I have previously expressed by love for Claudia Roden's book Arabesque, so it should come as no surprise that her excellent lamb tagine with dates features frequently at my table. It's a simple and adaptable recipe utilising a reasonably priced cut of lamb (the shoulder). It also allows you to "set and forget" when guests are coming around for dinner and you want be able to chat with them over a glass of wine while the tagine simmers away on the stove.
While the recipe calls for 300 grams of fresh dates, I have on occasion substituted this for dried dates, apricots and, as outlined in this recipe, dried figs. All these dried fruits add to the sweet-savoury flavours I adore in tagines, and are readily available even in far distant Indonesian supermarket shelves. I also enjoy the vaguely floral aroma of the saffron in the recipe, which wafts up fragrantly when you add it to the frying onions. When this happens, I suggest you stop and breathe deep - it's a wonderful moment.
Finally, this post has a bonus recipe - the world's easiest couscous. The flavour is beefed up by ground cinnamon, ground ginger and dried currants, and involves the simplest technique in the world. Mix all the dry ingredients, add boiling stock, stir, cover with cling wrap and walk away for 5 minutes. Return, fluff with a fork. Serve. Easy peasy.
Trust me, this is a sure-fire winner for a winter dinner party. Just be sure to buy some nice wine, so you can fully enjoy the extra time you get with your guests.
Lamb Tagine with Dates and Dried Figs
- 1.5 kg shoulder of lamb, diced (your butcher can do this for you, if you ask nicely)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 onions, finely diced
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 150 grams fresh pitted dates
- 150 grams dried figs
- salt and pepper to taste
Heat up a heavy cast iron casserole pot (you can use a heavy based tagine if you have one!), add olive oil and, when hot, brown your diced lamb shoulder in batches, removing when it is lightly brown all over. Don't do this all at once, for some reason it makes it too "wet" and it starts stewing rather than browning.
Next add your onion and, stirring to release those nice dark meaty bits from the bottom of the pan, cook them until they soften and start to brown. Stir in the saffron and ground ginger, and don't forget to enjoy the incredible smells which will waft up. Next, add the meat back into the pan. Add salt and pepper and then cover with water. Add your cinnamon stick and the dried figs and then simmer, covered, for 2 hours. Don't forget to turn the meat every so often, and don't let the simmer turn into a boil. However, if it simmers for more than 2 hours that's totally fine - it just gets better and better.
Next, remove the lid (because it's time to reduce the sauce down to a thicker consistency), stir in the honey and add the ground cinnamon. Taste the tagine and, if it's a little too sweet, add more ground pepper to taste. Cook uncovered until the liquid is the right consistency (roughly reduced by a third). Now, add the dates and simmer for a further 10 minutes.
Now it's ready, just turn off the heat, pop the lid back on and move onto the couscous.
This will provide six generous serves.
Fragrant Couscous with Currants
- 2 cups instant couscous
- 2 cups boiling stock (chicken or vegetable is best)
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup dried currants
First, place your couscous, ground ginger, ground cinnamon and currants in a large bowl and mix until the couscous and currants are coated in the spices. Now, heat your stock in a saucepan until boiling.
Add the stock to the couscous, stir and then cover immediately with cling wrap. After 5 minutes, remove the cling wrap and "fluff" with the tines of a fork. If it requires more moisture, add a small amount of olive oil. Cover again with cling wrap for another 5 minutes. Fluff again, and it's ready to serve.
|Cling wrap - the secret couscous ingredient|
Place a small mound of couscous on a plate, scoop the tagine over the top and, if you feel like it, sprinkle toasted pinenuts and chopped coriander over the top. It's a crowd pleaser.