It’s the time of year when I have an urge to travel. Call it cabin fever, restlessness, or simply the craving to be somewhere different, where it’s warm, spicy and balmy. The sights, smells and sounds of new cultures are revitalizing. Time slows down, and the smallest details are observed and savored amidst a kaleidescope of impressions. It just so happens that this is also the time of year when my urge to travel collides with real life. It’s the middle of the school year, I have work deadlines, and the contents of my piggy bank were spent at Christmas. So I improvise, and my travels occur in the kitchen, where I replace my passport with the jars in my spice drawer and concoct recipes inspired by the exotic flavors, heat and aromas of far flung destinations.
This lamb stew takes inspiration from a traditional Moroccan meat and vegetable tagine and Mrouzia, a rich celebratory stew prepared in the days following Eid Al Kebir - or the Festival of Sacrifice. It’s meant to be sweet, enhanced with dried fruit and honey, but I have scaled the sweetness back to my taste while adding tomato paste and carrots for more freshness. The spice list is lengthy, but attainable. It’s a compilation of spices similar to those found in Ras El Hanout, a spice blend that is a staple in North African cuisine.
Lamb Tagine with Raisins and Honey
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 pounds lamb leg or shoulder, excess fat trimmed, cut in 1 inch chunks
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger with juice
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 carrots, cut in 1/4 inch slices
1 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon honey, or to taste
Combine all of the dried spices and 1 teaspoon salt together in a small bowl. Toss the lamb with 2 tablespoons olive oil in another bowl. Add the spices to the lamb; mix to thoroughly coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a dutch oven or large pot with a lid. Add lamb in one layer in batches, without overcrowding. Brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate. Add onion, garlic and ginger to the same pot. Saute until fragrant and onion begins to soften, 2 minutes. Return lamb with any collected juices to the pot. Add chicken stock, tomato paste and 1 teaspoon salt. Add more stock, if necessary, to cover the lamb.
Bring to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until lamb is very tender, about 2 hours.
When lamb is tender, add carrots and raisins. Simmer, uncovered, until sauce reduces and thickens to a thick stew consistency and the carrots are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in honey. Taste for seasoning. Serve warm, spooned over couscous.