Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Lamb and Quince Tagine

Lamb and Quince Tagine (0007) by Meeta K. Wolff

In a current school project, my son’s class is discussing dreams, wishes, ambitions and aspirations. Soeren with his 9 years old is very focused and pretty much knows where he wants to go in life. Although he might take up a totally different path and end up doing something completely different to what he dreams of now, what strikes me as impressive is that he has been able to find all the right resources he needs to pave his way for his ultimate goal.


An exercise he had to do at home was to write about his dream country, discuss the advantages and the disadvantages and write about a typical day. There was a slight catch, however. He had to choose one of two countries:

  • Greenland
  • Morocco

Instantly he replied that it would be Morocco where he would choose to live. When I questioned his selection he replied,

“Easy … because the tagines and couscous you make all taste great!”

There you have it. He found the perfect resource that would make him happy in a country he knows very little about except for its cuisine. It was a brilliant starting point for us to delve a little deeper into the country, however we kept coming back to Morocco’s colorful cuisine.

My own experience of Morocco is mostly through books, websites, travel guides and tales from friends who have traveled extensively through the country. When it comes to the Moroccan food I was able to gather first hand experience while training in the hotel kitchen in Qatar.

One of the chefs I had the fortune to train with was a tall, sturdy Moroccan Lebanese man, who spoke fluent English, French and of course Arabic. I never quite found out how old he was and I always guessed he was somewhere between 40 and 60, it was that hard to tell. Initially he was rather hesitant to work with me and be my teacher. Today I can understand why. I grew up in that same hotel, my dad was one of the managers and for someone who saw me evolve from a cheeky pre-teen into a resolute sometimes brazen young adult it might have all been rather overwhelming. He certainly was not the kind to do any special favors, even for the daughter of the manager. What he did not realize however was, I never expected any favors. As a matter of fact, I disliked having that kind of special attention or treatment.

Lamb and Quince Tagine (0002) by Meeta K. Wolff

For the first few weeks we worked side by side more or less in silence. I would be there every morning ready to peel, scrape, clean and chop and everyday I would hope there would be more; a story about the dish we were making, an anecdote about how he learned to create a specific dish or even passing on a technique or the basic principles of Moroccan cookery. Nothing. All I got was a nod when I showed him all the vegetables I had chopped, then he would point to the next pile to be peeled.

One morning, I walked into the kitchen, making my way to the preparation area and as always crates of squash, eggplants and peppers and bunches of parsley and mint were stacked high waiting to be peeled and chopped. I had been handling vegetables everyday for a whole month now and I was certain this was to be the most tedious and boring stop of my 3 year training. With envy I would look over to the other chefs busily lined at the cooking ranges, stirring thick gravies, seasoning, testing and tasting till a perfectly concocted dish was be ready to be taken out to the guest eagerly awaiting what might have been his first encounter with Moroccan food. I wanted to be at that hub of creation. At least I could boast at being pretty good with a peeler and could chop a carrot in 3 seconds flat!

I giggled at that thought, when I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder and turned around to a puzzled look on my teacher’s face.

“I’ve been watching you! What do you want?” It was a strange question to ask me, but instead of replying, I held up a carrot to his face and showed him the technique I had developed in chopping the carrot.

“If I can peel and chop faster than you, can I move over to the range?” For the first time in that month I saw a slight smirk on his lips.

I did finally move to the range and when I took my place I felt I had earned the right to be standing there. I was taught how skillfully and carefully Moroccan food is prepared. How each vibrant ingredient is blended with the other to create a fusion of unique and distinct flavors and aromas. The sweet intermingles with the savory in a subtle yet sublime way, satisfying even the most critical palate.

Lamb and Quince Tagine (0010) by Meeta K. Wolff

I was most intrigued by making tagines. A tagine is essentially a slow-cooked stew made with meat, usually using lamb or chicken. It is also the clay cooking pot used to make the stew in. Ideally a tagine is stewed very slowly over a charcoal fire for several hours. This preserves the flavors and aromas, providing an intensive blend of tastes. The distinctive shaped clay cooking pot has a specific purpose. The shallow bottom with raised sides and a cone-shaped top is constructed in such a fashion to enclose condense cooking vapors, keeping the dish moist as it slowly cooks.

Traditional cooking tagines are made from clay, which are sometimes simply glazed, while others are decorated with colorful traditional Moroccan-style motifs. The clay gives dishes that earthy flavor. If one does decide to invest in a tagine make sure it is meant for the oven if you plan to cook with it. There are decorative ceramic pots that are designed simply to be used to present dishes, not to cook them.

Lamb and Quince Tagine (0005) by Meeta K. Wolff

While many of us won’t have access to charcoal fires, one can use the tagine to cook the stew over a stovetop or in the oven. Typically the ingredients for a tagine are layered at the bottom of a tagine, with the more robust and sturdier ingredients going in first, the lid seals the tagine tightly. It is then placed in a preheated oven for a long, slow cooking process. Finally spices are sprinkled over the tagine and ingredients like olives, preserved lemon, apricots or nuts are added to the dish.

