As you may have guessed by the title of this post I made it through to round 2 of Project Food Blog 2010! A huge, massive, enormous thanks to everyone who voted for me – was thrilled to bits! For challenge 2 we were told to have a go at an “ethnic classic dish from another culture” and see how well we could pull it off. So what did I pick? A Moroccan tagine dish.
Two of my girl friends went to Morocco when they were about 16 and came back raving about everything. They even talked with great fondness about having to bring their own toilet paper up and down mountains. But I’ve never been. When trying to decide what I should cook I asked myself, what would I never think to make? And the answer was a tagine, something I’ve never attempted or eaten very much – Middle-Eastern doesn’t feature heavily on my radar. In fact, it’s so far removed from what I normally do it may as well not exist. But that’s why I loved the idea: why not really have a go at something different?
I didn’t want to do a regular tagine, I wanted to try something different – interesting when you think that before yesterday I didn’t even own a tagine. But what to put in it? I remembered Nigella has a lamb salad with pomegranate, but that was too… plain, so I had a hunt through my Flavour Thesaurus, saw ‘Lamb & Cherry’, and the idea was born: a lamb, pomegranate and cherry tagine. I adapted this from a couple of versions I found online, Marc’s of No Recipes (who is also entered in this! Hi Marc! Thanks!) and Diane’s of 2 Stews (thanks!).
The tagine’s domed lid allows condensation to drip back down, creating succulent and tender meat. My tagine, bought at Whisk, is a beautiful Emile Henry one, big enough to cook for two. There’s another which is big enough for six, but that was a little too big.
Never having owned a tagine before I started researching how to care for it, specifically mine which is glazed ceramic – it’s astonishingly easy. Before I started cooking I poured enough milk into the tagine to cover the bottom, placed on the hob and brought it to the boil, then took it off the heat, allowed it to cool completely, then washed it. This is called seasoning your tagine. Seasoning removes the clay ‘flavour’ and tempers the tagine.
Tagines are awesome: a one-stop pot for all of your cookery needs. The entire process was ridiculously easy: browning the meat, caramelising the onions, pouring in the pomegranate juice and cherries, lid on and into the oven – worked like a dream, and it was such a relief to relax over this, as I’d spent my entire day running around like a mad woman. Maybe I have beginner’s luck, but I’m not sure how anybody could get this wrong – it was that simple.
Off-cuts work brilliantly in this dish – it cooks for at least an hour in the oven (mine went for an hour and a half, probably could’ve had longer, but it was 11.30pm by this point and I was hungry) so your meat gets really tender. I used lamb neck fillet and shanks, and the result was delicious. Momma Lee had seconds and thirds!
I served this with couscous, that other Middle-Eastern staple. I could’ve served it with flat bread too, but didn’t because did I mention that I only had two days to figure out what I was going to do and make it, and it was 11.30pm by this point?! I’m sure you’ll forgive me. But you could serve it with flat bread as well.
The sweetness of the pomegranate juice and the cherries worked with the lamb amazingly, but wasn’t overpowering. Lamb can be gamey so it needs lightening up, which this combination did perfectly. Nom-a-licious.
Anyway, enough chatter from me. If you don’t own a tagine: go out. Buy one. That’s an order. I can see myself using mine for a long time to come – makes me wonder if I should’ve bought the bigger one… enjoy!
LAMB SHANK, POMEGRANATE & CHERRY TAGINE
For The Tagine:
2 lamb shanks
Strip of lamb neck fillet, chopped into large-ish chunks
2 medium red onions, sliced thinly
1 preserved lemon
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cardamom pods
1/2 cup dried cherries
1 cup pure pomegranate juice
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
4 1/2 cups quick-cook couscous
Knob of butter
Fresh parsley, chopped (to garnish)
Fresh mint leaves, chopped (to garnish)
Fresh pomegranate (to garnish)
Flaked almonds (to garnish; optional)
1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees C.
2. Place the meat in a bowl and salt and pepper generously. Don’t be shy with the black pepper! Sprinkle the coriander and cumin over. Set aside.
3. Place the tagine on the stovetop and turn on the heat. Heat until very hot, then add 1-2 tbsps of olive oil and brown the meat. The key to this is a) don’t crowd the pot and b) leave the meat undisturbed on each side – the sugars will come out and caramelise on the surface. When browned, remove the meat to a separate plate and set aside.
4. Saute the onions, ginger, garlic, cardamom seeds and preserved lemon together until the onions are soft and beginning to caramelise. Add cinnamon sticks and sautee for another 5-10 mins.
5. Return the meat to the tagine and add the pomegranate juice and cherries. Bring to the boil, taste and re-season as necessary.
6. Remove the tagine from stovetop, place the lid on tightly (I overstuffed my tagine, which meant the lid was wobbly, but settled down over cooking) and place in the oven. Cook for 1 1/2 hours (or longer) until lamb is tender and falling off the bone.
7. About 10 mins before the end of cooking steam the couscous according to directions. Remove couscous to serving dish, add a knob of butter, season as you wish and use a fork to fluff. Garnish with chopped parsley.
8. When the lamb is cooked, remove from oven and garnish: sprinkle fresh pomegranate seeds over the top (handy tip: cut the pomegranate in half, hold it over your dish seed-side down, and bash the heck out of the skin-side with a wooden spoon – seeds will rain down), flaked almonds (if using) and fresh mint leaves.
9. Serve with couscous and give yourself a pat on the back for having made something delicious, beautiful and new!
That’s all for now. More soon. I’ll let you know when you can vote, thanks again to everybody! Oh, if you’re on Facebook and want to get the latest updates, culinary tricks, and photos that don’t make it onto the blog before the rest of the crowd, click the widget on the right to Like and join the Facebook page!
Until next time, friends – peace and love.