The word tagine (tajine, الطاجين) is both the name of a North African stew, and the conical earthenware pot in which it is usually cooked. The use of ceramics in North Africa was the result of Roman influence, and these dishes have been enjoyed for thousands of years.
Tagine pots are unique in that they trap steam and return the condensed liquid to the dish, enabling chefs to make tender foods with minimal added water, which is ideal in areas where water is scarce. For today’s recipe, I’ve provided instructions to create this dish with a dutch oven or deep skillet; so long as the lid has a very tight seal, you should be able to closely mimic the original dish – some folks like to cover their pots with tin foil before adding the lid, to ensure a completely tight seal.
There are countless spice options when preparing a tagine, but for this particular recipe I modeled my approach after a traditional Mrouzia, a tagine that is often served during Eid al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice). This Muslim celebration honors Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) willingness to sacrifice his son at God’s command, only to be provided a sacrificial goat at the last minute instead. During this celebration, a lamb (or sometimes goat) is ritually sacrificed and shared among family, neighbors, and the needy; in many settings, they prepare Mrouzia using the sacrificed lamb.
Mrouzia is served with toasted (blanched) almonds, and typically flavored with saffron and Ras el Hanout, a popular North African spice mixture. Commercial versions of Ras el Hanout exist, but it’s not too challenging to put together your own fresh spice blend (my recipe is below); you’ll likely have most of these spices in your pantry already, except perhaps for mace. While potatoes aren’t a typical accompaniment to Mrouzia, I find that they add a hefty balance to the sweet/salty mixture of the dish; steamed basmati rice (or couscous, if you’re not gluten-averse) also works well as a starch.
Lamb Tagine with Potatoes and Toasted Almonds (Gluten-free, Paleo, Primal, Whole30)
3 to 4 lbs lamb shoulder or boneless beef chuck roast or short ribs, cut into 2” chunks
1 tsp kosher salt, more to taste
1/2 tsp black pepper, more to taste
1 tbsp ghee or butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, grated (about ¾ cup grated)
1 tbsp Ras el Hanout (see below)
2 pinches saffron (about 15 strands), crushed between the fingers
1 tbsp honey
2” ginger, minced (or 1 tsp ground ginger)
1 stick cinnamon
1-2 cups chicken stock
1 cup whole raw almonds
1 cup golden raisins
1 lb golden potatoes, peeled and cut into 2” lengths
chopped fresh cilantro to garnish
Ras el Hanout (yields 3 tbsp):
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground caraway seeds
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground mace
cayenne pepper to taste (1 pinch to 1/2 tsp)
1. Season the lamb pieces with the salt and pepper, then set aside. Warm the ghee and olive oil in a dutch oven or deep skillet over medium-high heat, then add the lamb; brown until darkened and crisp on each side, about 3 minutes per side, in batches if needed to prevent overcrowding.
2. Remove the lamb and reduce heat to medium; add the onion and saute until softened, about 5 minutes, then stir in the Ras el Hanout, saffron, honey, ginger, and cinnamon stick. Saute until aromatic, about 1 minute, then return the lamb and its juices to the pot and add enough chicken stock to cover the lamb 2/3 of the way up, about 1-2 cups (I would err on the side of less liquid than more). Bring to a simmer, tightly cover, and reduce heat to low; gently simmer until the meat is very tender, about 2 hours.
3. As the meat is simmering, prepare the almonds and raisins. To prepare the almonds, bring a pot of lightly salted water to boil, then add the almonds and blanch for 1 minute; drain and cool the almonds, then slip them out of their skins. In a skillet, warm a little olive oil over medium heat, then add the almonds and pan-fry until they just start to darken, about 2 minutes, then transfer to a plate lined with paper towels; this step can be done at any time. To prepare the raisins, cover them with lukewarm water for 1 hour, about 30 minutes after you have started simmering the lamb.
4. Once the lamb is just tender, drain the raisins and add them to the pot, along with the potatoes. Continue to simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes, then season with salt and pepper to taste; serve scattered with cilantro and the almonds.
Note: In the year leading up to my new cookbook’s release, I will be regularly releasing these recipes to 1) maintain a continuing conversation with my readership and 2) give visitors to this site an opportunity to test and provide feedback before editing. For more information on this new approach, read my post here.