Tagine is probably the second most famous food to come out of Morocco, after couscous. It’s a fantastic meal that incorporates all of the quintessential Moroccan flavours: ground spices, fresh herbs, chilli and lemon. My version of the tagine is slightly non-traditional, in that it roasts half of the ingredients before adding them to the stew. In Morocco, there are infinite variations on the concept of a tagine, which is the name given to the tall clay pot that this stew is usually cooked in, so I feel that my take on it is in keeping with the amorphous nature of the dish.
The centrepiece of this dish is the roasted lamb leg, which is rubbed with tagine paste and studded with rosemary. Roasting the vegetables in the tray and pouring those and the olive oil into the tagine really enhances the flavours of this stew. There’s a Moroccan saying that ‘the taste is in the bones’, so roasting the meat as a whole piece gives you more of a sense of the traditional flavours of Moroccan lamb, as opposed to using pre-cut lamb chunks. As with any meat, make sure to buy free range, organic and high welfare cuts to enhance the flavour of your food and also to support good farming practises.
Moroccan cuisine is known for its many-layered yet distinctive spice blends, which are influenced by a mixture of Arabic and Mediterranean flavours. This recipe makes use of quarfa (cinnamon), kamoun (cumin) and kharqoum (turmeric) amongst others. Using whole spices, toasting them for a few seconds in a hot, dry pan, and grinding them up with a pestle and mortar will always give you a deeper and more authentic flavour than using pre-ground ingredients.
The first record of tagines appears in ‘One Thousand and One Nights’, a 9th century Arabic story collection. Ghillie Basan summaries the evolving history of the tagine in her book ‘Tagines and Couscous’:
“Although originally a Berber dish, the tagine has evolved with the history as waves of Arab and Ottoman invaders, Moorish refugees from Andalusia and French colonialists have left their influences on the cuisine. Classic tagines include combinations of lamb with dried prunes or apricots; chicken with preserved lemon and green olives; duck with dates and honey; and fish cooked with tomatoes, lime, and cilantro.”
As mentioned above, the word ‘tagine’ refers to the fluted clay pot that is traditionally used to cook the sauce. If you can get hold of one of these and you have an oven big enough to accommodate one, it’s worth using for this dish. The fluted shape of the lid enables the steam to condense at the top and run gently back down into the sauce, which gives it a distinctive texture that’s quite different from European stews or Asian curries.
WHAT YOU NEED
Where possible, try to buy local, seasonal and grass fed/ organic/free range ingredients. Apart from it being better to support local businesses and high welfare farming practises, it does make a huge difference to the taste of your food!
lots of good quality olive oil (100ml approx)
1 lamb leg, approx 1.5kg, at room temperature
1 onion, diced
1 red onion, cut into chunks
2 red peppers, sliced (optional)
2 carrots, one diced and the other sliced into 1cm pieces
1l homemade chicken or veg stock
1 can of tinned plum tomatoes (or 5 medium sized fresh vine tomatoes, chopped)
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
400g canned chickpeas
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the spice paste:
4 garlic cloves, crushed and sliced in half
1inch fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced
3tsp cumin seeds
2tsp coriander seeds
half a cinnamon stick
2tsp turmeric powder
1 fresh chilli, chopped (more if you like spicy food)
30g chopped coriander
30g chopped flat leaf parsley
almond flakes (optional)
Prep Time: 30 mins
Cooking Time: 2hrs
- Preheat the oven to 220 C. Start preparing your spice mix – toast the cinnamon, cumin and coriander in a hot, dry pan for 30-45 seconds until fragrant, be careful not to burn them! Tip the garlic and a pinch of salt into a pestle and mortar, grind until the garlic becomes a paste. Add the slices of ginger and chilli and do the same. Add all the spices and grind until the seeds have all turned into powder. Add a little olive oil and stir, to make a paste.
- Pour olive oil into a large baking tray, enough to cover the bottom. Take the lamb and make little cuts with a sharp knife into the fat over the top, about 3cm apart. Rub half of the spice mix over the lamb, pressing into the holes. Stud the lamb with small pieces of rosemary. Leave to sit for a few minutes while you prepare the veg.
- Dice the onion and one carrot, cut the other carrot into 1cm pieces and slice the red onion into quarters. In a cast iron pan or tagine, pour in a good glug of olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan) and heat until the oil starts to become fragrant. Tip in the onion and carrot and fry on a medium heat with a pinch of salt, until the carrots soften and the onions become translucent.
- While the onions and carrot are cooking down, take out the baking tray and place the lamb in the centre, you can turn it around in the oil to seal in the spices. Add the carrot and red onion to the tray, and turn also. Place the tray back in the oven and cook for 20 mins on the high heat (220 C) before turning down to (180C) and cooking for a further 1hr 15 mins if you want it pink in the middle, or 1hr 30 if you want it well done. This is for a 1.5kg leg of lamb, so adjust this accordingly if your lamb weight significantly more or less. Half way through the roasting process, check the lamb and turn the veg over. You can also add sliced red pepper at this point if you wish.
- Add the remaining half of the spice paste to your pot, stir until the mixture becomes fragrant. If using fresh tomatoes, chop them up and add them at this point and cook down until most of the liquid has cooked off, then add the stock. If using a tin of tomatoes, add the stock and tinned tomatoes together at this point. Add in the can of chickpeas and honey, and stir everything round until the mixture is even. Simmer gently on a low-medium heat until the lamb in the oven is cooked to your liking (usually around another hour). If using a tagine, place in the oven at this point.
- Once the lamb is ready, take it out and tip the oil, juices and roasted veg into your pot or tagine. Take it off the heat. Crush a lemon by rolling it between your hand and a hard surface, chop the top off and squeeze the juice into the sauce. Garnish with the chopped herbs and almond slices. Let the lamb sit for around 5-10 mins.
- To plate, serve on a bed of rice, couscous or bulghar wheat, spoon the sauce over the top and finish off with slices of roasted lamb. My favourite way to eat this tagine is with tabbouleh, which is a salad made of chopped parsley, mint, bulghar, tomato and spices.
LF – this dish is naturally lactose free
GF – this dish is naturally gluten free, serve with rice though!
V – you can make a nice veggie version of this dish without the lamb by following the same process, roast the vegetables at 180 C for 30-40 mins rather than roasting for the full time
Ve – you can make a nice veggie version of this dish without the lamb by following the same process, roast the vegetables at 180 C for 30-40 mins rather than roasting for the full time