Moroccan Lamb Stew with Figs and Chickpeas

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.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Chickpeas and Figs

The secret ingredient in this North African inspired stew is ras el hanout. Ras el hanout is a  spice blend which may include upwards of 50 spices, including cinnamon, cardamom, clove, turmeric and cayenne. The name, translated, means head of the shop, meaning the best on offer. Like many spice blends, there is no one way to make it, and variations exist from home to home, merchant to merchant. You can find ras el hanout in the spice section of your supermarket or specialty stores. If you cannot locate it, then I encourage you to try to make your own version. It’s easy to do, and I’ve included a recipe below.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Chickpeas and Figs

Serves 6 to 8.

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground paprika
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2  to  3 pounds lamb shoulder or leg, cut in 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 (14 ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
2 cups chicken stock
12 dried Calimyrna or Turkish figs, halved
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons ras el hanout (recipe below)
1 (14 ounce) can chickpeas, drained
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Harissa or red chili paste
Fresh cilantro sprigs

Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, the coriander, cumin, paprika, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl. Mix to form a paste. Place the lamb in a large bowl and rub the paste all over the meat. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour or refrigerate covered for up to 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven or oven proof pot with lid over medium-high heat. Add the lamb in batches and brown on all sides, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Transfer the lamb to a plate or bowl.
Add the onion and carrot to the same pot. Saute until softened, about 2 minutes, stirring up any brown bits. Add the garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, figs, cinnamon stick, ras el hanout, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper.  Return the lamb and any collected juices to the pot, submerging it in the stock. (Add additional chicken stock to cover, if necessary.) Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover pot. Transfer to oven and bake until lamb is falling apart tender, about 2 hours.
Transfer pot to stove. Remove lamb and vegetables with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Bring stock to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil uncovered until sauce is reduced by about half and thickened, skimming any fat.  Stir in the chickpeas and taste to check for seasoning. If necessary add a tablespoon of brown sugar to the stock. Return the lamb and vegetables to the pot. Serve warm spooned over couscous. Pass bowls of harissa and fresh cilantro around the table as condiments.

Ras El Hanout
adapted from The Food of Morocco by Tess Mallos

Be sure to use very fresh spices, or grind the whole dried spices.

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons ground coriander
3 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons allspice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

Combine all the spices together. Store in a glass jar in a cool, dark place.
(Recipe may be halved.)

12 responses to “Moroccan Lamb Stew with Figs and Chickpeas

  1. Interesting spice mixture but wondering if we’re done with the lamb

    Susan Embry YourSpiralNotebook.com 575-779-1149

  2. Comforting and succulent! A fantastic cold weather stew.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  3. I love the idea of making my own spice blend – and definitely agree with your recommendation to use only fresh spices. I recently tossed a lot of mine out and have been impressed by how flavors have improved in my cooking.

  4. just the dinner for me.. lovely.. c

  5. Fantastic flavors, just what we need to liven up the cold, dark winter evenings!

  6. It’s not bad to have small trips in your own kitchen ;) I really like to create spice mixtures too, they have the unique aroma :)

  7. What a lovely stew… my goodness…so many flavors makes this so much fun! This is definitely a “must try”.. :-)

  8. Figs!!! What a great addition. I always have some ras el hanout on hand – love it!

  9. Lamb and figs with moroccan spices…it doesn’t get any better than that.

  10. I’ve made lamb stew before with prunes but never figs and chickpeas….MUST try this one!

  11. This looks amazing! I love mixing fruit into dishes- I make a Moroccan chili that has Turkish apricots in the cous cous I serve with it!

  12. i found this while searching for a unique lamb stew. just made it and it is glorious! thanks much for this recipe.

    i’m not very familiar with moroccan food, but i added chopped scallions and goat cheese to the garnish… worked for me.

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