Monday, February 2, 2015

Lamb Tagine with Dates, Almonds, and Pistachios

February is finally here and we are spanning our search for things beyond the realm of chocolate. This time around, we decided to take a look at Moroccan cuisine. Recently we have added a book to our ever-expanding kitchen library arsenal by the title of Tagine: Spicy Stews from Morocco by Ghillie Basan. With illustrations of the various dishes along with helpful hints and bits of history going with each recipe, there is plenty to try out. The recipe we decided to highlight has the description of: 

In Arab culture, dates are an age-old source of nutrition and natural sugar; nomads could survive in the desert with dates alone for nourishment. As the fruit is regarded as special, it is often added to festive grain dishes and stews. This slightly sticky date and nut tagine is a favorite at weddings or other family feasts.

Lamb Tagine with Dates, Almonds, and Pistachios
2-3 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
1-2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 1/4 lb lean lamb, from the shoulder, neck or leg, cut into bite-size pieces
8 oz moist, ready-to-eat, pitted dates
1 tablespoon dark honey
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste) 
1 tablespoon olive oil
a pat of butter
2-3 tablespoons blanched almonds
2 tablespoons  shelled pistachios
a small bunch of fresh flatleaf parsley, finely chopped 

  1. Heat the ghee in a tagine or heavy-based casserole dish. Stir in the onions and saute until golden brown. Stir in the turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon. Toss in the meat, making sure it is coated in the spice mixture. Pour in enough water to almost cover the meat and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer gently for roughly 1 1/2 hours. 
  2. Add the dates and stir in the honey. Cover with a lid again and simmer for another 30 minutes.
  3. Heat the olive oil with butter in a small pan. Stir in the almonds and pistachios and cook until they begin to turn golden brown. Scatter the nuts over the lamb and dates and sprinkle with the flatleaf parsley.

~ The Artist ~
     When I first spotted this recipe, I thought it would be perfect for the Valentine in someone's life who enjoys being adventurous with trying new cuisines or even for themselves if they wish to treat their taste buds. The only difficulty that I had with this recipe is that there really isn't any butcher shops in my general location and a rather tiny lamb selection at my local grocery store. The recipe itself was actually quite easy to follow and filled the kitchen with a wonderful aroma of cinnamon. I was surprised by how surprisingly sweet the dish was. The slight saltiness of the nuts actually were delightful sparks of added flavor and texture. The lamb itself was quite tender as well from this cooking process and look forward to trying this again in the future, perhaps with a pot roast.

~ The Gamer ~
I was interested when it was announced that we were going to be having a meal made with lamb. I've come to enjoy it quite a bit in the past years, and this dish certainly didn't disappoint. I had expected it to be more spicy due to the tumeric and cinnamon in it, but there was such small quantities of both that the dates and the honey really ended up coming through, making it much sweeter then what the ingredients might make it sound. The lamb turned out soft, tender and juicy, and blended well with the sweetness. I'm going to assume that when the recipe called for pistachios that the person cooking would use pre-shelled, unsalted pistachios. We ended up using pistachios that were still needed to be shelled and were salted. Dawn thought that the salt from the pistachios was enough to satisfy the optional ingredient of having salt and pepper in the dish, to which I would agree. They added just enough saltiness to counter-act some of the sweetness, but not enough to overpower it. I would suggest this dish to anyone willing to try new things, but if you aren't in to sweet things, this may not be your cup of tea, so to speak, as the dates and the honey do come out a bit strongly.


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