Recipe — Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Prunes and Almonds, Essaoui

The Dish: Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Prunes and Almonds

Moroccan tagine is essentially a slow-cooked stew, made from meat (generally lamb) or chicken, but could contain anything from duck to fish. We had one with pulpo (octopus) that was sublime in Essaouria. The dish is usually cooked in a tagine pot, consisting of a glazed clay base and a large conical lid that’s designed to guide the condensation from cooking back into the pot.

In my last post on food I wrote about how there were many different versions of chakchouka – well, that’s nothing compared to the variations of tagine! For this lamb tagine it’s best to use the shoulder, neck or shank of the lamb. One of the ideas of the dish – as with most stews – is to use the cheaper cuts of meat and render them tender through slow cooking. You won’t find two cooks who’ll agree on what exactly should go into a tagine as most follow their own family’s recipe, finely tuned in their ancestor’s kitchens over decades.

I watched Jamila at our Marrakech riad make this tagine and while I loved the results there are a couple of things that I’d do differently. But don’t tell Jamila – she’s a force of nature! I like to sweat the onions and the garlic down before adding the meat. Then I like to brown the meat as well. I think this adds to the flavour of the dish.

I made our final tagine at our Essaouira riad, having shopped that morning in the vibrant local markets – and what wonderful markets they are! I do realize the irony of cooking lamb tagine in a place known for its seafood, but there is fantastic lamb in the region – in fact the meat sold at the markets comes from just 15 minutes away where the cattle happily graze on the lush green coastal grass. Leave plenty of time to make this dish because it can take longer than you might expect for the meat to achieve that fall-apart tenderness. Think slow-cooked lamb shanks. You can use a pressure cooker if you want, as it cuts the simmering time down to about an hour. Don’t quote me on that, though.

Sad confession: when making this dish in Australia one time, we had to order in pizza because my tagine wasn’t ready at 10pm – even though it was on the stove at 6pm. To be safe, leave it for at least four hours from the onions hitting the pan to possible serving time – or have your local pizza place on speed dial and eat it the next day. The best things about this dish are that, firstly, it’s dead easy, and, secondly, it will fill your home with the most delicious aromas! Serve it with some crusty bread or plain couscous.

Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Prunes and Almonds recipe

Author: Terence Carter

Recipe type: Main

Prep time:  30 mins

Cook time:  3 hours

Total time:  3 hours 30 mins

Serves: 2

Moroccan tagine is essentially a slow-cooked stew, made from meat (generally lamb) or chicken, but could contain anything from duck to fish. This is the classic lamb version.

Ingredients

• 500g lamb neck, shoulder (cut into 4cm pieces) or shanks if you prefer

• 3 tablespoons of olive oil

• 1 large onion, sliced finely

• 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

• 1 mixed bunch of parsley and coriander (cilantro) tied into a bouquet

• 1 teaspoon ras al hanout

• 1 teaspoon cumin

• ½ teaspoon crushed saffron threads

• 1 teaspoon saffron powder (sometimes called “yellow Moroccan food colouring”)

• 1 teaspoon ground ginger or (my preference) minced fresh ginger

• 2 cups of water

• 1 cup of pitted prunes

• ½ cup almonds, preferably slivered

• ½ cup of freshly toasted sesame seeds

Instructions

1. Sweat the onions in olive oil over medium heat in a large pan until translucent. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant (about 5mins).

2. Add the lamb and brown all sides of each piece.

3. Add the rest of the ingredients on the list up to the pitted prunes, and stir.

4. Pop the lid on top and simmer for at least two hours before checking for doneness.

5. As the tagine gets close to being ready, the sauce should reduce to what appears to be syrupy onions and oil. This, readers, is a ‘good thing’.

6. When you think you have about an hour to go, try it to see if it needs more seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Add the prunes and the almonds.

7. It’s around this stage that some recipes add sugar or honey. Taste and add them if you wish although I never have.

8. As you get close to serving, do your couscous then transfer the tagine to the tagine pot and crank the heat up a little. Try to find that damn bundle of parsley and coriander as you don’t want anyone eating that.

9. When you’re ready, sprinkle the sesame seeds on top and place the tajine, and the couscous, in the centre of the table – it’s meant to be shared!

If you liked this, see my other posts in this series in which I search for and learn to make quintessential regional dishes, including a chocolate snack with a Michelin-starred chef in Barcelona, Rabo de Toro (oxtail stew) in Jerez, and Cassoulet in Ceret.




