Back when I lived in Boston, I was friends with a group of people who lived together in a big, old, 5-bedroom house in Brookline. Every Sunday they held ‘family dinner’ and cooked a huge feast for themselves and whoever else dropped by, rotating the head chef responsibilities on a weekly basis. The only rules were that dinner always had to be home-made, and that guests outside the ‘chef’ rotation had to bring plenty of wine and stay to help clean. While some of the house-mates defaulted to simple staples like large batches of pasta with homemade sauce, the more experienced cooks often took their week as a chance to show off a bit and stretch their culinary horizons. To encourage themselves to discover new dishes, two of the guys developed a unique system using a random number generator and the world almanac. First, they would use the random number generator to pick two numbers, then they would turn to the page of the almanac containing the index of lists; the first number would be used to select the ‘list’ (i.e. countries in the world sorted by life expectancy), the second would be used to identify a country (i.e. 35 – Greece). The country produced by this system then became the inspiration for the menu that week. One week the almanac sent them to the Asian grocer for hot-pot ingredients, another found them pounding cassava root to produce fufu. While many weeks yielded memorable meals, the dish I have most consistently reproduced came from the week that the number generator landed on Morocco and someone made lamb tagine.
The word ‘tagine’ refers to the dish in which the stew is cooked and there are many variations of the stew itself. While you can make the stew with practically any type of meat or vegetables, I find that lamb provides a particularly nice foil to all of the aromatic spices.
- ~2 lbs lamb shoulder, cut into ~1 in cubes
- 2 T vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1 T peeled, chopped ginger
- 1 1/2 t ground coriander
- 1 t cumin
- 1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 t ground cinnamon
- 1 t paprika
- 1/2 t cardamom
- 1/2 t ground ginger
- 1/2 t turmeric
- 1/4 t nutmeg
- 1/8 t ground cloves
- 1 12oz can diced tomatoes with juices
- 1 12oz can chickpeas
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 cup dried apricots, cut into small pieces
- couscous or quinoa, cooked
- cilantro or parsley
Heat a large dutch oven or other lidded pot on the stove over high heat. When hot, add the lamb, and cook over high heat until cubes are seared on all sides, working in batches if necessary. Move cooked lamb to a separate plate, retaining juices in the dutch oven.
Add the vegetable oil to the lamb drippings and, once the oil is heated evenly, add the onion. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the onions are just beginning to caramelize. Once the onions have just started to take on some color, add the ginger, garlic, and all spices. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes, until the spices are fragrant. Add tomatoes with their juices, reduce heat to low. Use a wooded spoon to scrape up all stuck-on bits of onion and spices. Add the lamb back to the dutch oven and add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil then reduce heat the keep the mixture at a simmer. Cover the pot and cook for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
After ~1 hour, add the drained chickpeas to the mixture. If the liquid in the pot is nearly gone at this point, add additional chicken stock or water as needed. Continue to cook for about 30 additional minutes, until lamb is tender. Once lamb is tender, add apricots and cook an additional 5 minutes. At this point, you can remove the lid from the pot and allow the stew to reduce.
Serve stew over cooked couscous. Garnish with chopped parsley or cilantro.