Thursday, August 26, 2010

Moorish Stew (lamb tagine, by any other name)

Some years ago I jotted down my work-in-progress recipe for ‘Moroccan Stew’ (even then I hesitated to call it tagine). This recipe – a very loose term for a list of ingredients and questions regarding possible variations, without any indication as to method or cooking time – is accompanied by a note at the bottom of the page which states: ‘potato emporium. idea. Why not have a shop that sells nothing but potatoes and potato related items, ie, peelers, mashers et cetera’. This page is sandwiched between an idea for ‘asian flavoured’ chicken mince kebabs made with left over boiled rice, fish sauce and coriander and my thoughts regarding the perfect blueberry muffin (consisting again of a list of ingredient and the admonishment that ‘hot! hot! The oven must be hot’). There are oil stains, smears of chocolate and what looks like an old, dried onion ring on the page. My life is filled with notebooks, folders, randomly sized slips of paper and cuttings from newspapers and magazines. The creative process is, well, creative.

I have an odd soft spot for recipes that bear the name of the vessel in which they are cooked. I think this is part of a broader appreciation of dishes that have names for themselves, and not merely a description of what they contain. Modern recipes, modern restaurants, will list for you dishes such as ‘pan-seared butterflied quail, with smoked fig, and liquorish sorbet’. Such nomenclature certainly conveys meaning but it denies the meal any independence from its components. The sum, in such a naming convention, is not greater than its parts. Not so for beef wellington. Or my perennial favourite, bouillabaisse. Or fairy cakes. Or spotted dick. Or lamingtons. These names speak of an existence beyond the ingredients – these recipes have independent identity.

And so for those fabulous meals eponymously named for their containers. Casserole. Hoppers. Paella. Saganaki. And tagine. The tagine is a two piece earthen wear cooking vessel consisting of a rimmed flat-bottom shallow pan and topped by a lid in the shape of an inverted flower pot. The tagine is the cooking vessel of Morocco. Think Divo, but rocking the Kasbah.

The tagine is suited to certain methods of cooking. And certain kinds of foods and flavours are found and appreciated in Morocco. So it makes sense that there is an identifiable and unmistakable family of dishes known as ‘tagines’. Earthy and spicy and slow cooked. Studded with sweetness and balanced with bitterness. Dates and figs and preserved lemons. Enhanced with almonds or pistachios. Lamb or chicken or fish, but never pork. And when you can hold that perfect, ideal, image in your head, it is possible to lift the impression of the dish – the smoky, soft, spicy-sweet-ness – and create a meal that is, in every respect except the one that counts, a tagine.

And because it tastes so good you might describe it as more-ish (pun approaching).

Moorish stew then, not tagine.

Moroccan lamb and vegetable stew, tagine style, served with scorched almonds in burnt butter with sour yoghurt sauce

Serves 6
400 g lamb pieces, large dice
2 tbsp corn flour
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp sumac
2 tsp paprika
1 cinnamon stick (or 1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon)
2 red onions, peeled and cut into thin wedges
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 finely sliced red chilli (optional)
400 g tin of chickpeas
1 small red sweet potato, about 250 gm, cut into 1 inch cubes
400g tin of crushed tomatoes
1 Moroccan preserved lemon, finely sliced (otherwise, use the finely grated rind of a fresh lemon, lime or orange)
200 gm dried fruit (ie, pears, apricot, prunes, dates, figs or raisins – I like a mixtue of pears and prunes)
2 firm pears, peeled, cored and quartered
200 gm green beans,
1 red capsicum, cut into finger width strips
1 zucchini, cut into 1 cm rounds
(you could add cauliflower, eggplant, parsnip, spinach, carrot – pretty much anything)

Dust the lamb pieces with the corn flour.

Heat the oil in a very large heavy based saucepan. Add the spices and fry for about 1 minute. Add the lamb, and shake the pan occasionally until the lamb is brown on all sides.

Add the onion and garlic and chilli and cook until starting to soften (about 5 minutes), stirring to prevent the lamb or the onions from burning. Reduce the heat if necessary. Add the chickpeas and cook until starting to pop (you will hear them – sometimes they even jump out of the pan). Add the sweet potato and pear quarters and stir until coated in the oil and spices.

Add the tinned tomatoes and 2 cups of water. Bring to a gentle simmer. Add the dried fruit and preserved lemon and cook over a gentle heat for about40 minutes, or until the sweet potato is cooked and the lamb is soft.

Add the remaining vegetables and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked but still firm.

Serve with couscous and scorched almond and burnt butter and sour yoghurt sauce.

Scorched almonds and burnt butter and sour yoghurt sauce.

100 gm blanched almonds
50 gm butter
1 cup low fat natural yoghurt
Sea salt

In a small fry pan, toast the blanched almonds until they are starting to appear scorched (some parts will be very darkly toasted and some will appear raw). Add the butter and reduce the heat. Cook until the butter is foaming and starting to turn a rich golden colour. Don’t actually burn the butter – you want it to taste toasty but not smoky.

Pour over the yoghurt and sprinkle with sea salt.

1 comment:

  1. "fabulous meals eponymously named for their containers"... you forgot balti ;-)