I absolutely adore Moroccan cuisine. It has such wonderful flavours that are so deep and complex. One of my favourite Moroccan dishes is lamb tagine with prunes and that was the inspiration for today's dish. Instead of prunes, I used dates and the flavours work so well together. The meaty lamb with the sweet dates is a match made in heaven.
Although tagines, Moroccan stews, are usually cooked in tagines, which is also the name of the clay pots used to cook the stews, I find cooking this dish in a cast iron, Dutch oven, or heavy bottom pot on low heat also works well. The best part about this dish is that it takes very little active time to make, but the results make it seem as if you were slaving away for hours in the kitchen. It is perfect for crowds, as it is the same amount of work, no matter how many people you're cooking for.
Many tagines are made with boneless meat, but I personally like a mix of bone-in and boneless pieces because the bones give so much flavour to the dish. You could use beef or lamb, but I prefer lamb in this dish because it stays tender and moist throughout the cooking process. I begin by cooking my spices in the oil to activate them and wake up the flavours, before adding the meat and everything else and leaving them to simmer until the meat is falling off the bone. This part doesn't require much work, just check on it every so often to see if it needs a bit more water.
Although Morocco is most known for its Medjool dates, I used Daglet Nour dates because they are firmer and less sweet and I felt they would work better in this dish, but feel free to use the dates you like. Some people may prefer to cook the dates with the meat, but the dates would disintegrate with the long cooking time and I like them to have a bit of a bite to them. Once your meat is tender and cooked through, pour it into a serving dish and top with the dates. Make sure to generously garnish with sesame seeds and almonds, as they add another layer of flavour and the perfect crunch. Serve with some Moroccan bread or couscous and enjoy this unique and fragrant dish.
1 kg lamb (I use bone-in)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp cinnamon
1 ½ tbsp turmeric
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
Zest of half a lemon
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger (can be substituted with ½ tbsp ginger powder)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups water, or enough to cover the meat ¾ of the way
1 tbsp vegetable ghee or butter
200 g dates of choice, pitted and halved
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp honey
1 cup water
- Heat the olive oil in a cast iron, Dutch oven, or heavy bottom pot and add the cinnamon and turmeric. Cook in the olive oil for a minute, then add the cinnamon stick, bay leaves and lemon zest. Cook for 30 seconds.
- Add in the meat and mix in the spices, making sure every piece of meat is coated. Cook on each side to get a sear, then add the onions.
- Once the onions begin to soften, add the garlic and ginger. Cook for a minute, then add the salt and pepper. When everything is incorporated well, add the water and bring to a boil. Once the water boils, there may be some foam that forms on the surface, skim it, lower the heat and cover. Cook on low heat for about an hour and a half to two hours, or until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. Make sure to check periodically and top up with water when needed.
- To make the dates, heat the ghee or butter in a frying pan. Add the dates, cinnamon and cinnamon stick and cook for a few seconds. Add the water and honey and mix well. Lower the heat all the way and cook until the liquid is reduced.
- To serve, pour the meat stew into a serving dish, then top with the dates. Garnish with blanched almonds and sesame and serve with couscous or bread. Enjoy!
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