This Moroccan lamb tagine with prunes and almonds recipe comes to you direct from our Marrakesh riad kitchen in Morocco, where I learnt to make this deliciously rich tagine from Jamila, our riad cook, and Essaouria, where we made it again for this recipe. A Moroccan tagine is a slow-cooked stew made from meat, generally lamb or chicken, but can contain anything from duck to fish. It’s quintessential Moroccan comfort food.
I learnt to make this traditional recipe for a Moroccan lamb tagine with prunes and almonds – one of our best recipes with nuts – from the lovely Moroccan cook at the riad we settled into for two weeks in Marrakech in February 2010. It’s been one of our most popular recipes since we published it, and one of my favourite tagine recipes, along with this classic chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives.
Morocco was the first stop on our year-long grand tour of the world, which launched Grantourismo, with the aim of inspiring you all to travel more slowly, locally and experientially, forms of travel we’d long believed were more immersive, engaging and interactive, and therefore more meaningful and more memorable. Cooking food, and slow food, was a big part of that project.
In the Moroccan edition of Weekend Eggs I wrote about how there were many different versions of chakchouka. Well, that’s nothing compared to the variations of tagine in Morocco. You won’t find two cooks who’ll agree on exactly what should go into a tagine as most follow their own family’s recipes, finely tuned in their ancestors kitchens over many generations.
I watched Jamila, the lovely cook at our Marrakech riad make this Moroccan lamb tagine with prunes and almonds and while I loved the results, there are a couple of things that I wanted to do a little differently to Jamila, so I’ve tweaked the recipe accordingly. Just don’t tell Jamila – she’s a force of nature!
Update July 2023: If you enjoy our Moroccan lamb tagine with prunes and almonds recipe, check out our collection of our best stew recipes for more hearty winter warmers.
Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Prunes and Almonds Recipe from Marrakech
While Moroccan tagines – also written as tajines with a ‘j’ – are mostly made with meat, particularly lamb and chicken, we enjoyed a tagine with pulpo (octopus), which was simply sublime, while we were sampling some of our favourite seafood restaurants in Essaouria.
It wasn’t our first time in Essaouira, or Morocco for that matter. We’d travelled the length and breadth of Morocco by train, bus and hire car, both on holidays and for work. The first time was in the winter of 1999, when we fell in love with Morocco country – we almost bought a riad in Essaouira! – and the last time was on a road trip with Lara’s mother.
It was a real joy to be back in Morocco – and it was especially enjoyable to be getting lessons in cooking Moroccan food from a Moroccan cook in a riad in the tangle of alleyways in the heart of Marrakech, which is where Jamila taught me to make this tagine.
I ended up making the final version of this Moroccan lamb tagine with prunes and almonds recipe in the adorable rustic kitchen of our riad in Essaouira, where we’d shopped the vibrant local markets that morning with a local cook and friend of our riad’s owner – and what wonderful markets they are!
It was at the early morning markets in the old town of Essaouria where we’d bought all our ingredients, of which the key elements are lamb, spices, prunes, and almonds. The spice seller sold us the individual spices I needed to blend into a Ras el Hanout spice mix, which is essential to this lamb tagine, scooping them onto squares of paper, which he wrapped into individual
I do realise the irony of cooking lamb tagine in a town on the coast that’s renowned for its seafood. But there is fantastic lamb and beef in the region – in fact the meat sold at the markets comes from just 15 minutes from Essaouira, where the cattle happily graze on the lush green coastal grass.
Tips to Making This Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Prunes and Almonds Recipe
For this Moroccan lamb tagine with prunes and almonds recipe it’s best to use the lamb shoulder, lamb neck or lamb shanks. 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.
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 tagine.
When you make this, leave plenty of time because it can take longer than you might expect for the meat to achieve that fall-apart tenderness. Think: slow-cooked lamb shanks.
Traditionally, this Moroccan lamb tagine with prunes and almonds recipe would usually call for the tagine to be cooked in a tagine pot, a glazed clay base with a large conical lid that’s designed to guide the condensation from cooking back into the pot.
However, as Jamila, the Moroccan cook at our Marrakech riad told us, these days Moroccan cooks will often cook tagines in a big cooking pot with lid on the stove and then transfer the dish to a tagine pot to serve at the centre of the table. It’s a dish to be shared.
You can use a pressure cooker to cook your lamb tagine if you want, as it cuts the simmering time down to about an hour. Don’t quote me on that time, though!
Sad confession: when making this lamb tagine for family back home in Australia years ago, we had to order in pizza because it wasn’t ready at 10pm – even though it was on the stove at 6pm.
To be safe, leave the tagine for at least four hours from the onions hitting the pan to serving time – or have your local pizza place on speed dial and eat it the next day.
The best things about this Moroccan lamb tagine with prunes and almonds recipe are that, firstly, this lamb tagine is dead easy, and, secondly, the lamb tagine will fill your home with the most delicious aromas.
Serve this lamb tagine with some crusty bread. Or plain couscous – just don’t tell your Moroccan friends, for whom couscous is a separate dish, not a side to tagine.
First Published 4 March 2010; Last Updated 5 September 2023
Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Prunes and Almonds Recipe
- 500 g lamb neck - shoulder (cut into 4cm pieces) or shanks if you prefer
- 3 tablespoons 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 el hanout - see recipe below
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon crushed saffron threads
- 1 teaspoon saffron powder - sometimes called “yellow Moroccan food colouring”
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger or minced fresh ginger
- 2 cups of water
- 1 cup of pitted prunes
- ½ cup almonds - preferably slivered
- ½ cup of freshly toasted sesame seeds
- Sweat the onions in olive oil over medium heat in a large pan until translucent. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant (about 5mins).
- Add the lamb and brown all sides of each piece.
- Add the rest of the ingredients on the list up to the pitted prunes, and stir.
- Pop the lid on top and simmer for at least two hours before checking for doneness.
- 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’.
- 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.
- It’s around this stage that some recipes add sugar or honey. Taste and add them if you wish although I never have.
- 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.
- 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!
Ras el Hanout Recipe
- 1 ½ teaspoons coriander seeds
- ¾ teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon crushed chilli flakes
- 1 ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- Toast the whole spices separately in a small pan over a medium-high heat. Watch the pan closely and remove from heat as the spices change colour and release their aromas.
- Tip the spices into a spice or coffee grinder and grind to a powder. Add the ground spices and give the grinder an extra whiz to combine the spices. You can store the Ras el Hanout in a sealed jar for up to six months. If the spice mix has been on the shelf for a couple of months you can ‘awaken’ the mix in a small pan over a medium heat until the mix releases its aroma.
Do let us know if you make our Moroccan lamb tagine with prunes and almonds recipe. If you enjoy it, see my other posts in our series The Dish (now filed under Recipes) from our 2010 grand tour of the world, in which I sought out and learnt to make quintessential dishes of places. These included a traditional chocolate snack with a Michelin-starred chef in Barcelona, rabo de toro (oxtail stew) in Jerez, Spain, and cassoulet in Ceret, France, among many others.