Many food experts consider Moroccan cuisine to be one of the top cuisines in the world. Paula Wolfert, author of two seminal books on Moroccan cuisine, calls it “a world class cuisine”.
“To my mind four things are necessary before a nation can develop a great cuisine. The first is an abundance of ingredients—a rich land. The second is a variety of cultural influences; the history of a nation, including its domination by foreign invaders, and the culinary secrets it has brought back from its own imperialist adventures. Third, a great civilization—if a country has not had its day in the sun, its cuisine will probably not be great; great food and a great civilization go together. Last, the existence of a refined palace life—without royal kitchens, without a Versailles or a Forbidden City in Peking, without, in short, the demands of a cultivated court—the imagination of a nation’s cooks will not be challenged.” — Paula Wolfert, “Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco”
Tagines have been an important part of Moroccan culture for hundreds of years. The word “tagine” itself actually has two meanings. First, it refers to the North African cookware traditionally made of clay or ceramic. The bottom is a wide, shallow circular dish used for both cooking and serving, while the top of the tagine is a distinctively shaped cone that covers the stew and allows it to steam. “Tagine” also refers to the succulent stew which is slow-cooked in the traditional cookware. Typically, a tagine is a rich mixture of meat, poultry, or fish, and most often includes vegetables or fruit.
Lamb Tagine with Zucchini, Apricot, Green Olives, and Buttered Almonds
- Large Dutch oven with cover or large heavy pot
- 2¼ lb Boneless lamb, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 4 cloves Garlic, minced
- 1½ tsp Kosher salt
- 1 tsp Black pepper
- ½ tsp Cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp Paprika
- 1 tsp Ground cumin
- 1 tsp Ground ginger
- 2 large Onions, peeled, halved and sliced thin
- 2 Cinnamon sticks, 2-inches long
- 1 large Pinch of saffron (turmeric can be substituted)
- 2 lb Small zucchinis, ends removed and cut into ¾-inch slices
- 1½ tsp Za'atar (or ½ tsp each of thyme, marjoram, and oregano)
- 1¼ cups Dried Apricots, sliced
- 1 cup Cracked green olives, pitted (Kalamata olives OK)
- 3 tbsp Butter
- ⅓ cup Sliced almonds
- ⅛ cup Parsley leaves, chopped
- 2 cups Couscous, store bought 5-minute couscous
- Prepare Lamb – Preheat oven to 325°F (165°C). Trim off excess fat from lamb. Add meat to pot along with the garlic, salt, cayenne, black pepper, paprika, ginger, and cumin. Rub spices into the meat cubes.Mince enough of the onion slices to make ½ cup. Add minced onion to pot.Place pot over high heat, stirring until spices release their scent, a few minutes. Add 3 cups water, cinnamon and saffron. Bring to a boil, then cover pot and transfer to oven. Braise in oven for 45 minutes.Remove from oven, turn meat and top with remaining onion slices. Return to oven, covered, and cook for another 60 minutes. Remove pot from oven. Using a slotted spoon, transfer just the meat to a bowl. Leave onions and broth in pot.
- Prepare Zucchini – While lamb is in the oven, put zucchini slices in a colander, lightly salt , and let drain for 20 minutes. Rinse, drain, and pat dry. Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle with Za'atar. Add ¾ cup sliced apricots and olives to bowl.
- Finish Tagine – Place the pot, uncovered, back on stove over high heat and boil 5 minutes. Add bowl with Zucchini, apricots, and olives to the pot Reduce heat to medium-high and simmer for 10 minutes more. Return lamb to pot and keep warm until serving. Tagine can be refrigerated for up-to 4 days. Remove, skim off fat and reheat before serving.
- Serve Tagine – Chop remaining ½ cup sliced apricots. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add almond slivers and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes. In a large serving bowl, add couscous and top with almonds and butter and chopped apricots. Move couscous toward sides of bowl. Pour lamb stew in middle, garnish with parsley and serve.