tagine 101: lamb tagine

“Tagine” refers to both a piece of cookware (pictured here) and the ubiquitous Moroccan dish. Perhaps the best part about them is that all the elements of a meal – vegetables, meat, stew, herbs, spices, fruit – are cooked together, all at once, so their flavors mingle and blend and reinforce each other beautifully. This not only means better flavors, but fewer dishes too (especially when you consider that typically a tagine is cooked and served from a single dish). There are dozens and dozens of variations on the basic tagine, but this one combines several classic elements: it starts with onions and garlic cooked at the bottom of the dish, features lamb, and includes both savory and sweet flavors.

A note: if you are cooking with a clay tagine like the one above (which are reasonably inexpensive and not too hard to find, surprisingly), you will probably want to invest in a heat diffuser of some sort – one of those metal plates that you place between the burner on your stove and the tagine itself. This will help keep the clay from cracking due to heat (traditionally tagines are cooked directly over glowing coals, so sometimes the direct heat of a stove can be too much for them).

For this tagine, you’ll need:

1 T olive oil
1 T butter
Sliced almonds
2 onions, chopped
Several garlic cloves, chopped
An inch of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/4 cup sugar
1 lb. lamb meat, trimmed and cut into small chunks or cubes
1 cup pitted prunes
1 cup dried apricots
1 T ground cinnamon
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 cup honey
1 orange
Salt and pepper to taste
Tsp. cumin
A generous bunch of cilantro, chopped

Start by sauteeing the onions and garlic in butter and olive oil on medium-low heat.

Next, place the prunes and apricots in a small pot and add just enough water to cover them. Add a pinch of saffron (to release the flavor of the saffron, rub a few threads with salt between your thumb and forefinger), the ground cinnamon, the sugar, and several tablespoons of honey, and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil reduce the heat till the mixture is simmering, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced to a thick syrup (it’ll take a while). When it does, remove from heat.

Meanwhile, as soon as the onions start to soften, add the grated ginger, cinnamon sticks, juice from the orange, and salt, pepper, and cumin to them. Add the lamb and mix everything up to make sure the meat is coated with oil.

Next, add enough water to cover the meat and cook, covered, for about an hour, on a low simmer. You want to keep the tagine covered as much as possible, but check periodically to make sure there’s enough liquid to cover the meat – if not, just add water as needed.

After an hour or so, add the fruit and accompanying syrup and cook for another 15 minutes.

Next, adjust the seasonings to taste, mix in half the cilantro, and cook uncovered until the liquid is reduced to a syrup.

Top with sliced almonds and the rest of the cilantro and serve with fresh bread.

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