I documented way back in 2011 how when I have a new ingredient (red spinach in that case), I am compelled to find the perfect recipe, or way to cook or use the food. This has become all the more true as my husband and I continue to get meat and produce from Grasshoppers, our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).
Since April 2011, I’ve been getting better about just using what produce we have, trying not to stress too much about finding the best recipe to highlight that ingredient. I’m more flexible with what I cook and how I cook.
Then there was the lamb. We had a boneless leg of local lamb sitting in our freezer, courtesy of Grasshoppers. We don’t receive lamb very often, and it is expensive to purchase at the grocery. I also happen to love lamb. Therefore, I had to find THE RECIPE for this. After much debating, I chose a pretty good one.
The first recipe sounded amazing, but required some ingredients I did not want to hunt down – kaffir lime leaves, fenugreek, and anise. The second recipe also sounded great but I would have to purchase more curry powders and it required a lot of added fat. The final recipe was the winner – it sounded almost as good as the others and I had more of the ingredients on hand.
Following Ms. Clark’s recipe carefully yielded delicious results. It took all of 2.5 hours (much of that hands-off), and I dirtied several pans toward the end, but it was a perfect weekend recipe and would be great to serve for a group of friends or family.
The recipe also succeeded in enticing me to buy olives for the first time. Olives are the one food I really can’t stand. They do, however, provide dishes a salty, briny complexity (as do capers and anchovies, both of which I like). I figured I’d go ahead and include the olives but not eat them. They would at least flavor the sauce. I’m glad I did – the sauce was perfectly salty and savory.
Adapted slightly from Lamb Tagine with Apricots, Olives, and Buttered Almonds, by Melissa Clark (also appears in the book In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite)
2 1/4 pounds boneless leg of lamb or lamb stew meat, cut into 2-inch chunks
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 t. kosher salt
1 t. ground black pepper
1 t. paprika
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. ground cumin
2 large yello onions, peeled and quartered
2 cinnamon sticks, each 2 inches long
Large pinch crumbled saffron
1 1/4 c. dried apricots, sliced
1 cup cracked green olives, pitted and sliced if desired – I left them as is since I was not eating them
2 T. butter
1/3 c. sliced almonds
Cooked couscous, for serving
Chopped parsley or cilantro, for garnish – I used cilantro
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Trim excess fat off lamb. Put meat in a deep Dutch oven or cast-iron pot with the garlic, salt, black pepper, paprika, ginger and cumin. Rub spices and garlic evenly all over meat.
Thinly slice onions, then mince enough of them to yield 1/2 cup. Add minced onion to pot with lamb; reserve onion slices.
Place pot over high heat and let cook, turning meat on all sides, until spices release their scent, about 3 minutes. You need not brown meat. Add 3 cups water to pot (it should come 3/4 of the way up lamb), along with cinnamon and saffron. Bring to a simmer, then cover pot and transfer to oven. Let braise for 45 minutes.
Turn meat, then top with onion slices. Cover pot and braise for another 45 minutes to an hour, or until lamb is very tender. Use a slotted spoon to transfer meat to a bowl, leaving broth and onions in pot.
Place pot on stove over high heat and add 3/4 cup apricots and the olives. Simmer broth until it reduces by a third and thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Return lamb to pot and keep warm until serving. (Tagine can be prepared 4 days ahead; chill, then remove fat and reheat before serving.)
To serve, chop remaining 1/2 cup apricot slices. In a small skillet, melt butter. Add almonds and cook until well browned and toasted, about 2 minutes. Put couscous in a serving bowl and top with almonds and butter and chopped apricots. Pile tagine in center of couscous and garnish with herbs.