A tagine is a North African dish that is often both sweet and spicy, bringing out the flavor of the meat. The traditional way to serve it is with Moroccan flatbread or couscous to mop up every last taste sensation.
A ‘tagine’ refers to both the stew and the conical two-part earthenware dish in which it is cooked. The shape of the earthenware tagine enables the stew to remain moist by allowing the water that evaporates to condense back into the dish.
Using water sustainably is important in the dry parts of North Africa where water is a precious commodity, especially in travels across the desert, but if you don’t have a tagine a Dutch Oven works perfectly.
Lamb Tagine with Apricots and Almonds Recipe
Spice rub for meat
- 2 teaspoons fine black pepper
- 1 ½ tablespoons cumin
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- 1 ½ tablespoons cinnamon
- 1 ½ tablespoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
For the tagine
- 3 ½ pounds shoulder of lamb cut into 1 ½ inch cubes
- 3 garlic cloves crushed
- 2 white or yellow onions red onions are less pungent
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil
- ½ cup dried apricots or sultanas
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/3 cup flaked almonds
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander
- 14 ounce can of chickpeas
- 2 x 14 ounce cans of chopped tomatoes
- Combine the spices in a large bowl then remove half of the mix and set aside in a small bowl.
- Add the meat to the large bowl making sure to coat each piece with spice and rub it into the meat (You may want to wear surgical gloves during this process as the turmeric will stain your fingers).
- Set the bowl with the meat aside in the refrigerator and allow to stand for around 5-6 hours or over night so it is well seasoned.
- Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a skillet and heat to medium hot then add the sliced onions, stirring to coat with the oil and fry for around 5 minutes or until they become translucent.
- Add the mixed spices from the small bowl, the crushed garlic, and stir to fry, releasing all the fragrance of the spices.
- Remove the onion mix from the skillet and place in the Dutch Oven.
- Add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet and fry the meat in batches, ensuring it becomes nicely browned – each batch should take around 5 minutes or so. Adding too much meat at once will cause the temperature to drop and it will tend to boil in the juices instead of frying.
- Add browned meat to the Dutch Oven.
- Deglaze the skillet with 100 ml of water, ensuring you scrape up all those delicious spices and add to the Dutch oven.
- Cut the apricots in half and add them, or the sultanas (whole) as well as the tablespoon of honey.
- Place Dutch Oven over medium high heat and open the can of chickpeas – remember to drain and rinse them before adding.
- Add the cans of chopped tomatoes and stir the whole mix in the Dutch Oven and allow to heat through on medium high heat.
- Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer gently for three hours, stirring occasionally and checking to see it is not getting too dry. It shouldn’t in a Dutch oven or tagine, but if it does, add a little more water.
- Add salt to taste.
- Roast the flaked (slivered) almonds in a dry pan, watching carefully that they don’t burn but just become golden.
- When meat is fall-apart tender remove from the heat and allow to rest while you prepare the couscous, which takes around two minutes, or heat your Moroccan Flatbreads.
- Before serving stir the toasted almonds into the tagine, reserving a few to decorate the top of the tagine.
- Add some chopped parsley and coriander just before serving.
While apricots and almonds are traditionally used together we also gave the option for sultanas. Some recipes call for dates – if you like you can try the tagine with dates instead of apricots or sultanas.
When travelling, the locals in North Africa didn’t get too rigorous about exactly which type of dried fruit they put into the tagine, if it was readily available in it went!
History of the Tagine
The tagine, an unglazed earthenware two-part dish consisting of the flat base and the tall conical lid, has become fashionable in the west, but to use one means being careful as earthenware can’t be heated quickly or placed on a stove top without a diffuser.
Also, when serving be careful not to place a hot tagine directly on a cold surface like a granite or concrete countertop as the change in temperature may cause the tagine to crack; always use a wooden board to make sure this doesn’t happen.
Traditionally, tagines are used over small fires and heated slowly, and are seasoned before use by being soaked overnight in water. In the morning the water is emptied out and the inside of the base and lid rubbed with olive oil. It is then placed in a hearth and a small fire made – or you can heat it in an oven from cold up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Allow to stay heated for around 2 hours, then switch off the oven, or take the firewood away, and leave the tagine there undisturbed until completely cold. Moroccans believe that the earthenware adds a special taste to the food.
Many companies make cast iron tagines, which are glazed on the outside, and will not require the kind to caution you need to exercise when using an earthenware tagine. Many glazed tagines are also sold decorated with pretty designs and colors but these are for serving rather than cooking the food.
As a child I wanted to grow up and marry a farmer… simply because it was so different from my life right on the shores of the ocean. Well, I didn’t marry a farmer but a surfer instead. The urge, however, to grow stuff and make great food for a big family never left. We are on acreage with a sea view and easy access to fresh caught crayfish and other seafood – the best of both worlds. As an artist and writer I enjoy creating new recipes, tweaking traditional ones, and sharing the results not only with family and friends, but online.