I’m going to be predictably British and talk weather.
Sorry, I guess it’s in my genes, but weather is invariably the conversational hallmark of the Brit. It’s a bit like a speedier game of snap with players clamouring to slam the same card on the pile, except the game is ‘which cliché about the British weather shall be agreed on most enthusiastically’.
But, gosh, isn’t the weather variable at the moment? It seems like five minutes since I woke up to a scene akin to something out of Doctor Zhivago (cue predictably original ‘snow chaos’ headlines). Last week, after spending the preceeding days cosying up to the log burner in chunky knits, we had a sporadic few days of shirtless men and panic BBQS whilst temperatures reached the lofty heights of the high 20s. And now I’m back to multiple layers of clothing and drinking warming hot chocolate rather than a refreshing Pimms.
All of this makes food planning rather difficult. This recipe was conceived during a chilly spell, when we were still recovering from the ‘beast from the east’. I felt something warmingly spicy was needed, and needed the satiety of rich red meat. By the time it came to cook the tagine, the temperature had soared, the paddling pool was being filled and I was hysterical cause the kids’ factor 50 suncream had almost run out. A summery salad or light fish dish would have been much more more fitting for such a warm day.
I decided to go with it (I’d no room in my jam packed freezer for the unused meat anyhow), and decided to freshen up the dish with a simple beetroot salad, and serve with a cooling minty yogurt. And anyway, I figured it gets pretty hot in Morocco, the birthplace of Tagine, and they have some pretty solid culinary acumen.
I know that Lamb is not necessarily the most wallet friendly of meats, but I found some stewing Lamb in the supermarket, and the addition of lentils -although perhaps not authentic- stretches this dish a little further. I had to trim some fat off the meat, but welcomed the bony chunks you often get with cheaper cuts. Bone, when cooked low and slow, only adds to the depth of this flavoursome stew. And the beauty of tagine is that the longer you cook it, the more meltingly tender it becomes.
I know it seems a faff to make the paste at the beginning, but trust me, it’s worth the hassle. The spicy ginger and pungent garlic really meld together and absorb the spices, which in turn really penetrate the meat. Some tagine recipes advise the addition of a fruity element near the end of cooking, but I threw the prunes in along with the other ingredients at the start; I like the way they almost melt into the sauce to create a cohesive vehicle for the meat.
A word about cooking equipment: if you are lucky enough to own an authentic terracotta Tagine, you may be able to use a heat diffuser or simmer ring to start off the cooking process, but don’t be tempted to put it on the hob without. I just used a transferable cast iron pot. It did the job, but certainly didn’t look as pretty.
I hope you enjoy this recipe. Tagine is my absolute favourite of all ‘stew’ recipes- it even featured at the meal on our wedding day! I’m off to turn up the heating and grab an extra blanket. Oh, and check the long range weather forecast, of course.
Lamb, prune and lentil Tagine (serves 6)
750g stewing lamb
1 large red onion
2 garlic cloves
1 piece of thumb sized ginger
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cumin (freshly toasted and ground if possible)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon paprika
1 400g tub passata
2 tablespoons tomato puree
250 ml chicken or lamb stock
150g red lentils
1 tablespoon runny honey
Juice of half a lemon
Handful of fresh coriander, chopped (keep the stalks and chop them for the paste)
- Preheat the oven to 150 degrees c
- Season the meat well, brown in a hot pan and set to one side.
- Make the paste: blitz the onion, garlic, ginger and coriander stalks with a tablespoon of oil. Add water to loosen if necessary
- Fry the paste in a large pan and add the spices, heating through.
- Add the meat and fry for approx 5 minutes, ensuring all pieces get a good coating
- Add the passatta, tomato puree, stock and lentils along with a good pinch of salt and pepper
- Transfer to an ovenproof dish and add the prunes and honey
- Cook for 2 and a half to 3 hours, adding the lemon juice at the end.
- Garnish with fresh coriander and serve alongside whatever accompaniment suits the weather