A tagine, with a warmly spiced, almost perfumed sauce that caresses the meat or vegetables, is a wonderfully comforting dish. This is my verson of a lamb tagine, with a sauce made using pomegranate juice and a simple homemade spice mixture.
All that is needed for a great tagine is time, through the slow, gentle cooking, to allow the flavour to develop.
I like to serve tagines simply: with flatbreads and couscous. Soft, buttery and full-flavoured, flatbreads are a joy to dunk into a tagine, scooping up the sauce and pieces of melt-in-the-mouth meat.
Pomegranates all the way!
I love using pomegranate juice in a tagine, which you can buy readily in the supermarket – just go for the no-sugar variety. The pomegranate adds a gentle sweet-sharpness and gives a real boost to the slowly cooked sauce here. I also like to add a generous splash of red wine before it all goes into the oven.
You can buy good commercial flatbreads but I like to flavour them with mint or coriander: a simple trick to make them come alive is given below.
A quick and easy spice blend
The spice blend is very easy to make: it is simply a matter of mixing the dry spices together.
You can use harissa powder from the shops, which has more heat, but I love making my own blend up.
I often make up a double or triple quantity of the spice blend, as it keeps well in an airtight jar. It also makes great gifts, especially when popped into small glass jars.
My spice blend for the tagine is more warming than hot, which I think a tagine should be. However, I sometimes make up the spice blend below but add in a tablespoon or so of mild chilli powder: although I sometimes blitz dried whole chillies in the blender and use the resulting powder.
Mix some fresh mint (and/or coriander) with melted butter and a little salt and brush generously over warm flatbreads. Then simply serve them!
I sometimes like to sprinkle over a little toasted cumin seeds, too.
Couscous needs, I think, a bit of a helping hand as it can be quite dull. Once I have cooked it by pouring over hot vegetable stock, I then mix in the following:
- pomegranate seeds
- chopped mint leaves
- crushed garlic
- finely chopped red onion
- a few chopped dried apricots
- a few roughly chopped pistachios
- a spritz or two of lemon juice
- a little olive oil
- a little ras al hanout
I never bother measuring here: I just add a bit of each, taste, and then add a bit more of whatever I think it needs.
This gives a wonderful dish in its own right, eaten warm or cold.
Recipe: Moroccon lamb tagine – serves 6-8
1 tablespoon each of:
- ground ginger
- ground cinnamon
- ground cumin
- ground coriander
- garlic powder (or smoked)
- smoked paprika
- ground turmeric
- cayenne pepper
NB: you can add about a tablespoon of dried chilli powder for more heat
- 2 large onions, sliced fairly thickly
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
- half of the spice blend above
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- about 800g lamb shoulder, cut into chunks about an inch or so big
- 2” piece of ginger, peeled and grated
- 1 tin of tomatoes
- 1-2 glasses of red wine
- about 150g dried apricots, roughly chopped
- 400ml pomegranate juice
- 1 tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- a small handful of fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
- a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil for frying
- chopped fresh coriander and mint
- a few pomegranate seeds
- a few roughly chopped pistachios
(1) For the spice blend, simply mix the spices together.
(2) Rub about a tablespoon of this blend into the meat, going in with your hands to get the meat well coated. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. The rest of the spice blend will be used for the sauce.
(3) Fry the onions in the oil until softened and add the garlic, ginger and the rest of the spice blend. Cook on a medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring to prevent it catching: this will help release the flavours from the spices.
(4) Add the tomatoes, apricots, lamb, mint and pomegranate juice and bring to a gentle simmer. Put the lid on and pop in the oven at about 130C (fan) for about 4-5 hours, or until the lamb is very tender, adding the chickpeas after about 3 hours.
NB: I like to taste it after 3 hours, to see the level of the spicing. If you feel it needs more, mix up a little more spice mix using about half a teaspoon of each and stir it in.
(5) Sprinkle with coriander, mint, fresh pomegranate seeds and a pistachios, before serving with couscous and/or flatbreads.