Their rich flavors and spices fill the kitchen of exotic smells.
Tagines are slow cooked stews. The meat is braised at low temperature and then cooks covered, still at low temperature, for a couple of hours, depending on the meat used.
The tagine dish is a clay pot in two parts: a round bottom, a couple of inches high, and a top shaped as a cone to allow the condensation from cooking to fall back to the bottom. The result is a tender meat and rich sauce.
Traditionally, the tagine is served on its own, but I like to serve it with couscous.
The dish I made this weekend is inspired by "Chocolate and Zucchini" (Clothilde Dusoulier), one of my favorite cookbook.
The deeps flavors of the north-African spices mixed with the rich taste of lamb and the sweetness of the pears make this dish truly unique.
This dish is best made a day or two in advance!!
Lamb Tagine with Pears
2 3.5 lbs legs of lamb, deboned
4 medium onions, sliced
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp of ground ginger
1/2 tsp of ground nutmeg (from whole nuts, it is so much more flavorful!)
1 tsp of whole cumin seeds (if you cannot find cumin seeds, use caraway seeds)
1 tsp of ground chili powder
1 tsp of ground cinnamon
8 pears, ripe
1 1/2 cup blanched almonds
Trim the fat off the meat and cut it in 11/2-inch pieces. Pat dry with paper towel.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet, or dutch oven. Working in batches, brown the meat on medium low heat. When all sides are brown, remove the meat from the skillet and set aside. De-glaze the juices by adding a little water in the still hot pan, scrape the bottom and sides and transfer to a bowl for later use.
Repeat until all the meat is done.
Using the same pan, heat some olive oil and add the onions, still on medium low heat. Stir and cover. Cook until soft, stirring regularly. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.
Transfer to a bow.
Mix all the spices in a small bowl. Heat them in the skillet, without any oil, to release the fragrances. Add the meat and then the onions-garlic mix. Add the juices from the meat that you set aside earlier; mix well. Add water to cover the meat about half way.
Bring to a simmer and cover. Cook on really low for at least 2 hours.
While the tagine is cooking, peal, core and quarter the pears.
Heat about one tablespoon of butter in a skillet. Add half the pears and cook, turning them on all sides, until soft and somewhat translucent. When done, set aside on a baking sheet; repeat with remaining pears.
Toast the almonds in a small pan, and set aside until ready to serve.
If you are planning to serve couscous with the tagine, now is a good time to prepare: bring same volume of water as you have of couscous to boil in a shallow sauce pan, with salt. When the water is boiling, turn the heat off and add olive oil. Add the couscous and stir. Let stand five minutes and then separate the grains with a wooden spoon. This can stay like this for a while until you are ready to eat! Just reheat quickly on the stove.
When the tagine is almost ready, reheat the pears in the oven, at 350 for about 5 to 8 minutes.
Transfer the meat in a serving dish. Place the pears on the perimeter of the dish and sprinkle with the toasted almonds.
NOTES: You can if you own a Tagine dish, transfer the meat in the dish, cover it and cook in the oven for a couple of hours, on low heat (275).