I had a $30 gift certificate from Williams and Sonoma burning a hole in my pocket, so Hubs and I loaded up last Saturday and ran over to nearby Aspen Grove Shopping Center. I had my doubts that I’d find any sort of kitchen item I didn’t already own, but when we walked into the store we were greeted by a display of Moroccan themed cookware. Exotic in color, hand painted tagines were surrounded by a set of vibrant dinnerware, flatware and linens, accented with with jars of earthy colored simmering sauces…$30??? I could have spent ten times that amount.
A tagine is a type of ceramic or clay cookware from North Africa. The bottom is a wide, circular shallow dish used for both cooking and serving. The lid of the tagine is shaped like a dome or cone. There’s a little hole in the top of the dome to allow for steam to escape during the a long slow cook.
Once home with my new toy, much to my surprise Google wasn’t all that kind with returning results for recipes. Tagine also refers to a savory dish, so many of recipes were simply adapted for a Dutch oven. I found several that called for stove top cooking in a tagine vessel, but I needed a diffuser for open flame, which I didn’t have. Then there was the glazed or unglazed clay issue further complicating knowing what to do.
I suddenly wished I had picked up a jar of the braising sauces that Williams and Sonoma offered, which included “just add meat” and simple cooking instructions.
After more than an hour of research, and no solid recipe, I nervously decided on a combination of lamb, preserved lemon and green olives. I was unsure of how much liquid to add, unsure of how full to fill the base, unsure of cooking time, and totally unsure of what temperature to set my oven. I’d bitten off more than I could chew and had no idea what to expect on our dinner plates that evening.
The aromas that filled the house during the long slow bake helped to ease my anxiety. So wonderful it’s hard to describe. I only lifted the cone once. After an hour I peeked inside to insure the cooking liquid wasn’t drying up. At that time felt comfortable to raise the oven temperature from 325 degrees to 350.
When the oven timer alerted that the 3 1/2 hour cooking time was complete, I had no idea what I’d find under that dome. The photo above is directly from the oven. The visual was only the beginning with a surprising flavor event to follow.
It was incredible. The sweet lamb had a melt in your mouth texture, pungent from the preserved lemon, savory from the green olives, and sweetened with raisins. Bob thought it was perhaps one of the best meals I’ve prepared. Simply sided with pearl couscous that had been flavored with lemon, salt and pepper, we were celebrating a successful kitchen adventure.
And talk about fun, taking that beautiful tagine from oven to table top made “gathering around the table” even more inviting. Now if I just had the $500 worth of Moroccan dinner ware….
Funny how a simple $30 gift certificate and turn a trip to a store into a dinner of discovery. With my new tagine came new ingredients.
Most Moroccan recipes called for green or red olives. Suspecting that these weren’t your run of the mill pimento-stuffed brined variety found in my refrigerator, I inquired at the olive bar at Whole Foods. The clerk had never heard of red olives and directed us to the the international aisle to see what we could find. We found ripe green olives packed in water. LOVE them. Mild in flavor they taste more like the black “supermarket ripe” olive except with a more sophisticated flavor.
Then there’s the preserved lemon. I purchased my first jar last September at Savory Spice Shop and have just now had the opportunity to try them. What a unique and wonderful flavor.
Here’s what I did:
- 1½ pound lamb shoulder roast, cut into 6 large chunks
- 2 T. olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- ½ Cup golden raisins
- 2 t. cumin
- ½ t. cinnamon
- 1 T. ginger, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1 preserved lemon, peeled, chopped
- ½ can green olives in water, drained
- 2 C. water
- Salt/Pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- In a skillet brown lamb pieces on each side. Place the lamb in the bottom of the tagine.
- In the same skillet, saute onions until tender. Add the garlic until fragrant.
- Spoon this over the lamb.
- Sprinkle on raisins, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, cilantro, preserved lemon and olives. Pour the water on top this mixture.
- Cover with the domed lid,
- Place in the oven. After one hour increase heat to 350. Cook for an additional 2½ hours.
- Finish with some chopped preserved lemon rind.
Lamb Tagine with Preserved Lemons, and Green Olives…It’s What’s for Dinner.
From the Kitchen of Lea Ann Brown