There are 22 comments

Add yours
  1. Heather Carreiro

    Your dish looks “mmm zien” (Moroccan Arabic for delicious!) – I lived in Ifrane (north of Fez) for year and have experimented with several different kinds of tajine, although I’ve never tried one with prunes. Will have to test out this recipe!

  2. Terence Carter

    Zien! We know Ifrane well, went skiing at the slopes near there once! We’ve lived in the Middle East for 12 years and have been to Morocco a few times. That dish is one of Lara’s favourites so it’s the one we settled on, it’s quite popular over all of Morocco and the ingredients are easy to find. For some people the preserved lemons for some tagines are not readily available.
    Give the dish a go, it’s great for winter.
    Cheers,
    T

  3. Heather Carreiro

    My Portuguese family does weekly Sunday dinners – when it’s my turn to cook I might go Moroccan on them, bust out the tea set from Fez and everything! Living in Ifrane was a trip. It got SO cold there. One day it would be snowing (even into April and May) and the next you could wear a t-shirt and sit outside.

  4. Terence Carter

    Well anything’s better than endless bacalhau! After a week in Portugal I feel like a walking piece of salt cod…
    My memories of Ifrane are the beautiful blue skies and the damn freezing temperatures.The snow was HARD too. Love to go back one day…

  5. Terence Carter

    Peter,
    Thanks for your comment.
    Hate to burst your bubble, but most tagines are cooked in a huge pot and only transferred to the tagine pot for final heating over an open flame before serving (I’ve been in quite a few Moroccan kitchens!)
    It’s rarely cooked from scratch in the tagine pot – the pot itself is not easy or sensible to cook in. For instance, it’s very hard to brown meat in the tagine pot.
    These days manufacturers such as Le Creuset have brought out cast iron bottomed pots that make cooking tagine in them from scratch far more practical.

  6. Mohamed

    Thanks for the info, I am Moroccan but I live now in Australia, this is my favorite Tagine ever, ahhh I missed it lot, I tried to make it several times but never turns like mum’s Tagine.
    Salam

  7. laradunston

    Hi Mohamed – no cooking is ever as good as Mum’s cooking, is it? You must try this particular recipe and let us know how you like it. Shukran for visiting us here!

  8. Lisa

    Love love love Tajines! You are mikang me realizethat I have not made many lately!I own many tajine dishes!!!Le Creuset is great!Lovely post!

  9. Josh

    Terence, many thanks! This is the best lamb tagine recipe I’ve come across from the many on the web, a simple and failsafe way of creating an authentic dish.

    For me it’s fine to leave the herbs in the dish, as they’re all but disappeared by the time it’s done. I also prefer to keep the almonds whole. I don’t bother with the Ras al hanout, because I prefer to add the spices myself – mainly coriander powder, nutmeg, a touch of cayenne pepper.

    I live near Portobello in London, which has a large Moroccan population. So fortunately I can get nice fresh tagine ingredients from Portobello market and the Moroccan butchers here.

  10. Terence Carter

    Thanks Josh.
    As the herbs are tied with kitchen string, it’s a good idea with my version to pluck them out!
    That’s great that you can get good fresh ingredients, nothing worse than old dried herbs.
    I’ve had this recipe with a mix of almond slivers and whole almonds too, it’s really down to personal preference and how you want to present the dish.
    Cheers,
    T

  11. Todd B.

    I FOUND IT!!!! I stumbled across your site & this recipe 6 months ago, made it & it was outstanding!!!! Have been looking for it again for a few weeks & I found it again!!! I have a Moroccan cookbook but this is BY FAR the best recipe- I think its the addition of the ras el hanout- I have made others & it was missing something. Was able to get ras el hanout here in Geneva that gets sent to the king of Saudi Arabia as its his favorite & its quite good & surprisingly not that spendy! On my way to the shop to get everything else- its on the menu tonight!!!!

  12. Lara Dunston

    Hi Todd – so pleased to hear that. And so glad to hear it worked out well. If that Ras el Hanout is being sent to the Saudi king it must be pretty special. Enjoy!

  13. Sharon

    Hi Terence
    This was sublime – thank you for transporting us from uMhlanga, in South Africa to Morocco. I added a few extras like fish sauce, chicken stock & a little chilli powder, topped with fresh coriander and served it with cauliflower mash – it was excellent !

    Thank you – your website is stunning.

  14. Lara Dunston

    Hi Sharon – I’ll answer on behalf of Terence, who is busy finishing his photography portfolio site at the moment. Pleased you loved the recipe, though sounds like it became a fusion of sorts with that fish sauce, chili and coriander. The most important thing is that you enjoyed it! Thanks for trying it out and thanks so much for sharing your feedback – both on the recipe and the website. x


Post a new comment