Sunday, April 5, 2009

Stumbling Upon a Tagine

I spent some time in Morocco in 1995 and had a tagine for the first time. A tagine can either be the dish that you eat, or the pot that you cook it in: a shallow dish with a dome cover, most often made of clay. (see: I had tagine with chicken and chick peas made in a super-huge tagine and baked in a clay oven that fed about 50 people in an extended family during a wake in Meknes, and I also had a small, dainty tagine of pigeon in an upscale French-style restaurant in Marrakech--both equally delicious.

I didn't buy a tagine when I was in Morocco because it would have been too difficult to carry home--I already had a set of ceramic tams with me that I carried wrapped in a blanket and fretted over constantly. And while I've thought about asking for one every Christmas since, I know that I just don't have the space in my apartment in Brooklyn. When I visited Kalustyan's a few weeks ago, I stood gape-mouthed at the selection of tagines on display. Surely I could squeeze one of the small ones into my kitchen? I didn't buy one then, promising myself that once we leave the city, I'll get myself a big one.

On a recent trip to Buffalo of all places, though, I stumbled upon a small silicone tagine at a Marshall's discount store. It was $10 and came with a little cookbook. I was traveling home by train, and already had quite a few bags, but I bought it anyway, figuring it could squeeze it into one of the bags because it was bendable and very light. And so I did.

I found this recipe for a lamb tagine on a blog called Five Spice Duck ( and headed to the green market at Grand Army Plaza in Prospect Park on Saturday morning. I bought a pound of fresh lamb, some carrots, onions, and garlic. Later that day, I stopped at Fairway and picked up some Israeli couscous (ptitim), saffron, dates, and Turkish apricots. I adapted the recipes that I found online and made this dish for our Sunday evening meal.

Honey-Paprika Lamb Tagine

1 pounds lamb pieces, cut for stew
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Pinch of saffron threads
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato paste
Salt and pepper
1 carrot, cut into chunks
1 yellow onion, peeled and cut into chunks
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup diced apricot

Mix together the garlic, honey, olive oil, cilantro, saffron, paprika, cumin and tomato paste in a large bowl. Add the lamb and toss to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight, or at least for a few hours.

When you're ready to cook, remove the lamb from the fridge and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Brown the meat in it's marinade in a smoking hot cast iron pan. Pour the stock into the base of the tagine and add the browned meat with it's marinade, the carrots, onions, and cinnamon and stir together. Place the tagine lid on and bake for 1 1/2 hours. Stir the chickpeas and apricots into the tagine and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the lid or foil and cook an additional 30 minutes to brown the vegetables.

Israeli Couscous with Dates

1/2 pound dry Israeli-style couscous

1 large onion chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

1/2 cup dried chopped dates

1/2 cup chopped almonds

In a sauce pot, saute the onion in the oil until tender and just beginning to brown. Toast the couscous by stirring in the couscous and cooking and stirring until pale golden. Cover with the broth and bring to a boil and cook and simmer about 10 minutes or until couscous has absorbed the liquid. Stir in the dates and nuts. Remove from heat and led stand covered 10 minutes. Fluff with fork. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve the stew on top of, or to the side of, the couscous and garnish with chopped cilantro.

Postscript:  More stews to come, for sure.  This tagine is lovely; it cleans up like magic and I really think it makes a difference in how the ingredients steam in it.  I think I'll try chicken thighs or a vegetable stew next time.

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