens out. This strange shape works to keep the moisture in and as it condenses in the ‘hat’, it drops back down into the pot, both retaining moisture and flavor! Pretty smart, right?
This recipe is sweet – but not as sweet as most Moroccan dishes that are similar because most also include apricots and sweetened nuts. The one I’m giving you has a sprinkling of chopped almonds on top – but if you really want to go over the top, include some dried apricots when you add the dried plums and when you are ready to serve this, surround the plate with cinnamon-sugar coated walnuts! (Don’t forget to invite me over…I’ll be forever grateful, I promise!)
The Moroccans use a lot of lamb and sweet spices. They also use a lot of saffron, a yellow thread-like spice that is yellow in color and has a taste all it’s own. It is extremely expensive and often people don’t include it for that reason (and substitute turmeric even though the taste is not the same – it’s similar but different). This recipe calls for both, so if you opt out of the saffron, don’t worry – the tagine will still be wonderful.
And once you’ve looked over the recipe, you’re going to say – this sounds like a stew! Right again! Remember we talked recently about how the same basic foods appear in different cultures and countries, made with local produce, local herbs and spices, and local meats and fish. That’s part of what makes food so interesting … finding out that stew is so basic – yet so amazingly and wonderfully different.
Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Dried Plums & Pearl Onions
- 1 lb. lamb stew meat, cubed
- olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 10 saffron threads (optional), broken with fingers or in a mortar & pestle*
- 2 Tbsp. honey
- 1-3/4 – 2 c beef broth, or more
- ½ tsp. ground turmeric
- 1” piece of whole cinnamon stick (if you don’t have the stick, use 1/4 tsp. ground)
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (if you don’t have this, use mace or regular nutmeg)
- 3/4 c dried plums (prunes)
- 3/4 c dried apricots, optional
- 1/3 c chopped cilantro
- 15 frozen or fresh pearl onions
- Fresh mint or more chopped cilantro and chopped toasted almonds, for garnish, optional
Preheat oven to 375.
Pat your lamb cubes dry. This will help in the browning process and give you a nice color and caramelization. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Brown the meat in batches in the olive oil so it browns and doesn’t braise. As each piece is nicely brown, remove it to a plate and add another piece. Take the time to do this and it will help make the lame even more flavorful.
Once all the lamb is browned and removed from the tagine, add a little more olive oil and scrape up all the brown bits (with all the flavor) into the oil. If it seems a little dry, splash in a little of the beef broth to be sure to get it all up; then add and brown the onion. Once that is just about simmering, add the lamb and any accumulated juices, turmeric, cinnamon stick, nutmeg, saffron, cilantro, prunes, apricots if using, and honey. Sauté for about 30 seconds, then add the beef broth. Cover and bring to a boil.
Remove the pan from the heat and place in the preheated oven for about 50 minutes. Check during the baking time to be sure there is still liquid in the pan. If necessary, add some more broth. You can make it as thick or thin as you like but it will thicken a bit at the end. (I like it a little on the thick side.) When it seems about done, add the pearl onions and gently stir them into the meat and fruit; return to the oven for about 5 minutes for the pearl onions to heat through.
Garnish with toasted chopped almonds, chopped mint, or chopped cilantro. Serve with whole wheat cous cous, quinoa or brown rice/quinoa combination.
*If you opt for using the saffron and crumble it with your fingers, after it is put into the tagine, lick your finger so you will know what this exotic spice tastes like!