Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lamb, apricot and almond tagine over cilantro couscous with honeyed carrots

I love a good tagine. This is a classic version - sweet apricots, spicy cinnamon, and savory meat. Texturally it's very interesting too, with the contrast between the crunchy slivered almonds and soft braised lamb, all heaped over fluffy, grainy couscous. I just love it.

I've only been experimenting with Moroccan cuisine for a couple of years. At my bridal shower, my sister's best friend gave me a stunningly gorgeous cookbook called "Fresh Moroccan", by Nada Saleh. As soon as I cracked it open, it was all over.

Saffron is the most expensive spice on Earth. Naturally, you can skip it, but it really does add something intangible that you can't imitate with anything else. I've started monitoring the spice aisle every time I'm in the grocery store and noticed that a couple of times a year, all the fancy pantsy spices go on sale for half the normal cost. This is when I pounce - I get all kinds of random spices I have no idea if I'll ever use, but inevitably, I'll stumble upon a recipe that calls for it.

Honeyed carrots are a natural side, as honey is a classic ingredient in many tagines like this one (not to mention the deep meaningful friendship between sweet roasted carrots and citrus, which perfumes this dish in its last few minutes of cooking).

Buy local, y'all.

~ 2lb lamb, fat and silverskin trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes (I used half a boneless leg because it's what I had, but shoulder would have entailed a lot less trimming)
1/2 a large or 1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup of slivered almonds
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 a cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ground ginger
pinch of saffron
~ 1 or 2 cups low sodium chicken stock
1/2 cup dried apricots, diced
~ 4 inch strip of lemon zest
~ 4 inch strip of orange zest

1/2 cup couscous (I like whole wheat)
1/2 cup low sodium chicken stock
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

bunch of pretty carrots, cut however you like
drizzle of honey

The tagine will take around an hour and a half, so you've got to plan ahead a bit for this one. Might be more of a Saturday thing.

Season your meat. In a large heavy-bottomed pot, brown the lamb in small batches, removing them to a bowl when done. When all of the lamb has been browned, add it back to the pot along with the onion and garlic and allow to soften for a few minutes. Then add the almonds and all the spices, a good pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and enough chicken stock to barely cover the lamb. Cover, and allow to cook over a low flame for an hour, stirring occasionally.

While that's happening, cook the couscous according to your package directions. If you buy yours in bulk like mine, it's just a 1:1 ratio - bring half a cup of chicken stock to a simmer, season lightly with kosher salt, dump in the couscous, swirl, cover, and kill the heat. After five minutes, scrape with a fork to fluff. Once it cools a bit, stir in the cilantro. I don't like to add it while the couscous is warm because the cilantro gets ugly. No one likes ugly cilantro.

After the hour is up, stir in the apricots and lemon and orange zest strips. Recover the pot and allow to cook another 20 minutes.

In a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat, toss your carrots with a drizzle of olive oil, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss them often. Once they're lovely and brown and soft to the bite, drizzle some honey on them and toss again.

Plate up a mound of couscous in a shallow bowl. Remove the zest and cinnamon stick from your tagine and heap a nice pile atop your couscous. Serve your honeyed carrots along the side.

Serves 2, takes about an hour and a half.

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