Moroccan lamb tagine with dates and almonds on Persian fried rice

Our macaroon dessert recipe last week, courtesy of dear friend Ann Coetzee, was preceded by this delightful lamb tagine, not done in a tagine, but in a casserole in the oven.

If you are fortunate enough to have a tagine – the standard cooking utensil in Morocco for such dishes – then by all means use it, but a good ovenproof casserole will do just as well.

Ann says she used an inexpensive cut of stewing lamb, but because of the long slow oven cooking, it comes out melt-in-the-mouth tender.

It can also be made well ahead of time for a dinner party, and heated in the oven before serving. In fact, it tends to taste even better when you do that.

Ingredients, selection and preparation

(Lamb tagine)

2kg lamb: a cut of your choice, cut into 2-3cm portions. Ann used a stewing cut

thumb sized piece of ginger: peeled and grated

10ml (2tsp) ground cumin

olive oil: for frying

4 medium onions: peeled and roughly chopped

4 cloves garlic: peeled and crushed

4 cardamom pods: cracked

1 star anise

1 (5cm) stick of cinnamon

salt and black pepper for seasoning

2 x tins chopped tomatoes

1 pinch saffron: remember, with saffron, less really is more. Soak in a tbsp of water beforehand

300ml beef stock

15ml (1 tbsp) honey

200g fresh whole dates: pitted

100g whole roasted almonds: chopped

(Persian fried rice)

450g long grain Basmati rice

1/4 cup (60ml) butter

1 (5cm) stick of cinnamon

2 cardamom pods: cracked

3 cloves garlic: peeled and crushed

1 cup (250ml) lentils: sorted. Yes, the odd stone does creep in

6 fresh pitted dates: slice into strips

handful each of of dill, parsley, coriander leaves: rinsed and chopped

salt and pepper for seasoning

Method

Combine the ginger and cumin with the lamb in a large bowl, and mix well with your hands. Set aside covered to steep for about 30 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 150 degC.

Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan, and fry the meat until golden brown, in small batches.

Set the meat aside, and fry the onions in the same saucepan, adding more oil if needed, until soft and translucent.

Add the garlic and fry for a few more minutes, then add back the meat, and all the other spices, as well as a tsp of salt and 1/2tsp of black pepper.

Add the beef stock, tomatoes, saffron and honey, bring to the boil, mixing gently but thoroughly.

If your saucepan isn’t oven proof, transfer to a casserole dish and bake in the oven, covered, for two to two-and-a-half hours, or until melt in the mouth tender, stirring halfway through.

About 20 minutes before the end of the cooking time, add the dates and the almonds, stir in gently and complete the cooking.

Check for seasoning at the same time, and adjust if necessary.While the tagine is cooking, prepare the rice.

Place the rice in a mixing bowl, covered well with lightly salted cold water, and leave to soak for two hours.

About an hour before conclusion of the cooking time, prepare the rice.

Put the lentils and three cups of water in a saucepan, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until tender.

Drain and set aside.

Drain the rice, bring a pot of water to the boil, add the rice, and cook for seven minutes, then drain it.

Melt the butter and oil in a large deep saucepan with a heavy flat base.

Add the cinnamon, cooked rice, lentils, garlic, cardamom pods, dates and half the herbs. Season with salt and pepper.

Wrap the saucepan lid in a kitchen towel, place on the saucepan and cook for 15 minutes over a low heat.

This allows the moisture to escape, but keeps the saucepan snugly covered, which crisps the top of the rice.

Pour the rice into a serving dish, scraping the saucepan clean.

Garnish with the remaining fresh herbs, and serve with the lamb tagine.

Enjoy.