Recipe: Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Sweet Honey Figs

Today I’m taking you to a special place where family and friends gather around the dinner table with happy hearts. Silverware is optional, but bread is not. Settle into this sacred space, where tagine of lamb meets chestnuts, figs, cinnamon, honey, and orange blossom water. Pause for a moment to celebrate this crazy wonderful combination, to feel the hot air blow through your hair, then dig in and scoop up the glory with a handful of bread. When you’re done, cozy up to an evening of conversation so good you wish you could bottle it.

Tagines are Moroccan party food – each nibble is filled with glorious, cheerful flavor; a festive bite of beauty; a deep, dark bowl of goodness, glimmering like the Moroccan night sky.

To be honest, there was a time when the word “tagine” sent shivers down my spine. The very word sounded terribly exotic which, in my mind, translated to “extraordinarily difficult to make.”

If I only knew how wrong I was.

Bouregreg Valley, Morocco. Photo by Nomadz.

I’ve since learned that many Moroccan tagines, such as this lamb tagine, are simply braised meats slow cooked with a bouquet of spices, topped with sweet, dried fruit. While there are more complicated versions (and even ones with preserved lemons and olives, instead of the sweet note I’ve chosen to take on), the most common recipes don’t even call for browning the meat.

Talk about doable.

I mean, really. If there’s one thing I can do, it’s cook meat low and slow. And, if there’s one thing Mr Picky loves, it’s slow cooked meat.

It’s like this meal was written in the stars.

My recipe is a combination of several recipes.  To start with, I browsed Paula Wolfert‘s recipe books. This woman is a powerhouse of all things Mediterranean and is aptly described by Maroc Mama as the Julia Child of Moroccan cooking. I also looked through Claudia Roden’s Arabesque. With the help of these ladies, as well as tidbits from half a dozen other cookbooks, I culled together the best of the best, of the best.

The result?

A tender tagine good enough for Sunday dinner, but easy enough for every day.

The highly fragrant lamb, dried figs and sweet chestnuts makes for pure love when combined with the honey and cinnamon. Amazingly, this tagine still tastes majorly savory, thanks to the saffron, ginger, and garlic.

It’s all kinds of good.

NOTES: While a ceramic tagine is ideal for slow, moist cooking, you can also make a great tagine in a heavy bottomed French oven. If you use a ceramic tagine, be sure to soak it overnight in water to keep it from cracking. Also, never heat it over medium heat. You can eat tagine with a fork, if you’d like, or you can scoop it up the traditional way – with flatbread or even French bread. Orange blossom water is available at Middle Eastern markets.

Ingredients:

For the meat tagine:

1 red onion, sliced in half moons
2 Tbsp vegetable oil

4 lb lamb, cut in large chunks (I used a boneless leg of lamb)

2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp saffron threads
salt, to taste
1 1/2 tsp pepper

water, as needed

For the fig and chestnut garnish:

7 ounces of dried figs
1 cup of jarred, roasted chestnuts

2 Tbsp Butter
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup water
1 tsp orange blossom water, optional

parsley, for garnish

Method:

First, put on a little Moroccan music. Then, layer the bottom of a tagine with sliced onion and vegetable oil. Gently heat over medium and cook to soften the onions.

Meanwhile, gather your spices. Saffron lends the most haunting flavor to the tagine, while ginger and garlic give it kick. And cinnamon makes everything better.

Cut the lamb in large chunks and toss with spice mixture.

Add to tagine and cook until tender (I cooked mine at a gentle simmer from 1:00pm-5pm and it was outrageously good. You can cook yours for just 2 hours and still have good results).

Meanwhile, take a little stroll. On a camel, if you’d like.

Sahara in Morocco. Photo by Bachmont.

A note on water:

I found that I didn’t need to add any water to my tagine, as the meat and the onion released quite a bit of juices and the tagine could barely hold them all. That being said, most recipes recommend adding 1/2 cup of water. If yours seems dry, just drizzle a bit of water down through the hole in the top of the tagine. This way the cold water will cause the steam to condense and drip back down over the meat.

While the meat is cooking, filling your home with the scent of “good,” get to work on the special honey fig and chestnut garnish.

In a small pot, toss the figs with butter, water, honey, and orange blossom water. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until caramelized. Remove from heat and stir in the chestnuts.

They become ooey, gooey and absolutely irresistible. In fact, I recommend making some extra so you can sneak a few, guilt-free. That’s what I did!

Set the rest aside and add to the tagine in the last five minutes of cooking.

Some people like to roll the figs in sesame seeds, but I couldn’t wait to eat!

Garnish with torn parsley for a little blast of color.

Step back a moment and enjoy that beauty… wow.

It’s just like a sparkling Moroccan night, but in your very own kitchen.

Jemaa el-Fnaa at night. Photo by Procsilas

We ate outside while listening to the chirping birds. I’ve never had such tender meat; there was no need for knives. 

There’s something about eating tagine outside with friends that makes me feel like I’m on vacation.

Like anything is possible.

I wish the same for you.

Wishing you all the beauty of a easy, breezy day.

Happy stove top travels!