Alternatively some recipes begin on the stovetop, caramelizing meat or vibrant vegetables like carrots similar to a traditional stew recipe. Other ingredients are then added with a sprinkling of spices and a small amount of liquid to help create the sauce. Cooking continues on a low heat on the stovetop, or the dish can be transferred to a low oven for a long braise.

Lamb and Quince Tagine (0012) by Meeta K. Wolff

The most important lesson I learned from my Moroccan teacher was patience … it is after all the most essential ingredient for tagine cooking.

The recipe for this lamb and quince tagine is one I have been experimenting with for a long time. Quince is in season right now and abundantly available. Its sharp distinctive flavor compliments the lamb and spices perfectly and its unique fragrance, with hints of pineapple, guava and pear adds a new level to the entire dish. As few people outside of Morocco are likely to keep a tagine pot alongside their cookware and baking dishes, one can easily use a large casserole or a saucepan with a lid to make the tagine. I used a tagine from Emile Henry from their gorgeous collection of tagines, but the instructions below are given using a casserole. If you do have a tagine for cooking, use it in the same way substituting the casserole. 

Recipe: Lamb And Quince Tagine

Printable version of recipe here

 and QuinceTagine by Meeta K. Wolff

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ kg lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 5cm/2in chunks
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds, ground
  • ½ teaspoon coriander seeds, ground
  • 100g butter
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 large onions, roughly chopped
  • 400 ml lamb stock
  • 2 quince, peeled, quartered and cored
  • ½ cinnamon stick
  • 4 tablespoon clear honey
  • Handful coriander leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 orange, juice and rind
  • ½ teaspoon saffron, dissolved in about 2 tablespoon boiling water
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper

Method:

  1. In a large casserole heat about 75g of butter and brown the lamb chunks on all sides. Remove and set aside.

  2. Add onions, garlic and all the spices (except for the saffron); sauté for 2 minutes until the onions are aromatic and translucent. Season and pour the stock into the casserole. Add 2 tablespoons honey and about half of the coriander. Bring the mixture to a boil, then put the lamb back into the casserole, reduce heat, cover with a lid and simmer over a low heat for 1½ hours until meat it fork tender.

  3. In the meantime, place quince in a saucepan and cover with water. Add orange juice, rind and the remaining honey. Bring to a boil then turn heat down and simmer for about 15 minutes until the quince is tender.
  4. After the lamb has cooked, add about 4-5 tablespoons of the poaching liquid, the saffron and its water to the casserole and allow to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce thickens. Season to taste.

  5. Slice quince into thinner slices and heat up the remaining butter in a frying pan. Sauté quince slices until they are golden. Add the quince slices to the casserole and sprinkle with the remaining coriander. Serve with a mixed vegetable couscous.

Verdict

Lamb and Quince Tagine (00012) by Meeta K. Wolff

The entire design of a tagine is to capture the aromatic condensation, allowing the complex, spiced layers to merge into a delicious concoction. While it is certainly not necessary to use a tagine to cook a tagine, once you have used a tagine to cook a tagine you will taste the difference. If you are interested in buying a tagine, Emile Henry make some fine cookware.image

While we’ve just wrapped up From Plate to Page Tuscany, we’re already hard at work organizing and planning the next series in our food photography and writing workshop.

If you follow us on Twitter, Facebook or subscribe to the From Plate to Page website then you already know where the next workshop is going to be held. If not, well come on over and check out the venue for Plate to Page UK. We’ve rented a gorgeous seventeenth century Manor House in the lush landscape of Somerset. We’ll be taking control of cheddar and cider country next year and have weaved a fantastic program for our participants. If you missed both Weimar and Tuscany, you now have the opportunity to make it to Somerset for an intensive 3 day, very hands on workshop. We will be opening registrations soon, so please keep track of our Twitter, Facebook pages and the website. Don not miss anything!

More Middle Eastern flavors from WFLH:

Roasted Aubergine Salad with Saffron Yogurt, Pine Nuts and Pomegranate Warm Lentil Salad with Dried Cherries, Feta and a Herb Marinated Lamb Fillet Ras El Hanout Lamb Tagine with Pumpkin and Apricots


All photographs and written content on What's For Lunch, Honey? © 2006-2011 Meeta Khurana Wolff unless otherwise indicated. | All rights reserved | Please Ask First

19 comments :

  1. MMmm yum, I'm crazy about lamb stews at the moment and I've not come across one with quince before. I absolutely love that tagine, I've only seen ones in bright orange and whizzy patterns here, that ones much more stylish!

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  2. I loved that story of young you working in Quatar! I can almost picture you standing there with tons and tons of veggies, chopping and chopping.. :) I love the Moroccan kitchen too and have been fortunate enough to travel there too. A tajine is still high on my wishlist but as you say this would be perfect in a casserole too. Love that you used quince! Still have not been able to find good ones here... :(

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  3. I don't know which is more entertaining: the story of Soeren or your story in the hotel kitchen. I love this post and I love the story of your learning to cook tagine. Now you have to get together with JP who learned in the kitchens of Moroccan ladies, mothers and grandmothers! I love your photos and now I'm in the mood for tagine!

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  4. I am a sucker for Moroccan food and tagines. Yours looks wonderful and your pictures are beautiful (I love the light)!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  5. How lucky you are to be trained by good chefs! Loved the story of your teacher, and love the dark colour of the tagine as well.

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  6. That tagine looks marvelous (and the actual tagine is so beautiful... I've always loved the design).

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  7. Beautiful post, Meeta. I make a lot of tagines, and adore the traditional Moroccan combination of meet and fruit. One thing I do notice is a huge difference between tagines cooked in a tagine on the stovetop, and those cooked in the oven. The tagine is designed to cook the food with a combination of bottom heat and steam, and in the oven, the all-around heat seems to evaporate more of the liquid. I'd recommend a heavy cast-iron Dutch oven for oven or stovetop cooking if you don't have a conical tagine; a lighter-weight pot won't work.

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  8. But the Tagine looks so dry - that's certainly not how it is in Morocco. In Morocco the Tagines are juciy and succulent. Tagine is supposed to be a Stew, not dry and manky like it is in the photo.

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  9. Thank you to everyone for your comments and glad to hear you are liking the tagine and enjoy reading the post.

    ANON - thanks for you comment and I really wish you would back them up with a name. The tagine was anything but dry and manky as you say. Sorry you think it looks like that due to the lack of bucketfuls of gravy. For aesthetic photography purposes, I did not want to drown the meat and fruit in the juices as it would have resembled a brown slop of unattractive food. As a cook I understand where you are coming from but as a photographer I need to be careful how I portray the image too. In your opinion I failed to make it look appetizing - I guess I cannot win em all! Thanks for taking the time to leave your feedback!

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  10. You are so right, I don't know many who have a tagine but instead use a casserole. I've debated purchasing one for several years, get close then back out. Do I really need another item in my kitchen?!

    Entertaining story about your training Meeta. I love excuses to savor the harvest. Quince are plentiful here now too ;-)

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  11. Mmm, I love tagines and I am super envious of your lovely ceramic tagine in duck-egg blue/grey - too gorgeous! I was never very fond od quinces till I learnt that the secret to a fab quince is long, slow cooking - love the idea of adding them to a tagine :)

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  12. Your tagine looks lovely, meeta.

    If you wish, you could share it on my blog's new community page: http://www.dinnersanddreams.net/community-2

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  13. Your story was wonderful and impressive, you'd certainly beat me in any carrot peeling/chopping contest.

    I've often thought of purchasing a tagine, the shape is so attractive. I'm kind of like Lynn, I've come close but then find it had to justify the purchase.

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  14. I think it's great that Soeren is focused and knows what he wants to achieve in life. I don't think I was that focused at his age. All I wanted when I was in middle school was to become a doctor though I later changed my mind!

    BTW, the tagine looks perfect. I am sure it must have tasted excellent as well. No wonder Soeren prefers Morocco to Greenland.

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  15. A lovely story about You ans your son. I envy him really to be so focused so young in life. I am still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

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  16. No guessing where your son gets his focus and ambition from! A really informative post about the essentials of a tagine. Love the use of quince in it too. I feel like eating this now - but on a non-meat month to support my daughter! Torture.

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  17. The rich culture of Morocco is something I would want to explore at any given time. There is a lot to learn about, henna, scarves, fashion pieces,etc...Everything has its own intersting history. Cuisine is to die for. I would have the same choice too, (no offense to Greenland, I would love to learn more about Greenland someday too)
    Meantime, I'll concentrate on this lamb dish...Amazing for dinner!
    ...And continue to hope that I'll someday reach places Id love to go to. Thanks!

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  18. This is a lovely post. Not only because of this delicious recipe but the whole story about the hotel and Soeren. He sounds like such a great young boy. You must be so proud of him. On the tagine, I love the idea of adding quince. I am so in love with this fruit. A friend promised me some from her garden but we never managed to meet up for quite a bit so she ended up giving them away. Tagines are so delicious. I used to have them at this tiny little place in London, just near where I used to live. A small business ran by a moroccan family.This post made me miss that meal.

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  19. Thank you everyone for all your comments. Glad you are liking this recipe. We love our tagines too and moreover I love experimenting with different ingredients and products. The quince was a great addition adding a brilliant highlight to the tagine.

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Thank you for visiting What's For Lunch, Honey? and taking time to browse through my recipes, listen to my ramblings and enjoy my photographs. I appreciate all your comments, feedback and input. I will answer your questions to my best knowledge and respond to your comments as soon as possible.

In the meantime I hope you enjoy your stay here and that I was able to make this an experience for your senses.

Hugs
Meeta