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Comments

  1. Sound fantastic! I love my tagine. I’ve made lamb and prune as well as chicken with preserved lemons and olives. It is such an easy way to cook!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Honestly, I can’t wait to try more recipes… I totally love everything about it – easy, beautiful, communal, and fun.

  2. Sasha, when you say we could use a French oven, do you mean like a LeCruset cast iron enameled Dutch Oven? And if so, would it do well to cook in a slow oven, say 300 degrees?

    Or how about in a crock pot?

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Yes, exactly! It would probably be great in a slow oven and maybe even a crockpot. I’d play around with it… I’m sure it’ll be good either way :) There are plenty of slow cooker recipes that don’t call for water, and rely just on the juices from the meat/onion, so that shouldn’t be an issue either.

  3. Brian S. says:

    This is such a wonderful recipe!!!

    Here is some music to capture the ecstasy of eating that tagine. It is Gnawa. The Gnawa are a distinct ethnic group in Morocco, descendants of blacks from south of the Sahara. They have their own distinct spiritual and healing rituals in which long, hypnotic and seemingly monotonous chants lead to a trance state. Here’s part of one of them. It features the hajhaj, a long-necked lute found only among the Gnawa, and was, I believe ,recorded in Marrakech.

    http://music.myspace.com/Modules/MusicV2/Pages/PopUpPlayer.aspx?songid=45529360&artid=21637447

    And here is an article about another nice tagine ingredient: preserved lemons.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/20/dining/20mini.html

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Thanks Brian. I’m curious to try the preserved lemon recipe sometime – since I love olives and the slightly bitter note from lemon skin, I think it would be a fun variation.

      • Brian S. says:

        By the way, if you left the fig and chestnut garnish in longer than five minutes, would the flavor permeate the meat or would it ruin everything?

        • Sasha Martin says:

          I personally think it’s nice that the honey note is separate from all the good things going on flavor-wise with the meat. If you put it on a little longer, no big deal, but if it were on the entire time, the texture of the figs and chestnuts might suffer…. and the honey would probably roll off of them and mix in with the other goodness.

  4. Thank you! This recipe sounds fantastic and I love the way you wrote it. I feel certain I’ll be spending a lot of time on your blog in the future. If you ever feel like giving your readers an extra little present, I would love a little “print recipe” button which would give me the recipe sans photos to print and cook after the rest of the article has convinced me I have to make it. Thanks again!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Thanks Rachel – right next to the Pinterest share button (“share the love”) there’s a printer friendly button. You can actually click on everything you don’t want to print (the photos, silly text, etc) and they go away in a flash, all customizable by you :)

  5. Seems delicious! Lovely pictures. Seems taken by a professionnal photographer.

  6. Samantha says:

    I’ve tried this recipe for dinner tonight and you were right about the lamb being so tender. :) But could you clarify a few things for me? I want to get closer to perfecting it next time~~

    In the ingredients list for the figs & chestnuts, you’ve listed 1/3 cup of water but in the method, it’s been replaced by cinnamon. Should both be included and if so, how much cinnamon would you need?

    Secondly, I have a 25cm diameter tagine and found that 1kg lamb chunks was enough to fill it up already. Would you recommend halving the onion and spice amount for this or would this compromise the flavour? Also, I can only use the tagine in the oven and first time round, I had it on 170 Celsius for 3 hours. All the juices leached out and the meat kinda stuck together~ should this happen? What oven temp do you think would be best?

    Lastly, I soaked my tagine the night before to protect it from any cracking in the oven. Is this required each time I use it? (If it’s safe to pop it straight into oven next time, that would be great so I can save on water) ;)

    I’m sure there’s something I didn’t do right and I’d appreciate any advice! I know I’ve just asked you a mini interview…

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Hi Samantha – let me see if I can address all these great questions

      – it should read water, not cinnamon (recipe has been updated – good catch!)
      – if you halve the meat, definitely halve the rest of the ingredients (Although I would do all the chestnuts because they are so tasty ha)
      – I cooked mine on the stove top, so I’m not sure about the oven settings or if that had something to do with the meat sticking to itself. Low and slow is the key, though – I’ve seen 150c/300F in many recipes. You might try putting it in more loosely, cutting larger pieces and/or giving the mixture a toss part way through cooking to break it up.
      – Soaking is required in all ceramic tagines (unless you use them daily, as they stay moist). You can reuse the water in your sink for your plants if you want :)

      Hope that helps!

      • Samantha says:

        Ok, thanks so much for your help! I think the oven temperature and the size of the lamb chunks could be improved next time – and thanks for the tagine advice :) Have a wonderful week Sasha!

  7. Thank you for this recipe. I would only add that if you marinate the lamb in the spices and oil
    for at least 2 hours up to even overnight in the refrigerator, the tajine will be much more delicious.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Tagine with Sweet Honey Figs [Recipe] Tender pieces of lamb slow-cooked in saffron, cinnamon and ginger, then topped with figs and […]

  2. […] by the sweet and savory tagines of Morocco (specifically our Lamb Tagine with Honeyed Figs), I developed this recipe for a juicy lamb burger moistened with grated red onion and seasoned with […]

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